For the past three years, Chabad of South Baltimore has been hosting an annual challah bake for women.
The challah bake gives participants, including many of the Chabad house’s student members, a space to commune with other Jewish women and participate in the important mitzvah of baking challah.
But with current events in Israel and the Middle East so strongly affecting the Jewish community, this year’s take on Chabad SoBo’s event is about more than just getting together and baking — it’s about standing together as a community in the face of conflict.
Chabad SoBo, which is home to the YJB Young & Jewish Baltimore group for young Jewish professionals, first started hosting challah bakes in 2021. The initial event was meant to support breast cancer awareness, as well as a Chabad member who had been diagnosed with the disease.
“This is a beautiful way for people to bring their friends and family and to connect with other Jewish women,” said Chana Kaplan, who runs Chabad SoBo with her husband, Rabbi Yaakov Kaplan, and is the organizer of the Chabad house’s annual challah bakes. “It was successful the first year. And the second year, it doubled in size. So we’re keeping up that momentum and tapping into the power of it for this third year.”
Last year’s version of the event was focused on Hakhel, the ancient Jewish tradition of returning to the Temple in Jerusalem every seven years.
This year’s event will be heavy, as Israel’s fight against Hamas weighs on the minds of Jewish people all over the world.
Kaplan, along with the student leaders who will be manning tables at the challah bake, are working on finalizing the pro-Israel causes the event will be fundraising for.
“It’s an important time to gather together and strengthen one another,” Chana Kaplan said. “So you don’t want to do that without Israel being at the forefront. The theme of this year is ‘am Yisrael chai’ and Jewish pride, and since our home was attacked, we need to strengthen our Jewish pride.”
Kaplan is a passionate baker; Chabad SoBo’s website even makes a point of mentioning her homemade challah in her online profile. While Chabad SoBo has held mixed-gender challah bakes in the past, this one is meant specifically for women, as baking challah is largely considered a women’s mitzvah.
“Everyone contributes to the home, but there’s an idea that the woman is the mainstay of the home and the one who sets the tone,” Kaplan said. “The mitzvah of baking challah strengthens our role as Jewish women, and I like to focus on that.”
Unity has always been a strong focus of Chabad SoBo’s annual challah bakes, and the idea of the community coming together under one banner or to support a singular cause. While last year’s Hakhel challah bake was a celebration of a recently revived Jewish tradition, 2023’s themes of unity are more centered around supporting others in the community during this difficult time and showing support for Israel.
“People feel paralyzed and overwhelmed,” Kaplan said. “Having actionable acts really helps create a bridge to connect with God and bring down more light, peace and harmony into our individual homes every week, as we bring that peace and harmony into Shabbat and into the world.”
Aside from the challah bake, Chabad SoBo is planning an upcoming Chanukah social and working on moving into their new, fully renovated location.
Kaplan said she hopes Jewish women who attend the event come away feeling empowered, and like they are contributing to a greater whole by doing something as simple as baking challah with friends.
“Our goal is to ramp up the volume of Jewish pride and come out stronger, more empowered and more joyful,” she said. “When we come together with others, and we share in this special mitzvah and this opportunity, we really are going to connect in a very strong way.”