Baking Challah at Glide
February 13, 2020
Posted by: Jessica Sterling, Public Affairs & Civic Engagement Associate, East Bay
Glide Memorial Church was not the first place I’d made Challah, but it was the first time I’d made Challah deep in the Tenderloin, below streets on which some of San Francisco's most vulnerable live.
There’s a small crew led by Rabbi Michael Lezak, an integral member of Glide’s Center for Social Justice, who show up every Friday morning to make over one hundred loaves of Challah. The “regulars” are members of Glide or The Kitchen, or both. There are a few who discovered this weekly ritual through friends or word of mouth. As a guest and newcomer, I was partnered with a seasoned Challah maker and member of Glide. She explained the process and helped me get into the rhythm needed to create such a large number of Challah in a short amount of time. We weighed small pieces of dough, just 2.5 ounces each, and set them aside to rise. Then another crew member, part of The Kitchen community, showed me her technique of how to knead the dough efficiently.
About an hour passed. On the other side of the small prep kitchen one of Glide’s staff was setting up ten stations for volunteers to prep cabbage. Glide relies heavily on volunteer support and we were told that the prep shift volunteers didn’t show up. Once we learned this news, five of us relocated to the prep stations and in less than 15 minutes we’d chopped all of the cabbage and were back to braiding Challah. This decision didn’t take any conversation or discussion – help was needed and help was given.
The Challah production moved along step by step: form small mounds of dough, rise, roll into snake like shapes of dough, rise, braid three strands into a small loaf, set on a baking sheet. After a quick egg wash, the Challah trays were placed in a rolling rack and walked in a single file procession through the labyrinth of Glide’s basement from the prep kitchen to the main dining hall’s larger kitchen area. This is the same space where hundreds of people are fed three times a day. The eight trays fit into two ovens and a timer was set while we rejoined the others.
As the Challah baked, we gathered and, with prompts from Rabbi Michael, took turns sharing our personal thoughts on the topic of the day. As we finished, the fresh-baked bread was wheeled past us on its way back into the prep kitchen for bagging. The air was filled with the scent of warm Challah.
Together we recited the blessing in both Hebrew and English, then tasted warm bites with excessive butter. The noon hour approached and, as kitchen volunteers stood ready for the next set of diners, the Challah crew set out in small groups to hand deliver the weekly bags of Challah – one group headed upstairs to deliver to staff on all six floors of the Glide complex, Rabbi Michael took a group on a walk up the street to a nearby preschool and I joined three women who delivered to the Tenderloin Police Station a few blocks away. On the walk to the station we passed the growing line of those waiting to enter Glide for the lunch meal. We also passed tent shelters, garbage and filth, and a plethora of people.
The Challah that is made at Glide is baked with an open heart and a grounded soul. Every Friday morning, in the basement of Glide, the Challah-making crew fulfills the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, one loaf at a time.