The term “challah bread,” a traditional Jewish treat, conjures images of braided, oven-browned dough, with or without the poppy seeds.
But the challah is not actually the bread, Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center Director Rabbi Nosson Meretsky said during the center’s Mega Challah Bake on Sunday.
“Everyone always think that challah refers to the braided bread,” he said. “Technically, it doesn’t mean that.
“The challah is the chunk of dough you remove before you bake,” he continued. “You can go to the store and find a box of matzah that says ‘challah has been taken.’ ”
More than 20 people came to the bake, mostly Penn State students seeking to bake the bread for the first time. Individual containers of flour, sugar, water, oil, salt and yeast were set out in fives around several tables, each enough for a pound of dough.
The main thing to making the bread is the blessing, Meretsky said. After consecrating the dough with a prayer, each pound at the table provided a small piece of dough totaling about an ounce.
During the time of the first temple in Jerusalem, he said, the dough removed was given to the priests for their food. Now, that the temple is no more, he said, the section of dough is typically burned.
The gathering itself also held special significance, Meretsky’s wife, Sarah Meretsky, said. Every seven years, the land is not touched, giving it a rest for a year. The following year, Jewish people would all gather to hold a mitzvah, or charitable act.
The eighth year, called the year of Hakhel, Sarah Meretsky said, celebrates Jewish unity and learning. It also marks coming together to perform holy acts, such as giving to a charity, baking bread or reading the Torah.
A table of Penn State sorority sisters mentioned that they had started coming to the center last year. While some had experience making the bread — Sarah Meretsky had visited their sorority herself to teach them — others were learning for the first time.
“It’s good to be part of the center,” said sophomore Courtney Konin, of Philadelphia. “We don’t have a big Jewish community at home.”
“This is a good way to be part of the community while away from home,” said sophomore Randi Ivler, of Manalapan, N.J.
The center was opened in 2001, Meretzky said, and is one of more than 4,000 Chabad centers around the world. Sunday marked the first time a large-scale bread bake was attempted at the center.