For the past four years, a small group of dedicated volunteers have met inside GLIDE’s kitchen facility at approximately 8:30 am on Fridays where they braid, egg wash, and cook up to 80 one-foot-long loaves of Challah bread and hand-deliver them to the GLIDE staff. It’s an activity inspired by GLIDE’s Rabbi Michael Lezak, who in his work at his older congregation, met up with a congregant named Jeff Kirschbaum. “We knew him as Chef Jeff and he would bake 80 challahs a week for our congregants, in particular for families who had new babies, were in mourning, or had new joys to celebrate in their life,” says Rabbi Lezak. “Chef Jeff, his wife, and I dreamed up this vision of baking and serving hot challah, and I wanted to share this tasty Jewish Sabbath tradition when I came to GLIDE.”
The group of bakers consist primarily of members of The Kitchen (a religious community Rabbi Lezak and his wife, Noa, founded ten years ago). Several members come to GLIDE every two weeks to prepare giant batches of challah dough. The dough consists of yeast/flour and water slurry, and once it’s finished rising, goes into a freezer and comes out as needed for Friday challah making. Volunteers remove a portion of it early in the morning so it will be ready by 8:30 am.
One of the breakfast volunteers Valerie Miller has been helping to bake the Challah since the beginning and shows no signs of stopping. “We get to share the Jewish tradition of putting effort into creating beauty with our rituals. The beauty is important because it’s an expression of love. With the handcrafted beauty of the braided bread, we get to convey a little beauty and caring to each person’s day. Plus, I just love the energy at GLIDE, and being able to make the staff smile in a small way is a wonderful expression of our heartfelt appreciation for all they do.”
On a recent Friday morning, members of The Kitchen donned their aprons, and rolled up their sleeves to take part in an act of Chesed for GLIDE. It begins with flour dusting across wooden butcher blocks. Batches of Challah dough are distributed. Small lumps in the dough are removed and each piece is flattened out, eliminating any unwanted bubbles. To braid a challah correctly takes a little practice, but in short order the folding comes together with three interwoven strands. Egg wash glistens the tops and Kosher salt is sprinkled over the loaves. After about 20 minutes in the oven, the challahs are cooled for a few minutes before each is placed inside a signature small brown bag.
Before challah distribution, the group of volunteers gather for an end of the week/pre-Shabbat ritual, reciting the Hamotzi, a Hebrew prayer for bread and taking inventory of the past week. All participants are invited to sample a piece of the hot challah, smothered in salted (or unsalted) butter and basking in the motto, “more butter than you think you deserve.” “We give this bread to help sustain the work performed by those at GLIDE,” says Debby Hamolsky, who’s been making challah for the past two years. “And we’re putting into practice this idea of us all being “one city” and GLIDE is an organization that really supports taking care of this part of San Francisco. Plus, I don’t want my justice juices to get rusty. And it’s fun on top of everything else!”
On this morning, the Challah group celebrated the 67th birthday of Marilyn Heiss. Marilyn has worked tirelessly for the past four years making Challah. Feeding people is a mainstay of Marilyn’s sense of Jewish identity. “If you want to learn about unconditional love, GLIDE is the place to do it, “said Marilyn.
“When I serve GLIDE clients, I ask myself. What were they like as children? How did they get to this point? We all started some place. This experience has been transformational. It’s taught me more about compassion than I will ever know. Radical inclusivity. That is what GLIDE is about. I’m part of the GLIDE family and it’s an honor.”