Challah Magazine | Issue 02 | February 2021 | Adar 5781 | A New Read on Young Jewish Life

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ISSUE 002 MARCH 2021 ADAR 5781

challah. fusing cultural heritage, spirituality, and contemporary jewish experiences

A NEW READ ON JEWISH LIFE the ritual of immersion

of scotland and sabbaths

not your average shabbat bread

michal zweig

sydney switzer

charlie hillman

Issue 002

about the cover

photography and words by Arian Reyhanian

The Tomb of Esther and Mordechai, Hamadan, Iran Located four hours away from Tehran, the tomb of Esther and Mordechai stands in Hamadan, a city that was once home to a large population of Iranian Jews. The caretaker shows you inside through a door too small to walk through upright and the interior walls are covered with immaculately preserved inscriptions from the Torah. In the adjoining room, Esther and Mordechai’s tombs lie side by side, the room is decorated with vibrant textiles and ornate chandeliers, with just enough space for a handful of people at a time. The synagogue and the mausoleum serve as a reminder that these quarters were once thriving with Jewish life and culture and provide us with a connection to the tales we learn about as children and celebrate.

arian reyhanian

welcome readers yaffa judah

editors’ letter talia misan, esther offenberg, sam rabin a jewish literary legend


esther offenberg

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hamsa artwork





sydney SWITZER

dear diary


daniel jacobson

talia jacob

of scotland and sabbaths

belief and evolution


a deeper look

about the cover

gianina d

repetitions in prayer

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emmett stone

the ritual of immersion


michal zweig

food and culture

jewish identity



a modern puim tale 30 & hamentaschen ksenia prints

kubaneh charlie hillman


with gratitude YAFFA JUDAH Founder and Creative Director TALIA MISAN, ESTHER OFFENBERG, SAM RABIN The Editors NAOMI COHEN BENCHABO @Prints by Naomi Artistic Director We are grateful for our growing community that has supported our venture into the exploration of our Jewish heritage and identities. Thank you for facilitating synergistic collaborations and meaningful connections. To our families, friends, peers, and members of the wider community who support the making of challah, tuck in!

© Challah Magazine, 2021. All Rights Reserved.

Issue 002

dear reader, Infused with Jewish treasures and fresh perspectives, the personal and evoking pieces of this issue will allow you to peer into the musings and makings of young Jews internationally. Coming from far and wide, our creators have brought their experiences to add to the conversation about what it means to be Jewish today. Intellectually stimulating and aesthetically delightful, this issue has been crafted with the dedication of our featured contributors and the meticulous attention of the growing Challah team for whom I am grateful. I hope you will learn, unlearn and relearn and take inspiration into your own lives. As ever, Challah is better shared. So this Shabbat, when you bring something to the table, bring Challah.

Yaffa Founder and Creative Director

Photo: Arian Reyhanian, Hamadan, Iran. 4 | challah.

March 2021 | Adar 5781

editors’ letter Here we go again, you know the Challah is good when you come back for a second slice. An artist’s second album is famously difficult, and drawn-out periods of isolation certainly aren’t easy either. Last issue there was a freshness to this struggle, but by now, this has worn off and collective worship and celebrations seem distant. Today we are more seasoned to this way of life. There are profound things we have learned from the individual paths people have taken as young Jews increasingly take more responsibility for our own expansion of knowledge and we can relish even the opportunity to cultivate our own inner discourses. With a shift in perspective, this is an exciting time for us to forge new ideas. Michal reflects on the psychological potential of the Mikveh ritual to get us through times of change. Sydney goes back to the basics of gratefulness alone on her travels, marveling at the sublime natural world we inhabit. Emmett dissects the words of prayers

which we may all know inside out but may never have read between the lines. Whilst unprompted, a theme of this issue has emerged in celebrating Jewish personas living in isolation from their community, all the while championing our way of life. Be it 12th century medieval England or 21st century Scotland. With less ‘noise’ during long periods of isolation, in some ways the characters in Torah are intensified as characters present in our lives, their voices amplified in the stillness. With Purim just around the corner, we hope this issue will bring you many moments of joy and introspection in between hearty bites of Ksenia’s delicious gluten-free Hamantaschen or Charlie’s staple Kubaneh recipe. Thank you to our wonderful contributors, who have once again produced illuminating and intriguing creations, and fitting with the theme of Purim, turned our worlds upside down! So let’s raise a glass to a successful sequel and get excited for what lies ahead.

The Editors | 5


Talia, Sam & Esther

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Photo: Mat Reding on Unsplash 6 | challah.

March 2021 | Adar 5781

Sir Walter Scott’s

Rebecca a Jewish literary legend by Talia Jacob


are Shylock from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice (c. 1596-99), Fagin from Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1838), and the much-maligned Barabas from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta (c. 1590). Notorious misers and hook-nosed caricatures, they embody some of the worst antisemitic stereotypes in existence. Now these are the characters that the world chooses to remember. As Jews, why do we do the same? Why do we focus on our bad representations? Do the superlative ones even exist? Yes, they do. Sir Walter Scott’s Rebecca, a protagonist of his medieval masterpiece Ivanhoe (1920), is the Jewish literary legend you should be talking about. | 7

jewish identity

ndoubtedly, the Jewish race is one of the most visible minorities in the world. Some say that few people will have met a Jew, but the majority of them have heard of a famous one. So that may not be true; in fact, it probably isn’t. But either way, a plethora of our ambassadors belong to popular culture. As a community, we’re judged by the quality of the celebrities we produce; the prominent figures from history who we call our own. We’ve been doing pretty well on the entertainment front, claiming the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Barbra Streisand, and Wynona Ryder as part of the tribe. Nonetheless, the English literary canon hasn’t been building us the best reputation. Some of its best known Jewish characters

sir walter scott’s rebecca

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Rebecca is the daughter of a one-dimensional moneylender, Isaac of York, but that’s where the typecasting ends. She’s exceptionally beautiful, dazzlingly insightful, and immensely talented. When Wilfred of Ivanhoe, the titular character and a Saxon knight, is injured in a tournament, she saves his life using her skills as a healer. She later goes on to survive and overcome captivity, sexual harassment, and a witchcraft trial. Basically, she’s the ultimate badass. Rebecca stands up for herself, her religion, and her morals. She exposes hypocrisy, and rewrites the rules of her society by speaking out. The Knight Templar, Brian de Bois-Guilbert, tries to threaten her into having sex with him. It doesn’t work because she warns him that “each Chapter of thy Order, shall learn, that, like a heretic, thou hast sinned with a Jewess”. Brian doesn’t want to be banished for publicly breaking his celibacy vow, especially with a heretic, and backs off. We can all learn from Rebecca’s willingness to sacrifice her reputation, and later on her life, to do the right thing.

“The two women earn their places in our hearts because they’re memorable risk-takers. They speak their minds, and defend their positions.” You guessed it, the lascivious Brian repeats his offer. This time Rebecca’s on death row; she’s about to be executed for witchcraft, and an escape route is his bargaining chip. It’s a more tempting prospect, as far as that’s possible. But in case you were worried, Rebecca doesn’t ride his horse literally or metaphorically. She gives the knight the ultimate brush off, making it absolutely clear that “I hold thee as my worst and most deadly enemy”. Predictably, and I suppose luckily, Ivanhoe comes to rescue her by defeating Sir Brian in a Game of Thrones style trial-by-combat. I know what you’re thinking, here comes another white male saviour.

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Except Ivanhoe’s big muscles don’t kill Brian; he conveniently drops dead for no apparent reason during the fight. Rebecca saves herself; she refuses to renounce G-d, and He’s there when she needs Him. Yes G-d, and not the patriarchy, is the real boss. When you hold on to your faith you’re eventually rewarded. Whether that’s faith in G-d, or in yourself. Maybe that’s why Queen Esther, when she’s tested, doesn’t let death phase her. She risks her life of luxury to save the Jews from another genocide. According to the Megillah “if anyone [...] approaches the King in the inner court without being summoned, there is but one law for him: that he be put to death; except for the person to whom the King shall extend the gold sceptre so that he may live”. Esther laughs in the face of danger, and successfully approaches Ahasuerus in this way. She invites him to the famous banquet, and the rest is history. We all know that Esther and Rebecca are strikingly beautiful, and it’s their good looks that get them noticed. But they’re not just beautiful; they’re brave, and it’s their daring that we should remember them for. Esther becomes Queen to take charge when no one else could. Mordecai thinks that G-d chose her “for such a time as this’’ to use her power for good. She champions her people and doesn’t let them accept their place in the world. She teaches them to fight for their future and their rich collective identity. She leads by example. Moreover, her presence is a defiant act against those who would demean her. The commentary on the ArtScroll Megillah wonders: “why did G-d subject the Persian women to the humiliation of being taken to the King and then rejected in favour of Esther [the Jewess]”? Its answer is: “because the Persian women used to pour contempt on the daughters of Israel, calling them ugly and saying none would look at them”. Esther reminds us that we have a moral duty to fight back; to resist the haters; to call them out. However clichéd the epigram is, we must be the change we wish to see in the world.

March 2021 | Adar 5781 | 9

jewish identity

Esther can’t shake off her Judaism, and neither can approved”. Rebecca, not Rowena, is the figure that Rebecca. But they hold onto it, and don’t attempt Ivanhoe and the popular imagination can’t shake, to unavailingly push it away, even when it makes and it’s her unashamed self-acceptance that etches their lives difficult. For instance, Rebecca is the her into our memories. heroine of Ivanhoe in practise, because of it, rather than in actuality. Rebecca is too Jewish to be the Personally, I’ve always found self-acceptance female-lead, so she reels us in from the shadows difficult. In the past, I struggled to be open about and steals Rowena’s (the official leading lady) my Judaism. Whenever a new acquaintance asked place in the readers’ hearts. Naturally, Rowena is me where I came from, since I don’t quite look a gorgeous blonde bombshell. More importantly, English enough, I’d prevaricate by divulging that she’s a Christian. A Saxon like my Dad was born in India but Ivanhoe, she marries him at the “Esther can’t shake off wasn’t ‘Indian’. I was that girl end of the story. Whilst Rowena who never wore their Magen looks forward to a felicitous her Judaism, and neither David outside the house; future, Rebecca leaves England I was worried what other can Rebecca. But they to escape persecution. Unlike people would think of me. It’s Rowena, Rebecca doesn’t have hold onto it, and don’t ridiculous, but I thought I’d the freedom to live the life she become a pariah if I decided to longs for. In a much anticipated attempt to unavailingly be that ‘Jewish’ person. interaction between the two characters, Rowena begs push it away, even when In their respective tales, Rebecca to renounce her Rebecca and Esther aren’t the it makes their lives faith and stay in the country. obvious heroes. Mordecai, She responds by spiritedly who pulls the strings, is difficult.” acknowledging that “I may not celebrated as the king’s saviour change the faith of my fathers in the Megillah. Rebecca, as like a garment unsuited to the climate in which I previously mentioned, is eclipsed by the ‘golden seek to dwell”. She recognises that the wisest, and couple’ Rowena and Ivanhoe (even though Ivanhoe the only, course of action is to stand by her religion is a terrible titular character; he’s incapacitated for because it can’t be easily discarded. most of the novel). Nevertheless, the two women earn their places in our hearts because they’re Rebecca understands that her Judaism is a part memorable risk-takers. They speak their minds, and of her. It’s embedded in her DNA and will always defend their positions, even when it could lead to make her different. “There is a gulf betwixt” Rebecca a death sentence. If we don’t have ourselves, then and Rowena that can never be bridged, and the we don’t have anyone. So let’s not define ourselves same can be said of Rebecca and Ivanhoe. There’s by the West’s worst version of who we are. Let’s an inextricable connection between the knight prevent that narrative from taking over, and protest and the Jewess, but it goes unexplored because of it. Since we have the choice, let’s not be the Jew of the cultural chasm that divides them. Ironically, Malta. Let’s be Rebecca, by commemorating her, Rebecca’s ‘otherness’ is what draws Ivanhoe to instead. her; what makes her so compelling. At the end of the novel we’re left to contemplate “whether the recollection of Rebecca’s beauty and magnanimity did not recur to his mind more frequently than the fair descendant of Alfred might altogether have


Scotland and

s a b b at h s Across the Northern Scottish landscape, Sydney finds herself amid two starkly different Shabbatot. by Sydney Switzer

Photo: Sydney Switzer, Moine Mhor, Scotland 10 | challah.


I thought it would be lonely - short days on empty beaches, hiking through deserted glens and towering forests, followed by long nights, waiting for the sun to rise again. Sometimes when I spoke, wishing ‘good morning’ to a dog walker, or paying for groceries, my voice caught in my throat, as if it hadn’t been used for so long it had fallen asleep. But I wasn’t lonely. I felt alive - more alive than I’d felt in a long time. When I woke up, even in the utter darkness of 7:00 am in the Scottish winter, I felt completely refreshed, ready to take in every moment. sat in

shabbat must be over. It’s too dark to see my watch face, but I don’t know what time it was meant to end anyway. The sky has clouded over and I can’t see any stars, but I’ve watched the light fading over the Sound of Sleat, the last traces of blue disappearing behind the Sgurr of Eigg, and I’m beginning to lose feeling in my fingers, so I climb into the back of my car and pull out my guitar and my Havdallah candle.

I’ve just spent three weeks driving “I around Western Scotland. I’ve slept in the back of my car, cooking on a portable the car for Traigh Beach, on the western coast of Lochaber, is packed with tourists in the gas cooker and going where the road takes me. Scotland is a wild country. summer. The golden sandy bays lead an entire into rolling dunes topped with marram The isolation I feel as I sit on stretches Shabbat.” grass, become rocky headlands and of rugged coastline, at the end of narrow give way to looming Highland hills. At gravel roads, makes me feel like there is nobody and nothing else in the world apart from 7:00 am, in the dead of winter, in the middle of a pandemic, I had it to myself. Wrapped in my layers, me and this moment. I stepped out of the car and made my way through Although there is. I bring with me my backpack the dunes to an outcrop of rock jutting into the full of experiences, my beliefs and identity and water. The sky was beginning to turn, the deepest memories and traditions, and so when Friday blue giving way to a foggy gray. I sat down on the afternoon comes around, I pull on the parking rock and pulled out my Siddur. brake and perch on the edge of nowhere, welcoming Shabbat and the wild winds of the Atlantic.

jewish identity | 11

ּ ָ‫מֹודה אֲ נִ י לְ פָ נֶיָך מֶ לְֶך חַ י וְקַ ָיּם ֶשהֶ חֱ ז ְַרת‬ ֶ ‫ִבּי נִ ְשׁמָ ִתי ְבחֶ ְמלָה ַרבָ ּה אֱ מּונָתֶ ָך‬

Judaism gives me a way to process. Especially during the pandemic, it has brought rhythm and meaning to my I am grateful before You, living and days and seasons. The holidays pull me enduring God, Who has mercifully forward, the rituals slow me down. During returned my soul to me, great is my roadtrip, they broke up the seemingly Your faith. endless stretches of highway. They gave me words with which to praise, and brought These words are not difficult to say when me structures with which to place my you’re surrounded by such immensity. It’s gratitude. easy to be grateful when the wonder of creation is laid out before you. I didn’t feel Friday afternoon I stopped and looked. lonely because every moment of my trip, I watched the sun set, and I took in the at every turn of a bend, I could feel the stillness. There was nobody to talk to, nothing to do, except sit and look at the tangibility of splendor in the world. When you live outside, you live with the world. I examined seashells, I felt the sun, realities of the natural world. When it I tasted the air. That first Shabbat at Traigh rains, you get wet. When it’s cold, you’re was incredible. Shabbat morning was bright cold. When it’s dark, you go to bed. And and beautiful, and I walked from beach to when a rainbow spreads across the sky, beach, watching the light shimmer off the vivid and bright as the sun peeks out from water, smelling the grass, and soaking in behind heavy clouds, you’re grateful to be the glory. alive. My second Shabbat was less beautiful. Unable to find a place to camp as the sun ַ‫ּפֹוקח‬ ֽ ֵ ‫אֱֹלהינּו ֶ ֽמלְֶך הָ עֹולָם‬ ֽ ֵ ’‫ּבָ רּוְך אַ ּתָ ה ה‬ was sinking lower and lower in the sky, I ‫ִעו ְִרים‬ settled for a gravel patch on the side of a twisting country lane south of Oban. I Blessed are You God, Ruler of the think it would have been quite beautiful, World, Who gives sight to the blind. but I never saw it, because it started How can I not praise my ability to see, pouring as Shabbat began, and poured all the miracle of eyes, when such incredible night and the entirety of the following day. I thought about getting out of the car, but beauty is spread before me? nothing dries in the back seat so I thought better of it. I sat in the car for an entire ‫אֱֹלהינּו ֶ ֽמלְֶך הָ עֹולָם רֹוקַ ע‬ ֽ ֵ ’‫ּבָ רּוְך אַ ּתָ ה ה‬ Shabbat. Sunday morning when I drove ‫הָ ָ ֽא ֶרץ עַ ל הַ ָ ּֽמיִם‬ south to Seil and Craignish, I couldn’t have felt better about leaving that patch of road Blessed are You God, Ruler of the World, Who spreads forth the earth behind. But that’s how it is. Judaism gives above the water. and it takes - a constant presence in our lives. As I sit on a tiny outcrop, a piece of rock in the middle of the ocean, attached to a As I travel between continents and larger piece of rock which is also sitting communities, it has anchored me to in the middle of the ocean, how can I not something that extends beyond the here praise the miracle of life? How can I not and now of daily living. And so I sat on the revel in the structures which give form to rocks, taking in the vastness and breathing in the air of Scotland and Sabbaths. our beings?

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Photo: Sydney Switzer, Camusdarach Beach, Scotland

of scotlands and sabbaths

Issue 002

“It’s easy to be grateful when the wonder of creation is laid out before you.”

jewish identity

Issue 002

dear d

As you know Purim is coming up again and it brought up some nostalgic relationship feels. It’s nearly been a year since I last thought about her but I just can’t get away. I first got to know her years ago and it seemed that everyone was raving about her - what a strong woman, so focused and kind, with all the right motives. So when she showed up in my life, I loved all her stories and how omnipresent she was. Everyone loved her! I even copied her style for a few years. But as I’ve grown older and have been hearing more sides of the story, I couldn’t help but wonder - is Esther really all she is made out to be? Could my destiny lie with someone else? And what am I dressing up as this year? In our folklore, Jewish biblical or historical figures are often made out as the be-all and end-all of positive and desirable behaviour and intention. We grow up hearing these fantastical stories of our forefathers and foremothers, the countless times they saved our people or simply did a good deed and unless we take the time to dive deeper into our Jewish texts or history, we often remain content with the oversimplified version of our heroes.

Photo: Arian Reyhanian.

And so I ask myself, what happens when we get out of that honeymoon phase? I always loved the story of Purim and Queen Esther - not only did she save the Jewish people but she was a Queen and also my namesake. However, as I got older my interest has turned towards another woman and her fleeting, mysterious appearance: Vashti. The few times that Vashti was mentioned in the Purim story and in subsequent descriptions

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or commentary, she is mainly highlighted as this stupidly stubborn person who is ultimately deemed responsible for her own deathly fate. But with the rise of feminism and revisiting old depictions of female personalities in Jewish history, many are finally getting some welldeserved recognition and reinterpretation, Vashti among them - and I’m loving it! When I first read about her reimagining, I was much more drawn to her characteristics and narrative over Esther’s. Maybe I simply felt saturated with the natural glorification of Esther and finally saw a refreshed Purim story with the misunderstood underdog Vashti redefined. Or was Esther’s path actually not as empowering in my eyes, as everyone always made me believe?

It’s not that Esther had been knocked off her well-deserved pedestal, but rather that the story of Purim had got a fresh coat of paint with the reintroduction of one of its supporting actors. If I am learning one thing here, it is that when the

Peek into Esther’s diary as she ponders the relationship with her namesake and her attraction to ‘the other woman’.

by Esther Offenberg

image of our role models and leaders are shaken, it opens up a new possibility for closer inspection and re-evaluation. Do I discard them as quickly as I was disappointed or do I embrace their new version? This is a chance to re-compartmentalise the glimmer of humanness shining through, with the potential of not only relating to them more on an equal level but also understanding that I am for myself as they were for themselves. Typing out and rehashing her journey, I fall in love all over again with the character of Esther, taking her imperfections and circumstances and fitting all the pieces together into a new account. Our story stays the same but our relationship has changed, evolved. As any relationship should. Carrying our ancient Jewish history with us it can sometimes feel stagnant or outdated, which is why it is always exciting to discover new traits and personalities, like Vashti. On the other hand, it can be equally rewarding to dedicate some special time to the figures we think we know and have supposedly spent our whole lives with to try to see them in a new light. There is a reason why we stay faithful to the stories we have and why I’m not leaving Esther’s side anytime soon. There are always surprises waiting around the corner who knows who my next Vashti or new Esther will be? I cannot wait to meet them all.


Esther | 15

jewish identity

As with any relationship, it’s “I am for myself so important to not lose your as they were for gusto. Is that what themselves” had happened here? It seemed like Esther wasn’t doing it for me anymore. Where was the spice, where was the flavour? And Vashti certainly shook things up for me, bursting in with her own story, albeit brief, powerful and significant enough to be retold in the Megillah.

March 2021 | Adar 5781

BELIEF AND EVOLUTION Daniel finds common ground on his journey in reconciling faith and science. by Daniel Jacobson

illustrations by Gianina D

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March 2021 | Adar 5781

A fascinating feature of Judaism is its relationship with the concept of ‘faith’: namely, as something not only to be avoided, but to be deliberately derided. The definitions of ‘faith’, as presented by Merriam-Webster, give the impression that faith itself is accompanied by a certain blindness: “allegiance to duty or a person”, “complete trust”, “firm belief in something for which there is no proof ”. It makes sense why faith may provide somebody with calm or comfort – as a driving force, a reason for living in the face of utter adversity – but is religion about providing comfort, or is it about providing answers? Whilst having faith may epitomise and embrace the former, it contradicts the latter. This is stated most explicitly in the very opening line of The Way of God by the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto b. 1707), in which he writes “Every Jew must believe and know that there exists a first Being, without beginning or end, who brought all things into existence and continues to sustain them”. This is a bold opening statement for any argument, in particular due to his insistence on stating “Sheya’a’min v’yed’a” (believe and know). He states both in order to assert that one’s certainty of Hashem’s existence must begin with belief and, with gradually increasing conviction, end with knowledge. In this way, Judaism’s seeming disdain for faith makes sense, as it is based on the idea that one should believe in the central tenets of Judaism – such as Hashem’s existence – not simply because somebody told you so, but because it is a logical conclusion grounded in reason and evidence. Subsequently, this has encouraged me to reconsider what I know and, indeed, in what I may simply have faith. I am a first-year PhD student studying genetics and I have learnt that scientists also have a version of “believe and know”. It is known as the ‘scientific method’, and is characterised by rigour, scrutiny, observation, logic, evidence, and awareness of the danger of assumptions. However, this method is difficult to apply properly. For example, in August 2015, the Reproducibility Project attempted to replicate the findings from 100 published psychology experiments but was only able to reproduce the results of 36% of them. At its worst, the process can be hijacked and manipulated, resulting in such nonsensical findings as associations between MMR vaccines and autism, as was published in the esteemed medical journal The Lancet in 1998. The risk is that if you begin to doubt the scientific method, the conclusions, in turn, will be far less meaningful. Evolution, the gradual process by which | 17

belief and evolution

Issue 002

evidence behind evolution “embraced as an opportunity to revise our understanding of the Torah, as opposed to a threat against its teachings”

the characteristics of biological entities change in response to their surroundings, is exemplary of a certain religious aversion to the scientific method. My PhD centres on the evolution of tumours. This is an incredibly important subject because it goes a long way in explaining why many tumours are so difficult to treat. At its most basic level, a tumour contains cells which are growing uncontrollably. As these cells grow and divide, some are gathering changes in their DNA which, in turn, cause them to develop new features, such as resistance to chemotherapy. This means that if this patient is treated with chemotherapy, the chemotherapy-resistant cells will be the only ones to survive and, because these cells will form the new tumour, applying chemotherapy again will not work. This is a real-world, real-time example o f evolution at work, and to disregard the theory of evolution is not only unfounded, but dangerous. Intriguingly, Judaism has adapted more readily than other religions in response to overwhelming evidence in favour of the theory of evolution. Whilst we may be in the Hebrew year 5781, there are enough Orthodox sources that claim we don’t have to take this literally, therefore making the theory of evolution viable. In turn, evidence behind evolution, such as geology and palaeontology, have been suggested as remnants of previous ‘worlds’, and have been embraced as an opportunity to revise our understanding of the Torah, as opposed to a threat against its teachings. Admittedly, whilst I certainly have ‘belief ’ in evolution, based on many years of reading and research, what this requires is a belief in the scientific method. I would hesitate to call this ‘faith’ as it is a particularly trustworthy process – one which leads to the development of drugs which cure diseases,

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March 2021 | Adar 5781

planes which fly, and explains why tumours are difficult to treat – but to call it ‘knowledge’ feels like a step too far. In one way, it was intriguing and encouraging to find out that the Jewish and scientific approaches to acquiring knowledge share a common basis. This raises an interesting question: how has one approach led to the theory of evolution, and the other led to proof of Hashem’s existence? I am hesitant to offer a concrete answer for this, but one possibility surrounds the assumptions which one is willing to accept. The Ramchal, for example, attributes belief in Hashem to the somewhat abstract concept of ‘tradition’ and the idea of facts and knowledge being relayed accurately from generation to generation. Specifically, he references Devarim 4:9 in which, following the revelations at Sinai, Moshe states “You shall not forget the things that you saw with your own eyes…and you shall make them known to your children and to your children’s children”. To me, these assumptions – that Hashem’s existence and perfection is truth because it is stated in the Torah, and that this ‘knowledge’ has been passed down through the generations completely robustly – feel slightly cyclical and self-fulfilling, but it is, nonetheless, an example of evidence contributing, logically, to the Ramchal’s hypothesis.

Admittedly, I initially approached this article from a pessimistic perspective, borne out of a certain frustration that religion in general must intrinsically maintain an arm’s length from scientific endeavour, for fear that cynicism will only seek to slowly dismantle its foundations. I have learnt that this is utterly incorrect. Like science, Judaism is grounded in logic, observation, and rigour. Could it be that there is flexibility surrounding which assumptions are valid? Possibly, I will have to find out more. In the meantime, though, when the Ramchal said that Jews must “believe and know”, he finally seems to make more sense to me. | 19

a deeper look

Although many will deride an assumption of this kind, scientists will also acknowledge that their work is saturated by assumptions – from the data types required for certain statistical tests to be valid, to strong focus on the conditions within which experiments are conducted. Even mathematics, which many scientists describe as the only real source of complete certainty, is reliant on ‘axioms’ – statements taken to be true to enable further work to be conducted. In their ground-breaking 1910 work Principia Mathematica, the philosophers Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead famously take over 1,000 pages to prove that 1 + 1 = 2. The concept of mathematical assumptions also received a blow in 1931, when the young mathematician Kurt Gödel presented his ‘Incompleteness Theorem’, which stated that as long as one is reliant on mathematical axioms, the consistency of mathematics – its potential to always deliver logical results, such as that 1 can never be equal to 2 – cannot be proven.

Issue 002


Repetition Amida… of

and shema In breaking down the two most habitual brachos, Emmett illustrates the significance of linguistic composition as a switchboard for our connection with Hashem during davening. by Emmett Stone

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Linguistics underpins communication in a way that cannot be said, so to speak, for any other, whether in sheer presence or in breadth of possible meaning. Though arts, gifts, instrumental music, or indeed acts of service—all of which are found in one way or another throughout the observance of a Jewish life—do have a significance in conveying various emotional or even poetic messages, still none compare in scope. We know intrinsically that there is a difference between ‘he gave the door a push’ to saying ‘he pushed the door’; even when ideas are similar the execution is significant. To have an awareness and precision about speech makes for a good orator, and having awareness and precision in one’s davening makes for improved kavana. The Anshei Knesses HaGedolah—the Men of the Great Assembly, who arranged the broad structure of the siddur still used today— had both such skills. The arrangement of the siddur, along with the composition of tefilas, were chosen with care, to not only convey the basic message but use precise grammar and literary devices to do so. To understand the wide

March 2021 | Adar 5781

range of styles of language, and language itself as seen across ‫( שמע‬Shema), and ‫( עמידה‬Amida a.k.a Shemone Esrei) may be some of the most important to distinguish.

syntax as in Shema does not have this feature, which adds a significant amount of linguistic difference. Still, the literary devices are not completely totally removed.

The Amida is made up of a number of different brachos but the structure of each is fairly consistent. These were composed in response to an increasing lack of kavana in weekday davening that they witnessed, but it offers simplicity of language for people to connect without the need for much Torah study. As such, each bracha is clear-cut, and the imagery is meant to merit connection just on the surface. The various blessings of the Amida—ranging widely from death and resurrection, to wealth, forgiveness, health, the Temple, and rain to name a few—are instead short and far more focused internally.

Echoing, in the opening line and the bracha itself, is found throughout as well. For instance, ‫ְרפּואָה‬ (Refuah) makes use of the Hebrew compound so that the words repeat in a rhythmic way.

The Amida starts essentially with a reason that one should pray—an idea to keep in mind for later. The first bracha of Shemone Esrei begins:

‫ אֱלקי‬.‫ּבָ רּוְך אַ ּתָ ה ה’ אֱלקינּו וֵאלקי אֲבותֵ ינּו‬ ‫ וֵאלקי ַיעֲקב …הָ קל הַ ּגָדול‬.‫ַאבְ ָרהָ ם אֱלקי יִצְ חָ ק‬ ‫ּנורא קל עֶ לְ יון‬ ָ ַ‫הַ ּגִ ּבור וְ ה‬

Blessed are your Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzok, G-d of Yaakov, the great, the strong, & and the supreme for eternity.

On a basic grammatical level there are the same tenses, and verbal moods, persons [i.e. the agent], and the language can be manipulated to create a common thread.

Heal us HASHEM (yud-yud) & we’ll be healed…Bring complete healing for all our ailments. For G-d, king, you heal…‫( י”בא‬who) heals the sickness of his nation Yisroel.

Here, the language is certainly formal, but effectively stripped to the bones. Clearly as well there is a rhythm to the recitation of the words themselves

Heal us ‫י‬-‫ י‬and we will be healed. Save us and we will be saved… but beyond this literary technique with the repetition and near anagramming switching between active and passive, the language is precise and specific, asking on Hashem for a direct bracha. The five uses of the word ‫ר־פ־א‬ (heal) certainly adds clarity, specificity, and (linguistic) simplicity. This might all sound obvious for the nature of a prayer, but can by no means always be said. Indeed, Shema is usually considered the only part of davening mandated in the Tanakh, and it’s unlike the bulk of prayer. Consider for instance that Shema does not itself actually contain any real praise contained in the text in the core three paragraphs. This is found to an extend elsewhere, as with the ‫( עקידה‬Akeida), but not to the same context. Otherwise, considering other sorts of blessing, which are usually either thanks | 21

a deeper look

All this is read as one speaking directly to Hashem—of course, it’s true. The language is direct, using the first person plural [we] in an address to G-d, referenced vocatively. Moreover, these often feature imperative clauses, which one might expect to see with a plea. Many of the statements included are stated certainly, as affirmation of the power of Hakodosh Baruch Hu. Indeed, the fact we see tenses at all cannot be considered a given exactly. Biblical Hebrew

‫ָׁשעָ ה ּכִ י תְ הִ ּל ֽ ֵָתנּו ֽ ָאּתָ ה‬ ֵ ֽ ‫יענּו וְ ִנּו‬ ֵ ֽ ‫י וְ נ ֵָרפֵ א הו ִֹׁש‬-‫ְרפָ ֽ ֵאנּו י‬ ‫וְ הַ ֲעלֵה ְרפּוָאה ְׁשלֵמָ ה לְ כָל מַ ּכו ֽ ֵֹתינּו ּכִ י קל מלך רוֹפֵ א‬ ‫י רוֹפֵ א ח ֹולֵי עַ ּמ ֹו‬-‫ ּבָ רּוְך אַ ּתָ ה י‬:‫ֶנאֱמָ ן וְ ַרחֲמָ ן ֽ ָאּתָ ה‬ ‫י ְִׂש ָראֵ ל‬

‘‫את ה‬


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or praise, Shema’s language stands out. What is special about the very language of Shema, looking past the brachos made before and after, is that it is designed to convey a variety of messages, all in different tones, quoting, from in some ways different speakers, from all different parts of Tanakh. Take for instance the first paragraph. The language is in the second person singular, but it is a quote from Hashem, which is to say that it if taken literally, it would be as if the reader is talking to himself. ‫וְ ָאהַ בְ ּתָ אֵ ת ה’ אֱלקיָך‬ ‫אדָך וְ הָ יּו הַ ְּדבָ ִרים‬ ֶ ‫ּבְ כָל לְ בָ בְ ָך ּובְ כָל נַפְ ְׁשָך ּובְ כָל ְמ‬ ‫הָ אֵ ּלֶה אֲׁשֶ ר ָאנכִ י ְמצַ ּוְ ָך הַ ּיום עַ ל לְ בָ בֶ ָך‬ You (sg.) will love Hashem your G-d in all your heart…let the matters I put on you today be on your heart…

This is eventually followed by the start of the second paragraph as this could not be considered ‫וְ הָ יָה אִ ם ׁשָ מעַ ּתִ ְׁש ְמעּו אֶ ל ִמצְ ותַ י‬ ‘‫אֲׁשֶ ר ָאנכִ י ְמצַ ּוֶה אֶ תְ כֶם הַ ּיום לְ ַאהֲבָ ה אֶ ת ה‬ ‫אֱלהֵ יכֶם ּולְ עָ בְ דו ּבְ כָל לְ בַ בְ כֶם ּובְ כָל נַפְ ְׁשכֶם‬: It will be if you (pl.) listen to my commandments which I command you today to love H’ your (pl.) G-d, and serve Him with your heart…

does throughout the Torah use the imperative form of verbs in order to convey a command, but here the choice is purposeful. This is not to say that love is any less of a mitzvo because of the language, but the fact is that this is ‘just’ an indicative statement. It is not only stating what one must do, but that it is so fundamental it is truth itself. It is a question we are not only faced with in davening. Rashi asks on the first lines of Bereshis why it is that Hashem would start by describing the creation of the Universe; if Hashem gave the Torah for the sake of the mitzvos, then surely it would be clearer for those learning Torah to only have a list, without any stories or chronology. Rather, Hashem, in Rashi’s wisdom, does this to affirm that even the land was created for the sake of Am Yisroel. To know the history of the world as well as the Jewish people gives a foundation for what may follow.

This is not of course to say that one cannot find poetry nor awe-filled words in Shema, only that the poetic level is deeper. As the Netziv says, ‫[“ תבע השירה וסגולת‬in the Torah] there is nature and richness of poetry”. That said, the only soto-speak manipulated section would be a single word, coming after everything anyway.

[Ado—, Elokeheim…emes] (Hashem, G-d is truth)

a prayer in the typical sense of the word as either a request or praise, but is rather a statement that affirms the use and need of prayer itself. The first two paragraphs mirror each other in many of the same ideas elsewhere, each time with slightly different language however.

with emes technically coming from the following paragraph; in Sefer Bemidbar the line ends with Elokeheim. Moreover though, any of Shema’s poetic strength, comes from its internal repetition. The first two lines of each paragraph, quoted above mirror each other in certain ways literarily, despite differences in who is being addressed in the quote: singular versus plural.

One may be reminded of the Chumash, with its rich and mystical stories followed by rather bold and direct lines, one after the next, often ‘merely’ stating commandments. Here of course they aren’t commandments, strictly speaking, at all as the statements imply the future. Hashem often

This is no accident. Tanakh often uses parallelism, and other repetition, along with other sorts of imagery, itself, but in this case the Anshei Knesses HaGedolah amplify this; the language was always there—black on white—but the selection and the presentation give the sense of a connectivity to

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‫ואהבת א‬ ‫אלקיך‬ March 2021 | Adar 5781

memory, and observation of mitzvos. It gives a sense of a corporate relationship with Hashem, even though of course that the actual sentence structure differs notably from any true bracha— Shema, direct and to the point; the Amida, winding but prosaic. | 23

a deeper look

There can be no doubt Shema and Shemone Esrei are starkly different. On the surface one is deoreisa while the Amida is rabbinic Hebrew from such distinct periods that it is almost a separate language. Still, it is in the interrelationship that these two show their purpose of their arrangements. Shema, if needed can be treated like Torah learning —it is the text verbatim—but as a mode of prayer it contains not only significant literary messages, but also multiple ways to understand the same

tone of messages Hashem has given us in our approach to davening and mitzvos. Its strength is in recollection and commemoration of love, redemption and the power of Hashem. This is always followed by the Amida, wherein the language expresses the ability to act on these revelations. Written in direct, first person language with a vocative address to Hashem, the aim of the prayers are laid out in the language itself in a practically conversational format, relatively speaking; were either section to be restructured after the other this, effect would not come across.

Issue 002


the ritual of


Find the accompanying glossary on page 29

24 | challah.

March 2021 | Adar 5781


n many sects of Christianity, Baptism is required to convert into the religion and for the ‘confirmation’ of children and babies born into the religion. In Islam, ritual purity is called tahara, and can be achieved through Ghusl, a full-body ritual bath done for conversion, before prayer, and to continue marital relations after menstruation. If these concepts seem familiar, it’s no coincidence. In Judaism, a tevilah in the mikveh is a full-body immersion into spiritually cleansing waters. These waters are where the magic of mikvah lies, as they facilitate the spiritual changes which can consummate the conversion of a non-jew into a jew and raise you from a state of tumah to one of tahara. As far back as Temple times, mikveh practices have been vital to halakhic jewish life, making it no wonder they’re echoed in other Abrahamic faiths. Still today the mikveh covertly plays a role in marriage, birth, death and even food, as crockery often needs a tevilah. But for many it isn’t the spiritual transformation that makes going to the mikveh significant but the repetitive actions involved, both in the preparatory steps and in the immersion itself. This significance isn’t just spiritual but psychological. For some, the effort and time involved might be a dreaded chore, while for others it creates an anchor against the ebb and flow of life. | 25

a deeper look

Jewish law requires building a mikveh to be the prime concern when starting a Jewish community, and if there isn’t a usable mikveh available, the community is even obligated to sell their possessions to be able to fund building one. This is because a niddah and her husband are forbidden from any physical contact by a set of laws known as Harchakot (if a sex-strike ended the Peloponnesian War imagine what could happen to a halakhically observant community without a mikveh). Thus, a married Jewish woman takes on the ritual of going to the mikveh once a month to observe taharat mishpacha. The ritual cyclically repeats itself - like the moon which guides the Jewish month and like the menstrual cycle itself. The preparative steps which span two weeks, lead up to an event which only lasts a few minutes. And while you, your body, and the water you immerse in changes from one tevilah to the next, the ritual itself remains constant. My own kallah teacher told me to imagine the cyclical nature of the mitzvah as a growing spiral instead of a stationary circle.

the ritual of immersion

Issue 002

On top of the harchakot there are also requirements to fulfill before you are supposed to go to a mikveh. Women must count seven clean bloodless days from the end of menstruation. And women must be clean in the most literal sense because any dirt is a Hatzitza which would prevent their spiritual ascent and not end their niddah status. However, for tevilat ezra - a custom held by many communities - Hatzitzot aren’t such a big deal. Tevilat ezra is the custom for men to go to the mikveh every day before shacharit. The reason for this is three-fold. The first reason is because it is viewed as the right thing to do before praying after having a seminal emission. And if you are thinking “if that’s what it’s for, why are all these frum men going everyday?”, to answer this we find our second reason - so that no one feels embarrassed going to the mikveh in the morning because everyone else is doing it too. Thirdly, immersion brings an additional level of sanctity which should bring more inspiration to prayer and strengthen your connection to God because the mikveh is a source of kedusha that can be brought into your life. And again, the cyclical nature of the repeated action of going to the mikveh everyday for tevilat ezra holds its own spiritual and psychological significance, similar to that of married women. But Haredi men aren’t the only people trying to introduce the kedusha of mikveh into their lives. A few years ago a friend from New York was telling me how it felt she was doing gneivat da’at because she pretended to be married every time she went to

the mikveh. I didn’t know much about unmarried women using the mikveh, but I wondered why unmarried women were generally barred from going. Aren’t we as Jews supposed to judge other Jews favorably? If a single woman were to go to the mikveh before Yom Kippur the way my father does, why should she be barred from attaining that kind of kedusha because someone is judging her unfavourably? I wanted to learn more and came across Rabbi Haviva Ner-David, who was given an Orthodox semicha in 2005 but has since left Orthodox Judaism, calling her philosophy postdenominational. Rabbi Ner-David, along with having a semicha, wrote her PhD thesis to Bar-Ilan University on the relationship between a niddah and tumah. But more notably to me, she was an important background player in the 2013 decision made by the Israeli Supreme Court which ruled that because the mikvaot in Israel are publicly funded, the mikveh attendants could no longer ask women’s marital status to permit or bar entry. For over a decade Rabbi Ner-David has also been the director of Shmaya, a pluralistic mikveh, which is a non-gendered space where Jews can immerse as they choose for any reason, in order to bring more sanctity and kedusha into their own lives, and eliminating the issue of gneivat da’at. A similar mikveh, called Mayyim Hayyim exists in Boston. It was at this pluralistic Boston mikveh that Rabbi Miriam Berger of Finchley Reform Synagogue found the closure she needed after her fertility struggles.

[the Ritual of Mikveh] creates an

anchor against the ebb and

flow of life 26 | challah.

When Rabbi Berger mentioned her mikveh experience in her sermon at the following Kol Nidre service, she was inundated with members of her congregation asking “will you create a ritual for me?” But was met with a serious roadblock: the only non-orthodox mikveh in London, was a converted disabled toilet, making it inadequate and too clinical for the spiritual task. While there is no shortage of beautiful orthodox mikvaot in London, they would not be the right space for single women or Jews with LGBT identities. Thus, Rabbi Berger spearheaded the Wellspring Project UK - a centre of wellbeing with mikveh at its heart. This mikveh would be halakhically compliant and have attendants who are wellversed in the halakha relevant to mikveh so as to be able to advise the users. However, unlike other mikvaot in London the attendants would be trained to accommodate mikveh users, so they can “meet them where they’re at” in terms of practice and comfort, as mikveh-goers would be there for a variety of reasons beyond taharat mishpacha or tevilat ezra.

the mikvah they temporarily lose the tumah and become spiritually pure because they are fulfilling a mitzvah. When I first heard this, I remember cynically thinking that was just something they tell women so we won’t feel dirty or spiritually lower than men. But I reconsidered my attitude when Rabbi Berger spoke with me about how she wants Wellspring Project UK to help change the attitude toward mikveh in progressive Jewish communities in the UK, from something that is viewed as misogynistic to something empowering. It is our attitudes and intentions - our kavanah which distinguish something as misogynistic or empowering. A Jewish transgender woman from Manchester named Bee volunteered to share an experience that I believe demonstrates the empowering spiritual influence or kedusha that the mikveh waters enable. To preface the story Bee shared some of her background with me. She grew up in a Moroccan shomer masoret home in which LGBT identities “were so beyond the pale they weren’t even acknowledged” - which contributed to a loss in her connection to Judaism and her community early in life. But recently (pre-covid), Bee had made the decision to go on a pluralistic Jewish women’s retreat. The retreat had an on-site mikveh which could be used with an attendant. Though initially reluctant, one of the program’s coordinators who knew Bee’s story had convinced her to do a tevilah. Bee described the experience as “deeply affirming”, ending a battle between her queer identity and a Judaism which rejected it. “I started crying when I got in the water” said Bee, “because in that moment I felt a thread reconnecting me to my Judaism and to my community.”

“It is our attitudes and intentions - our kavanah - which distinguish something as misogynistic or empowering”

When I had the privilege of speaking with Rabbi Berger on this subject, she remarked that “what Judaism does really well is create transitional moments for people and mikveh can support people in creating Jewish moments for transitions.” Thus, the mikveh would be used in the typical sense for women, which she noted “marks the passage of time”, but also in order to help demarcate and give spiritual guidance for life cycle and life milestone events such as a first period, post-cancer treatment, graduating university, or coming out in sexuality or gender. When I took kallah classes I was told something along these lines: In our world everything always has tumah (even men after they go to the mikveh). However, when converts or married women go to | 27

a deeper look


March 2021 | Adar 5781

the ritual of immersion Issue 002

28 | challah.

March 2021 | Adar 5781

glossary Mikveh a pool of spiritually cleansing water for ritual immersion to achieve ritual purity

and to convert to Judaism. A halakhic mikveh’s water must come from specified natural sources and must meet minimum size requirements.

Tevilah literally means immersion (in water/liquid). The noun form of the verb tavel (often pronounced as toivel from Ashkenazi pronunciation in English). Here it refers to the act of immersion in the mikveh.

Tumah ritual impurity (noun of adjective tameh for male or t’me’ah for female). The natural state of everything since the destruction of the Second Temple.

Tahara ritual purity in Hebrew and Arabic (in Hebrew: noun of adjective tahor for male or tehora for female).

Taharat family ritual purity. Usually refers to everything involved with the laws surrounding the niddah and the process of becoming tahor in a marriage. Mishpacha Niddah a woman who is menstruating or has menstruated but has not yet been to the mikveh.

Hatzitza/ anything physical (dirt, jewelry, nailpolish, unwanted hair, dandruff etc.) that would get between the mikveh waters and the person or object immersing in the water, Hatzitzot (pl.) which prevents ritual purification from happening. Gneivat literally means “stealing of knowledge”. A concept in Jewish ethics that refers to knowingly misleading someone or deceiving them. It is forbidden for Jews to Da’at knowingly deceive anyone, even a non-Jew. Pluralistic inclusive of all denominations (liberal, reform, masorti, orthodox, etc.), which typically means that a level of halakhic compliance is held to accommodate Judaism everyone. Kallah literally means “bridal classes”. Kallah classes and chattan (or chosson) classes are marital classes given in halakhically observant communities about the laws of classes taharat mishpacha and going to the mikveh. Kallah classes are taught by a kallah Shomer literally means “guarding tradition”. Distinct from what’s known as Masorti Judaism in the UK. A phrase in modern Hebrew to describe a certain type of observance Masoret that is not secular, nor exactly orthodox. Typically associated with observing most or all of the laws of Kashrut and Taharat Mishpacha, but not observing Shabbat beyond a Friday night dinner and synagogue attendance (usually an orthodox synagogue). | 29

a deeper look

teacher (English) or madrichat kallah (Modern Hebrew).

Photos: Ksenia Prints @theimmigrantstable

a modern

purim tale produced by Ksenia Prints @theimmigrantstable When my family moved to Israel from Russia in the early 90s, the abundance of Jewish holidays was truly shocking. Growing up in the Soviet Union meant little exposure to Jewish religion, spirituality, or culture....

30 | challah.

“What’s your costume for Purim?” The thing was, we didn’t have a costume. At that point, we didn’t even know what Purim was, but the reverent tones in which kids spoke about it suggested that it was a REALLY BIG DEAL. I quickly realized that your choice of costume really mattered, even in Grade 1. Costume competitions were announced, and a frantic air of preparation

seemed to descend upon every family with schoolaged children. Armed with that information, I quickly ran to tell my mother of this holiday, and begged her to make me something really nice for it. A big sewing machine stood in a corner of my parents’ bedroom, huddled between my sister’s toddler bed and the closet. This machine was the source of some of our nicest clothes: my mother’s cotton and linen suits, and simple, summery outfits for us girls. My mother was not the most adventurous or advanced seamstress, but what she lacked in skill, she more than made up for in tenacity. When that sewing machine opened, my mother would sit there for days, hunkered down on an uncomfortable | 31

food and culture

As a result, my sister and I often found ourselves staggering and wide-eyed as our peers sang their way through the traditional songs, talked about special holiday treats, or asked us where we were going for the holiday. But the question that really swept us off our feet and left us panicked and staggering for breath was,

a modern purim tale

Photo: Arian Reyhanian.

stool in the unflattering light of an ancient industrial desk lamp, humming to herself, putting us through rigorous fittings and demonstrations. Naturally, when my mother got word of Purim, the sewing machine came out of hibernation. In the following weeks, my mother spent precious stolen hours, tucked between work shifts at her two jobs, hunkered over that sewing machine. The night before Purim, my mother produced a beautiful, shimmering, white lace dress with long, flowing sleeves and a band of golden sequins around the waist. The dress fit me like a dream,

32 | challah.

and it made me feel like the luckiest, prettiest girl in the world. That year, I went to my Purim celebration as a princess. Informed of the holiday’s other requirement, the custom of exchanging mishloach manot, or sweets, between children, my parents had gathered a small, but dignified plate of cookies, wafers and caramel candy, and sent me on my way. I felt great, and though I didn’t win any awards, I was amazed to come home with a bounty of sweets and the holiday’s main attraction: a small

March 2021 | Adar 5781

the city was bustling , lights shone everywhere cellophane package of hamantaschen, or “Ozney Haman” (Haman’s Ears) as they are called in Hebrew. I felt true, pure bliss. That night, I put on my princess costume, my parents wore their finest suits, my sister was wrapped in some frilly outfit, and we went out to take photographs in our beautiful clothes. The city was bustling, lights shone everywhere, and I could feel like a whole different person. When Purim rolled around next year, my mother declared that she didn’t have the time to make another outfit. So she told me I could wear the same dress, add a pointy hat and a wand, and be transformed into a kind sorceress. And so I did. Armed with the requisite bag of hamantaschen, I felt ready, though less excited, about Purim. The next year came, and my mother suggested I wear that dress again. This time, I adamantly refused. Tears and fights ensued, the house became a war zone, and eventually, my mother backed down. She assembled a fairytale costume for me, made up my face and sent me on my way, armed with another plate of wafers and cheap candy. I wanted to cry the whole way to school. And my sister dutifully wore the princess dress to school.

We never had hamantaschen to give out. It was years before we even had any brand name treats and my homemade outfits soon started to feel cheap and dowdy.

This year, as I bake gluten-free hamantaschen, wearing a mask on my face no longer feels like an exception. It’s easy to think back to how the costumes and masks of my childhood made me feel. How the prettier I looked, the shinier my plate of treats was, the better it felt. The truth was, it didn’t matter whether I went to school dressed as a princess or a sorceress. My costume - my mask - was the same old thing. The person inside - an immigrant, a dreamer, a shy little girl - remained unchanged. While I don’t sew my own Halloween or Purim costumes now, I still refuse to buy them in store. I bake my own plate of hamantaschen, delighting in the childhood flavours, and give some to my sister, who lives a few blocks away. We call our mother, who no longer sews, but who can now afford to buy herself all the hamantaschen she wants. She wears a mask to her work, but it doesn’t feel like it’s Purim. And underneath it all - the masks, the make up, the adult behaviours we’re all still the same. | 33

food and culture

It took me years to realize that the candy plates my parents assembled were often haphazardly thrown together the night before, or even the very same morning. Anything sweet that wasn’t yet moldy or expired came out of our drawers, and could therefore be slipped to some unsuspecting child without too much embarrassment.

I wanted a “real”, store-bought costume, recognisable candy, and a big plate of hamantaschen. Going to school in any other costume felt, somehow, less. It took me many more years to realize how precious those homemade outfits and scrounged-up treats actually were. How high was the cost of my mother’s sleepless nights over that sewing machine. How guilty she must have felt, sending me to school with pitiful plates of candy, imagining the embarrassment of the recipient’s parents, and knowing they just couldn’t afford anything better.

Issue 002

gluten free

hamentaschen Dough adapted from Leah Koenig’s Modern Jewish Cooking Prep time: 10 minutes Baking time: 20 minutes Makes 12-16 Servings

ingr e die nt s The Dough 1 cup gluten-free flour mix 1/3 cup almond meal 1/2 tsp baking powder pinch of coarse salt 1/2 tbsp orange juice Zest of half an orange 1/8 cup oil The Filling 170g Medjool dates 1/2 cup orange juice or non-dairy milk 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped 1/4 tsp cinnamon, ground 1 pinch cloves, ground

Photos: Ksenia Prints @theimmigrantstable

34 | challah.

Equipment Large mixing bowl Medium medium bowl Spatula Baking sheet Parchment paper / silicone mat Oven Rolling pin 7.5-cm round cookie cutter or glass

March 2021 | Adar 5781

the dough Combine the dry ingredients (gluten-free flour, almond meal, baking powder and salt) in a medium-sized bowl. In a large bowl, combine wet ingredients; orange juice, orange zest, oil, sugar and egg, and whisk together. Working slowly and in batches, add flour mixture to wet ingredients (adding in ½ cup at a time). Stir the dough a few times, just until it starts to come together. Transfer the dough onto a flat, floured surface and knead a few times. Dough should be smooth but not sticky; if it’s too dry, add more orange juice, 1 tsp at a time, or more gluten-free flour, 1 tb at a time, if it looks too wet. Shape dough into a flat disc, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

the filling Add filling ingredients to the food processor. Process until smooth, scraping down the walls of the food processor with a spatula a few times to combine everything. | 35

Issue 002002 Issue

preparation Preparing hamantaschen: When ready to bake the gluten-free hamantaschen, preheat the oven to 180C. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or a reusable silicone mat.

the forming Remove dough from the fridge, and using a rolling pin, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to about 4-mm thickness. Using a cookie cutter or a glass, cut out circles and transfer them onto a baking sheet, leaving some space between the cookies. Roll scraps of leftover dough back together, and repeat the process until all dough is done.

baking Spoon 1-teaspoon of date filling in the middle of each circle. Fold into a triangle: fold the left side over on an angle, followed by the right side and then the bottom, forming a triangleshaped pocket. Pinch the seams firmly. Repeat with remaining dough. Bake for 20 minutes at 180C . Let glutenfree hamantaschen cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool. Gluten-free hamantaschen will keep in a sealed container for 4 days. And, of course, enjoy and tag us in your creations @challahmagazine on Instagram!

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March 2021 | Adar 5781

food and culture | 37

kubaneh n ot your av e r age s h a b bat b r e ad Buttery, flaky, crispy at the edges and warm, this is the Yemenite-Jewish overnight bread called ‘Kubaneh’. Traditionally baked over Friday night in lidded tins and eaten Shabbat morning, with a grated tomato dip or a green sauce called ‘zhug’, I liken it to a mix between challah and a croissant. My first and only encounter with this magical bread was almost 10 years ago at a restaurant in Golders Green in London, where it was advertised as a ‘Yemenite brioche’. I have no time to be baking things for 8-10 hours and was glad when the recipes I found had much shorter baking times. The final result of a tear-and-share loaf with lots of dip options would make it a perfect starter for a dinner party, though as those aren’t happening at the moment, I have downsized the final recipe to fit a 6 inch cake tin. This is by no means a healthy new year’s resolution bread. This is an indulgent, hit me with a buttery carb fix bread, so make sure to be heavy handed when adding in the margarine or butter!

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March 2021 | Adar 5781 | 39

me t hods a n d i n gr e d ie n t s Like Challah, this bread really wins with the visual appeal, and the fiddly method of forming the bread. On researching different recipes, a few opted for a more discrete coiling (not too dissimilar to parts of the method of forming an Indian paratha) on making the layers, but I love the look of the spirals on top.

bu t t e r


This was a surprising ingredient to me. So often in Jewish dishes, oil is opted for instead of butter, due to that making it possible to be eaten with milky or meaty dishes. However, I couldn’t find one recipe using oil anywhere, so my first attempt was with butter. This gave the final product a lovely richness. My second attempt with margarine was equally rich and buttery, though produced layers that were more distinct and separate. This could possibly have something to do with the water content of butter vs margarine.

Most commonly I saw this served with a tomato dip: simple grated tomato, olive oil, lemon juice and salt. This was super simple, and I made it for my first loaf. I found that Palomar’s velvet tomato dip really took this to the next level though, flavoured with cumin and it has a great mouthfeel. Zhug is also a common accompaniment, and I opted to use Honey & Co’s recipe as my base. I have yet to find a bread that doesn’t work with hummus, and so would happily recommend this as well to serve with the bread.

40 | challah.

e g gs A few recipes, including the London restaurant ‘Palomar’ opt to include egg in the recipe. This makes the dough almost challah-like and seems a little inauthentic in my mind. It excludes the option of making it vegan, so I went for the recipes without eggs and settled on adapting Uri Scheft’s recipe.

March 2021 | Adar 5781

s we e t v s s avoury

i n c lu s i o n s

When looking at the quantity of sugar, butter and inclusion of plain vs bread flour in this recipe, one might be inclined to think of this as a cake or dessert bread rather than something savoury. Indeed, I could easily see this going great with a cinnamon and honey dip or drizzled with a rose and honey syrup. Honey & Co take this route in their recipe (can be found in their baking book) and opt for a super sugary version that in my eyes is more akin to a cake. I actually quite like the ambiguity of my recipe – it can be used as a starter or smothered with Nutella for a late-night snack. Make it yourself and decide how you want to treat it!

A few recipes I saw online included scattering nigella or sesame seeds across the sheets of dough before you roll them up. So I could maintain the sweet vs savoury ambiguity for the loaves I made, I decided not to include either, but I’d recommend you try it if you like those flavours. If you want to be a bit more experimental, give cinnamon sugar or cocoa powder and sugar a go to make it akin to babka or rugelach!

ingr e die n t s Plain Flour 222g Lukewarm water 129g Margarine (or you can use butter) 67g Sugar 27g Instant Yeast 3g Salt 9g | 41

me t hod

Issue 002

1. Make the dough: Add all the dry ingredients except the yeast and butter into a mixing bowl. Mix until thoroughly combined and add the yeast. Add the water. 2. Mix on the dough on low speed of a stand mixer to combine the ingredients, stopping to scrape in any dry ingredients that have settled on the bottom or sides of the bowl. Once the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium-high and continue to knead until the dough cleans the bottom and sides of the bowl, about 3 minutes. Alternatively, mix with your hands to form a ball of dough, and knead for 5-7 minutes on the worktop. 3. Place dough into a clean mixing bowl with space to double in volume, and set aside covered until doubled in size (in my cold student kitchen it took 1.5 hours). 4. Using a dough scraper, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Cup your hand around a piece of dough, then push and pull it, rolling it against the work surface, to gently shape it into a ball. Set it aside, cover with a damp tea towel, and repeat with the 7 remaining pieces of dough. Cover, and set aside at room temperature for another 30 minutes to let the gluten relax, and make the next step easier 5. Melt the margarine in the microwave about 50% of the way, so some is melted, but there’s still some solid chunks. Use some to generously grease a 6inch cake tin. 6. Here comes the messy part! Stretch the dough: Take around a tablespoon of margarine and use it to grease a clean, non-floured work surface. Take a ball of dough, smear another tablespoon of margarine on top of it, and gently press and spread it out into a paper-thin rectangle. Use more margarine as needed—the margarine helps spread the dough thin without tearing (but if you have a few tears, do not worry). The key is not necessarily the exact size of the rectangle, just that each you make are similar in size, and you’ve got it as thin as you can.

March 2021 | Adar 5781

me t h o d

7. Shape each swirl: With the longest side of the rectangle facing you, fold the left side 2/3 across the rectangle, and spread some margarineon top, then the right side of the dough over the left to form a simple three-fold. Spread some margarine on top. Starting at the short end of the strip (closest to you), roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Slice the cylinder in half vertically, to expose the circular insides, then place the halves, cut side up, in the pan (start by placing them in the centre, working your way towards the perimeter as you add new rolls). 8. Repeat steps 6 and 7 with the remaining balls of dough. Reserve 1 tablespoon of margarine to use later. If you’re using a smaller pan, you can stack the rolls on top of each other. 9. Let the kubaneh proof: Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until a finger gently pressed into the dough leaves a depression that quickly fills in by three-quarters, about 40 minutes. 10. Preheat the oven to 155°C (fan). Melt the remaining 1 tablespoon margarine, brush it over the top of the dough, and place the pan in the oven, on top of a baking tray (essential if you don’t want to end up with an oven covered in butter). After 15 minutes, reduce the temperature to 145°C and bake until top is deeply golden, 3035 more minutes. Remove pan from the oven and set it aside to cool for at least 20 minutes before turning the bread out of the pan. | 43

Issue 002

‘ v e lv e t ’

tomato dip

– adapted from palomar’s recipe 2 peeled plum tomatoes 1/4 tsp toasted cumin seeds ¼ - ½ green chilli (depending on your spice tolerance) Squeeze of lemon juice Glug of extra virgin olive oil Pinch of salt Blend all the ingredients except the olive oil in a blender or food processor until smooth and add salt to taste. Slowly pour in the oil while blending to make a thick, smooth sauce. To make it extra smooth, pass through a sieve.

z hu g – Adapted from Honey & Co’s recipe A small bunch of coriander ½ green chilli ½ clove of garlic Pinch of salt 1/8 tsp of ground cardamom 1 diced cherry tomato 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil Blend all ingredients apart from the oil to form a thick paste. If you have a mortar and pestle, use this, otherwise try with a blender or food processor. Failing that, a sharp knife and some good knife skills on a chopping board will do the trick. Place into a bowl, and add the oil and mix.

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Photo: Arian Reyhanian, Iran.

All Rights Reserved. © Challah Magazine, 2021.

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