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What did I Learn from Baking Challah?

With Pesach swiftly approaching, I took some time this week to enjoy baking some chametz. And I’m talking “BAKING baking.” With the advent of online classes, I have found myself with time that I didn’t have in my life at Penn. So, I tracked down an older family recipe for challah, and went for it.

5 HOURS?!?!

Right at the top of the recipe it says “Allow for 5+ hours when baking,” and like most, I eagerly read through and did not think twice about it. After a laborious process and 5 hours later I was left with these two aesthetically pleasing and mouth watering challah loaves.


Now don’t mistake me, that first bite of challah was as good as any, but it was in the process where I learned my lesson. You see, baking challah is the metaphor we didn’t know we needed during this pandemic. First, it’s just rather incredible to think of the ingredients we are working with. All domesticated originally about 10,000 years ago, we are using flour and yeast from the Middle East, sugar that was first farmed in Southeast Asia, and not to mention the eggs of chickens which were also first raised in Asia. We literally “have the world at our fingertips” when making this Shabbat staple.

Additionally, the recipe I used required 3 distinct periods of rising. Each preceded by some kind of physical punching down of the dough. The challah dough did something that we as people should all admire. Every blow it took from my fist, smush of my palm, and press of my knuckles ultimately culminated in the rising of the dough once again. In one or many ways we have all been knocked down during the COVID-19 pandemic, so let’s resolve to be more like challah dough, and rise.

Getting DEEP

Finally, it was the aggregate experience of baking the challah where I was reminded of maybe the most important aspect. We are rewarded for our work. At some point or another, you have likely heard the following line from Genesis 3:19, “By the sweat of your brow shall you get bread to eat…” Truly profound words, and I take no shame in saying that the long and tedious undertaking reminded me of one of our greatest gifts. Effort and work in meaningful pursuits lead to beautiful rewards.

So, next time you bite into a piece of challah on Shabbat, I invite you to think of what truly went into that loaf. I promise you’ll appreciate it more.

Cam Landis is a sophomore studying Anthropology from Madison, Ohio. He is a member of the Penn Track & Field team. And holds the record for Second all-time at Penn in both the indoor and outdoor shot put.

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