Although I have always been Jewish, I think I'm the type of person that many would consider "Jew-ish." While I observed major Jewish holidays, Shabbat never seemed feasible or valuable in my life. Everything was too hectic in high school to sit down for a spiritual meal with family. If you found me in the kitchen while I was in high school, you would see me eat something quickly before running out of the house for dance, marching band practice, or whatever other activity I needed to attend.
However, I've recently discovered a new love for Shabbat, or at least some components of it. As a college student, a day of rest sounds like a dream come true. After a long week of lectures, writing papers, and reading books, I love ending my week with the beauty and sweetness of Shabbat.
This year, I was lucky enough to avoid Friday classes. Instead of going to lectures on Fridays, I woke up to prepare fresh challah. There are so many fantastic challah recipes online, and I love experimenting with them to find new favorites or making changes to improve the ones I already love. I love the feeling of kneading the dough by hand, pressing my stress and negativity from the week out of my system and turning it into a delicious bread full of love. After kneading the dough and letting it rise, I embraced the imagination that comes with braiding. There are so many creative ways to braid challah, and I embraced the challenge of learning new ones. I tried out a circular braid for the first time during this past Rosh Hashanah, and I've experimented with YouTube tutorials for braids with greater than three strands.
After baking the challah comes the best part – eating it. While the pandemic prevented me from sharing an in-person meal with friends, I enjoyed offering some bread to my friends (Jews and non-Jews alike) and walking around my University to bring them a delicious treat. The joy of sharing my creation with friends, coupled with the enjoyment on their faces, was my favorite way to end the week.
While my Shabbat dinner was generally followed by mountains of homework, the short period of rest and relief that I got while baking challah, giving some to friends, and eating a meal without distractions makes it worthwhile. Through the craziness of the pandemic and college life, I find solace and relaxation in the practice of baking challah, and I feel like I have reconnected to some of my love for Jewish practice. And, of course, the challah French toast that I make the following morning is just as delicious as the Shabbos challah.
About the Author: Ellie Prober is a junior at the University of Virginia (UVA), studying women, gender, and sexuality studies (WGS) and government, with a minor in French. Ellie is passionate about feminism, justice, and creating a better world for everyone. At UVA, Ellie is involved with the color guard, the Cavalier Daily newspaper, and Gamma Phi Beta. After completing her undergraduate career, she wants to continue her studies by attending graduate school for a master's degree in public policy. This summer, Ellie was a Lewis Summer Intern in the JUF Legacies and Endowments department.