Thursday, 21 July 2016
PF tag

This week’s Poetry Friday host is Books 4 Learning. Please stop by for the poetry link-up.

Greetings, Poetry Friday friends.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been trying something old/something new on Fridays. No — no one’s getting married. I’ve caught a very special baking bug.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my lovely sister-in-law Lisa in Orlando. She asked if I wanted to come with her for a women’s night out … baking challah.

Challah is the bread Jewish families bake and eat for Friday night Sabbath. Because I grew up in an interfaith home, sometimes we made a Shabbat dinner with prayers over challah, wine, and candles, and sometimes we didn’t. But, since I love Lisa and love to bake, I said, “Sure!” Little did I know that my plane would be delayed several hours and I’d be scrambling to get to the Challah Club on time.


We made the dough at the Challah Club, pinched off a small piece to say a prayer over and discard, then took the braided bread home for baking.

The short version: I had a great time with Lisa and the other members of the Orlando Challah Club. Although I’ve continued to bake on special occasions over the years, it’s usually cake (for birthdays) or muffins (for house guests), but I’d fallen away from the practice of making bread from scratch. And this challah was delicious.

For the last several weeks, I’ve been making my own challah. I’m reminded how much I’ve  missed kneading dough, watching it rise. If you care for and feed yeast it will, in turn, care for and feed you and your family.

I’ve asked my dear friend, poet Dennis Kirschbaum, to share his challah poem with us today. Dennis has been baking challah for many years. I love the braiding together of joy and tradition in this poem. Shabbat shalom!

by Dennis M. Kirschbaum

After thousands, the seven
ingredients– water, salt,
yeast, oil, honey, eggs, flour–
still promise to keep and remember
the Sabbath, a sixtieth of eternity.
Six strands, six days
become one. Rest
before the blast,
the bloom and swell,
sharp inhale before death.
Welcome cry for the angels–
tune of the second soul.
Bright loaves, clouds of rain and earth,
braided sunlight of golden breath.
And Shabbat too, a kind of death,
a dissolution of those selves
I have tried to be and failed.
The baking air is full of song.

Dennis Kirschbaum is the author of the chapbook CLATTERING EAST from Finishing Line Press. He has a website of the same name.


The finished product!

Filed: Poetry Friday

Tagged: ,

28 responses to “Poetry Friday: Baking for Shabbat”

  1. I really enjoyed this, Laura. I didn’t know much about challah, but Dennis’s poem has awoken me to the pleasures of “braided sunlight of golden breath”!

  2. What a wonderful story about the Challah Club. The photo looks delicious, so much more inviting than the plastic wrapped ones in the store. The poem is a treat. I especially like “a dissolution of those selves/ I have tried to be and failed.” I feel like this a mom often. I like the idea that all those failed motherly selves of me can just dissolve away. Ahhh. 🙂 Happy Poetry Friday.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      My aunt, who is much more religious than I, says that Shabbat is like taking a vacation every week. She values the quiet, the time to reflect. Even this small part — baking bread — gives me some of that quiet.

  3. Linda Baie says:

    It’s such a nice story, Laura, you beginning the challah preparing with your sister-in-law. I have made it several times through the years with students, and haven’t for a while, but still buy it. Perhaps I’ll try again to create “Bright loaves, clouds of rain and earth,”.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I hope so, Linda. A revelation to me — instead of kneading the dough on a board, we put all the ingredients in giant bowls and kneaded in the bowl. Makes sense, with 20+ women working in the kitchen. Makes clean up easy.

  4. Sally Murphy says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I feel that the rhythm of the poem is like the rhythmic kneading of bread.

  5. Mary Hogan says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Laura. I love the idea of a Challah Club and the meaning invested in your challah making. The poem you shared is filled with wonderful images. I especially like “braided sunlight of golden breath.” The final line “The baking air is full of song” is perfect!

  6. Irene Latham says:

    The baking air IS full of song, and that last pic is especially delicious! I have been baking lately too… when cleaning out the pantry I happened upon the bread machine my husband gave me oh about 20 years ago and have been baking like a madwoman! What I am in need of now is a good sourdough starter…. xo

  7. Laura, baking brings such joys and recollections of family events as you described. The kneading of the dough with loving hands is a ritual in households that enjoy the art of baking. I recall my Nonnie’s hands and her cookies and the artful Easter bread that she used to make. The poem is strong in its message and rhythmic in its flow: Rest/before the blast,/the bloom and swell, resonates with me as it signifies the process of baking.

  8. jan says:

    Do Jewish-in-spirit folks ever join in? We meander that way on occasion…. Hope the aromas are especially sweet for tonight’s baking Laura. The poem from Dennis is K. is masterful & so looks, his bread. Shabbat Joy to you & your Family.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Yes, Jan. There were quite a few “regulars” who are not Jewish. It was so much fun. If there were a Challah Club near me, I would definitely participate.

      (P.S. That’s my bread! But Dennis is a master challah baker.)

  9. Donna Smith says:

    It has been years since I baked bread. I can almost smell it from the blog page! I enjoyed Dennis’ poem and the reminder of baking bread. Thanks for sharing the treat.

  10. Julieanne says:

    I love challah! Now my understand is so much richer. Thank you for sharing this experience and the lovely poem.

  11. Tabatha says:

    Your bread is a work of art in itself, Laura! I especially love the last four lines, and how something can reflect both golden light and a deathlike dissolution.

  12. Tara Smith says:

    I love the way tradition was woven into this poem, and the idea of Shabbat as a way to cast off a lesser self at the end of the week. That is one gorgeous Challah, by the way!

  13. Mary Lee Hahn says:

    I used to bake break every week. Your post makes me want to get back to that! Yum! These lines are delicious, too:

    “Bright loaves, clouds of rain and earth,
    braided sunlight of golden breath”

  14. Violet N. says:

    Wonderful post (there’s even a sort of recipe *grin*)! These lines struck me:
    “Six strands, six days
    become one…”
    The finished loaf is beautiful and looks yummy.

  15. Diane Mayr says:

    I’m swooning at the thought of the air scented with baking challah. It doesn’t get better than that!

  16. I can smell the “braided sunlight of golden breath” from your photo, Laura. I loved hearing about your baking traditions. You’ve made me want to go bake some old favorites!

  17. Dennis’s poem gets right to the spirituality of bread-baking, which is for all, even as he teaches some of the Shabbat truths. I went to a “girls’ night in” on Friday and it was delightful, but I longed to get my hands into the preparations–much more fun when everyone makes!

    Are you having fun with #pitchwars?

  18. If only there was a smell feature on computers! Delicious poem and post! =)

Leave a Reply to Catherine W Flynn Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

Learn More