The Chabad of Merrick-Bellmore-Wantagh is turning to challah for more than just comfort food in these times of great turmoil for Israeli citizens as the war with Hamas rages on.
To help those struggling in Israel, the Chabad hosted a women’s challah bread bake on Oct. 24, where participants engaged in prayer and solidarity to help their Jewish brethren in the Middle East. According to Chabad Rabbi Shimon Kramer, the challah bake is one of the many mitzvahs, or good deeds, the Chabad is undertaking to help.
“Every mitzvah we do, means a merit for them to succeed in their mission to keep them safe,” Rabbi Kramer said of the Israeli citizens.
Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, a terrorist group occupying Gaza, Israelis near the Gaza Strip have been in desperate need of aid. Roughly 1,400 Israelis were killed during the attack and more than 5,000 were injured, according to Magen David Adom, Israel's national emergency medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank service.
In addition to prayer, Chabad’s challah bake is providing aid to the Israeli medical service, with proceeds going to Magen David Adom, which will help replenish EMT supplies and keep ambulances running in Israel. The Chabad has also helped provide food, flashlights and other supplies to those in Israel who have been displaced due to the rockets exploding and other violence.
According to Rabbi Kramer, the support from the South Shore community has been tremendous.
“What’s beautiful to see is the unity amongst the entire community,” he said. “Getting together, even though we are miles away, everybody cares.”
According to Kramer, making challah is one of the mitzvahs that Jewish women undertake. Before they begin the process of shaping the dough, the women perform a special blessing, taking a piece of dough and putting it to the side, which represents the dough they would give to the high priest at times in the temple.
“You see those videos, the suffering that the hostages are going through, and the fact that we’re all getting together and trying to do another mitzvah, another gathering, another prayer to help them out, it’s tremendous,” Kramer said.
More than 100 women gathered at the Chabad to participate in the challah bake. Rabbi Kramer said flyers for the event were printed, but weren’t sent out because news of the bake spread through word of mouth.
For Wantagh resident Jayme Begun, the event helped her connect with her Jewish roots.
“I’m very happy to be here and make a donation, and to help Israel,” Begun said. “I feel great. I feel very attached to my religion, which I’m not normally as attached.”
Even those who do not practice Judaism came to the challah bake to support the Jewish community. Merrick resident Annmarie Smith, who identifies as a Catholic, said it was great to connect with the community at the event.
“It’s important to support everybody,” Smith said. “This is a horrible time for Israel.”
During the bake, Merrick resident Rachel Bros spoke to attendees about her experience in the Israel Defense Forces. Bros, who was born and raised in Tiberias, Israel, was drafted in the IDF after high school, and took part in the 2006 Lebanon War. Bros said her two years in the IDF helped shape her character and made her stronger, because she saw how people are directly affected by war.
While discussing her time in the service, Bros recounted an unforgettable moment when she was stationed near the Israel and Lebanon border. Just as her unit was heading home after a long week, alarms sounded because rockets were being fired at Israel. When Bros was finally able to return home, she realized those rockets had fallen upon her city.
“You find yourself, after a long week of service, spend the time with your family in a bomb shelter,” Bros said. “So, in Israel, no matter if you are a soldier or civilian, the war hits you. You feel it.”
For Bros, it was exciting to see the community come together at the challah bake and pray for the safe return of the hostages captured by Hamas, as well as the safety of the Israeli soldiers. Bros expressed hope for better days ahead and will continue to pray for Israel.
“I think this is the Jewish spirit,” Bros said of the community coming together, “and I think this the best (thing) to do, to pray for each other.”