In preparation for the High Holidays, the Chabad of Park Heights and the Weinberg Park Heights JCC are hosting a challah bake for Baltimore-area Jewish women.
The Pre-Rosh Hashanah Challah Bake will be held at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC on Monday, Sept. 11, and will feature bestselling cookbook author Rochie Pinson as a special guest.
Pinson’s cookbooks largely focus on challah, which she has been baking every week for Shabbat for the past 18 years. A rebbetzin as well as a baker, Pinson endorses challah baking as not only a mitzvah, but as a therapeutic and meditative activity that she describes on her website as “awakening … a deeply rooted feminine desire to nurture, and nurture creatively and positively, that we have perhaps ignored for a long time.”
Pinson wrote “Rising: The Book of Challah” in 2017, a combination cookbook and memoir, which proved to be an international bestseller. She published a version for younger readers called “The Kids Book of Challah: Challah Adventures for the Whole Family,” in 2022, in part inspired by the young attendees of Pinson’s virtual challah-baking workshops during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pinson has traveled to Chabad houses around the country to promote her cookbooks and hold hands-on challah-baking workshops. It was through one of these workshops that Chomie Raices, program director at the Chabad of Park Heights, first met her when she was working in New York several years ago.
“Last year’s [Pre-Rosh Hashanah Challah Bake] was really well-attended and people really enjoyed it, so I wanted to take it to the next level,” Raices said.
She reached out to Pinson, remembering her from several years ago, and the two reconnected for the event.
At the Pre-Rosh Hashanah Challah Bake, Pinson will be teaching attendees about different styles of braiding, as well as some of the recipes in her books. Special toppings will be provided so prospective bakers can give their loaves a unique flavor.
The JCC and Chabad of Park Heights have been collaborating on events for a long time, most notably the Chanukah Wonderland carnival they hold annually. The carnival has only recently returned after a several-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though, so both organizations were looking for other ways to partner.
“We’re so excited to be able to bring [Pinson]. She’s fabulous,” said Laura Kurcfeld, the senior program director at the Weinberg Park Heights JCC.
In addition to being a workshop where women can bake challah for their families, the Pre-Rosh Hashanah Challah Bake also doubles as a social event for Jewish women in the community. Wine and refreshments will be provided, and Kurcfeld noted the social potential that challah bakes hold.
“It’s a beautiful way for women to connect,” she said. “We’re all elevating ourselves, engaging in this mitzvah together and creating something to share with our families.”
Raices echoed the sentiment. “There’s a power in numbers, a power of women. This is a women’s mitzvah,” she said. “The warmth of the challah, the connections we make. … Our job in the home is to help create those connections and warmth in the family.”
Challah bakes can be expensive affairs, but Kurcfeld and her husband Rabbi Mayer Kurcfeld, as well as Rabbi Elchonon Lisbon and his wife Tzipporah, are co-sponsoring the event in their parents’ memories to make it more affordable for participants.
“I hope [participants] take away inspiration for preparing for Rosh Hashanah, but also camaraderie, friendship and joy,” Raices said.
The JCC and Chabad of Park Heights, the latter of which is an affiliate of Chabad of Maryland, are continuing to work on more opportunities to collaborate. Raices added that they are planning on starting a monthly women’s Rosh Chodesh club in October.
“If challah baking taught me anything, it’s that we never know what to expect,” Pinson wrote on her website. “And it’s always going to be wonderful — and probably fattening.”