Jewish · OBSERVATIONS · reading the world · rituals · slice of life

It’s all because of the raisin challah.

Every Friday afternoon, I smuggle a freshly baked challah into my house after I pick it up from a local woman who bakes challot fresh on Friday mornings.  . I hide it in my coat and put it on the counter when Isabelle isn’t watching. If she sees it, she will want to eat it.  And we have to wait ’til sundown to bless the candles, her, the fruit of the vine, and lastly the challah.

This past Friday we were driving back to Pennsylvania from Washington, DC.  I called ahead to Marvelous Market and had them hold a raisin challah for me.  Isabelle was napping with my mom in the car when I went in to pick it up.  I placed it in the backseat, where it was out of her line of vision, so she wouldn’t see it even if she woke up on the drive home.

But once we got home, I wasn’t thinking about my usual Friday afternoon smuggling-in ritual. Instead, I was thinking about unloading the car and getting ready for dinner quickly. Therefore, Isabelle saw the braided contraband in my hand as I put it on the kitchen island. She cried. I comforted her. She calmed down, but began crying again. Maybe she’s hungry, I thought, as I placed her in her booster seat for an unprecedented before-dinner snack. She didn’t want to eat. In fact, the crying got louder and louder.

“What’s she crying about?” my mom asked me.  After all, she had just gotten changed and had been offered a snack. What else is there when you’re two!??!

“I don’t know!”

“Maybe she wants to play,” my mom said.

I took her out of the booster and let her play. However, a few minutes later she was crying again.  I lifted her back into the booster and offered another snack. The crying continued.

My husband came home from work and barely got a greeting from Isabelle.  Seeing as he hadn’t seen her for over 36 hours since we were in DC, I knew something was up. As he took off his coat it dawned on me.  The challah!

“Isabelle, do you want to do Shabbat?” (I hate saying “do Shabbat,” but that seems to be the lingo that’s been used when it comes to talking about the Friday night blessings we do at home before dinnertime.”)

“(Ye)sss!”she said.  The crying immediately ceased.

“Oh my G-d!” I exclaimed.  “You saw the challah when you came in and you must’ve wanted to do Shabbat this whole time!  Do you want to help me get ready for Shabbat?”

“(Ye)sss!” she repeated with a smile.

“Well, let’s go!” I reached out my hand to her as soon as I unbuckled her from her booster seat.  “Let’s get ready for Shabbat!  Help me get the prayer book,” I said as I led her into the great room.  I grabbed it from the shelf and said, “Would you liked to carry it?”

She reached out her hands and said “(Ye)sss!”  Said prayer book was a bit heavy, which meant she dropped it. “That’s okay. But when you drop a prayerbook you have to kiss it like this,” I said kissing the spine. “You do.”

She planted a kiss on the prayer book as delicately as I did. I removed the dust jacket — she doesn’t like them — and handed it back to her.  “Put it on the island,” I said as she walked into the kitchen holding on to it tightly. She stood on her tippy toes and tried to reach, but couldn’t, so I assisted.

Next we retrieved the candles and Kiddush cup from their places.  I found my husband’s kipah and had her hand it to him.

Everyone kept moving.  My husband cleaned out the remaining wax from the candlesticks, my mom located the matches, I filled the Kiddush cup.  Isabelle watched as we swarmed around the kitchen getting everything ready quickly to keep her happy.

And she was, until I started singing “Shalom Aleichem,” which was a new tradition my husband and I agreed to start right after she turned two.  By the fourth verse the crying ceased. While she didn’t cover her eyes to bless the candles, she watched their flames dance. I could tell she was relieved Shabbat, which has become a ritual she holds dear, had arrived. Once she saw the challah in the clear bag, she knew it was time since she usually never sees it (since it hides under a challah cover until we’re ready to bless it). Therefore, crying was the only was she was able to use to tell us that she was ready for Shabbat.

This week, life is back to normal. We’re here in Pennsylvania for the next several Shabbats. Therefore, I will once again smuggle the challah into the house this Friday afternoon.


20 thoughts on “It’s all because of the raisin challah.

  1. What an absolutely wonderful story of the power of tradition on even your children. While I suspect she is fond of her bread, it is certain she values the power of the ritural spent together with her familiy – together – signaling the end of the work week and the beginning of a couple of days focused on family. I felt like I was with you as Isabelle “begged” you to begin and as the sense of peace descened on your family last Friday night.

    1. @Anita: While she does love the bread, I think it’s the ritual she loves more. I never thought about it in the way that you mentioned… Maybe she loves it so much because she knows it signals two straight days of family time is around the bend. Interesting idea! (And here I thought it was just because we’ve been doing it every Friday night since her first Friday night home with us in 2011.)

  2. Well done, Isabelle…it’s good that Mom, and Dad, and Grandma, too have you around for direction on a Friday night! Kids are such creatures of habit, and they notice EVERYTHING! What a wonderful tradition Isabelle has to look forward to every Friday…lucky girl!

    1. @Tara: She does! We recently stopped turning on any electronics (e.g., iPhone, TV, telephone) after we say the blessings (which is how it should always be, but that’s another story!). It really makes Friday nights even more special.

  3. So lovely to hear about Stacey. I just had a conversation about what one of my middle school teacher colleagues said about his students. He thinks they rarely eat at home, often eat out, or alone, with microwave meals or fast food. Busy people aren’t taking time to make those traditions, which is sad. I loved hearing about your tradition and that Isabelle is already learning and loving the time.

  4. Among many cultures it is believed children are closest to God. It sounds like your daughter has a very sweet soul. A soul who loves the tradition with her family as well as enjoying the sweet taste of challah. May you and your family enjoy the rich blessings of tradition for many years to come.

  5. What a rich family life you have created! This is a wonderful story and one to share with her when she is older, how you had to smuggle the bread in every week.

  6. Okay, that piece made me want to ‘do’ Shabbat and sing right alongside all of you. I love how you led us through this piece explaining traditions. After being with my 18 month old granddaughter it was amazing how we were always guessing what was needed also. XO TRADITIONS MATTER !

  7. I absolutely love this! Sometimes it’s easy to jump to assuming that a wee one is just being difficult. When my boys were young, I always tried to remember that they were trying to communicate with us… our job was at least partly to help them be more effective (and figure out what they meant!)

    I love how excited she was about your traditions. Being a part of that is so important!

  8. Oh, Stacey! How I love this slice. For me the most powerful sentence is “You do.” Because this is what this is really about– the passing on of faith, family, ritual, story, and tradition. Thanks for this lovely, lovely glimpse!

  9. This was a touching story. I loved the sweet back and forth dialogue. The questioning and confusion that led to scurrying once there was understanding. What a wonderful binding you are creating for Isabelle’s many chapters.

  10. I loved seeing how motivated she was to help you get ready, rather than just wanting the challah. I bet she was relieved that you realized what she was crying about. It sounds like even if you figured out earlier though that it would not have been time yet.

  11. Such a beautiful, caring and warm slice. I appreciate that you allowed me to learn more about your family culture and traditions.I always love reading how you communicate with isabelle.

  12. I can almost taste the seed for a picture book forming in this sweet memory. How special to see the meaning this tradition already holds for Isabelle. I have a feeling one day Isabelle will be smuggling challah into her own house!

  13. Rituals are necessary to our bindings. They are the fiber, the glue and the thread. I love the sentiments and images shared by the comments here. Isabelle has already learned their importance.

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