About 1,000 women gathered to bake challah together Oct. 25 at the fifth annual Challah in the CLE at Landerhaven in Mayfield Heights.
The color of the evening was hot pink. The three emcees donned pink capes. About 100 volunteers also donned pink T-shirts and, in some cases, pink tutus. Even Landerhaven’s chandelier threw pink light.
Esther Tova Geller, 16, of Cleveland Heights said she learned about the opportunity to volunteer for the challah bake at the Friendship Circle in Pepper Pike, where she volunteers.
“I get to run around and act crazy,” she said. “Who wouldn’t love it?”
She was at the event with her friend Adena Hoen, 17, of Cleveland Heights who said she doesn’t bake challah.
“My grandfather does,” she said. “He bakes challah for my synagogue and for us every Shabbos.”
Shawn Fink, one of the few men in the room, was the DJ for the event, pumping high-energy dance tunes into an eclectic mix that included Israeli songs.
As the emcees Dahlia Fisher, Judge Francine Goldberg and Dina Rock took the stage, he spun Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration Time,” which the emcees made into Challah-bration time.
“Each one of us in this room tonight is a superwoman,” Rock told the group. “We are strong, beautiful, powerful Jewish women. Look at this room, look around you, turn to someone right now and tell them, ‘You’re amazing|’ There is love in this room tonight.”
Women and girls from Jewish day schools and synagogues in Greater Cleveland, Akron and Canton reserved tables of 10, set with clear plastic bowls, gloves, hand sanitizer, plastic placemats with the recipe, and all the ingredients, along with foil pans, aluminum foil, plastic measuring spoons and measuring cups. A blue apron was on every chair.
Adding to the party atmosphere, there were glow sticks, lollipops and chocolate sprinkles on the tables. The Challah Brators, a group of girls, spent time dancing in front of the stage.
“I’m happy you’re all here and want to talk to each other,” said Cheryl Fox, Cleveland Shabbos Project chairperson. “Welcome, and thank you, Landerhaven, for being able to get us all into one room.”
“It’s getting bigger and better,” Fox said. “This is the biggest, most diverse, Jewish women’s event in Northeast Ohio.”
“We have the power to bring this energy back to our homes, to our families, to our communities, and make connections that change the world,” Fisher said.
The challah bake provided a social opportunity for many.
“I needed to hear the noise of 999 other meshugenah women,” said Dr. Linda Schoenberg of Cleveland Heights who attends B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike. “I like to be among friends.”
Schoenberg said she had never baked challah before. “I try not to eat carbs.”
Four generations of women were working side by side at table 74, with Olga Simon, 96 as the matriarch of the group. Her daughter, Sharon Ungar, was working with her. Next to her was Ungar’s daughter, Jordana Thal, whose daughter, Maya, 2, was also along.
Simon said she last baked challah “many years ago.”
Alex Fleksher, who teaches at Chaviva High School in Cleveland Heights, took the stage with Sheri Gross, director of creative programs at Gross Schechter Day School in Pepper Pike, to lead the group in the prayer for the separation of the challah dough. Students at Gross Schechter Day School took the stage to sing as well.
“Everyone, please close your eyes,” Fleksher said, asking the group to hold hands with their neighbors and first pray for themselves and then for all Jewish people.
The event was the first in a series that continues through Oct. 28 highlighting Shabbat as part of the International Shabbos Project, which was launched in South Africa six years ago and went international the following year. For the first time this year, a parallel event for men took place at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood.
Fink had a bird’s-eye view of the event from the back of the stage where he announced the emcees and worked from his playlist.
“It’s really cool to feed off a thousand people, especially with the girls down in front there,” Fink said. “Their energy is rather contagious. The feeling of unity is really palpable in the room.”
“If one person left inspired, then we’ve accomplished our mission,” Goldberg said. “If one woman lights Shabbos candles or has a family over for Shabbos dinner, then we’ve accomplished our mission.”