By VICKI SAMUELS LEVY
There was flour in the air, and the heavenly smell of fresh-baked breads filled Zehava and Rabbi Aryeh Wolbe’s home on the evening of March 21. Gradually, 24 people, eight of them men, who had registered for Kosher Awareness Month, arrived, ready for a spiritual lesson and to punch some dough.
Zehava Wolbe teaches a monthly challah-baking class for women in her home, one of many classes around Houston, taught by staff and wives of the Torah Outreach Center of Houston. However, this Wednesday night class was part of Kosher Awareness Month, sponsored by TORCH and Houston Kashruth Associaton, so men and children were welcomed.
Zehava used to teach classes on Jewish cooking, but for the past three years, she has taught challah baking. “We have monthly challah classes,” she said, “and anywhere from five to 20 or 30 women show up.”
The women pay a modest fee, to cover the ingredients, but this class was included in the awareness month’s registration.
On this night, the Wolbe dining table was so full of desserts, dips and challahs of every size and shape that you couldn’t make out the pattern on the tablecloth. “I made some samples, so people could try them and see how they look,” said Zehava. There were challah loaves, rounds, rolls, different toppings, some “colorfully” braided with rye flour and even cocoa. Zehava even made challah napkin rings. (Come to the next class to learn how.)
Malka Levy has been a regular participant in the monthly classes for a few years. “It’s very spiritual for me,” said Levy. “It’s a community. I get to pray and do the mitzvah of making the challah and praying for loved ones who need refuah shlema [healing] and sharing time with ‘my girls’ and Zehava, my mentor. Not only do I learn how to bake it, but I also teach by telling other people and bringing those people here.”
Some participants came from as far away as the Bay area. Mari and David Barkhausen drive in from League City. Members of Congregation Shaar Hashalom, they’ve been coming to TORCH events for the past year. David takes a Kabbalah class at Shaar Hashalom, taught by TORCH’s Rabbi Yaakov Cohen. Mari is a third-grade bilingual teacher. “It’s life-changing to me to come to the classes. I’m an educator. We’re all lifelong learners and its part of our growing process.”
Rachael Dunker drives in from Galveston for most of the monthly baking classes. “I take as many classes as I can. No classes are available in Galveston, and I take what I learn and share it with the Galveston community.” Dunker is a member of both Temple B’nai Israel and Congregation Beth Jacob in Galveston.
Patricia Cromer has partici-pated in Kosher Awareness Month for the past three years and TORCH classes. “I participate in as many classes as I can. I’ve taken Mussar on Sundays for years.”
And, Jessica Cohen said she used to take the women’s ASCENT classes [part of TORCH], “but my chevrisa, my learning partner, moved to Israel and I lost touch.”
In the dining room were three large tables, covered in plastic, with all the ingredients. On this night, the participants worked in pairs.
Zehava balanced herself on a dining room chair, so she could be heard over the excitement in the room. She explained that with a 5-pound bag of flour, they could make a special blessing. She called out the measurements and directions. Amid the chatter, participants took turns measuring and stirring. Finally, the dough was left to rise while everyone moved to a sitting area. There, Daniel Schlossberg, a recent Meyerland Minyan honoree, shared his journey to keeping kosher.
Soon, with the dough ripe for kneading, everyone returned to their positions, and Zehava demonstrated three- and four-strand braiding techniques.
At the conclusion, challah-makers filled aluminum pans with their creations – loaves, rounds and rolls, ready for baking – and lumps of dough to be frozen and saved for later, when their own homes would be filled with the aroma of challahs baking for their own Shabbat tables.