Photos: Sabrina Speaker and Karen Maoz
Every Thursday night, Karen Maoz sets her alarm for 03:45. By 4 o’clock the next morning, she is in her kitchen and ready to start making her first batch of challot. By 9am, all of that week’s orders – usually around 100 challot – are laid out on a large table, wrapped and ready for collection. Each one costs NIS 15 and all proceeds go to Shalva, the Israel Association for the Care and Inclusion of People with Disabilities.
Karen has always enjoyed making challot.
“I find the whole process therapeutic,” she says.
After she made aliya with her husband and four children in 2011 (another was born in 2012), she baked challot as a way of connecting to their new community in Raanana and giving back to supportive new friends.
“I always enjoy seeing my children’s smiles, and how proud they are, as they give the challot to people who in turn are so happy to receive this unexpected gift from us. There is a ripple effect and it’s a great feeling.”
She first thought of making challot as a way to raise money last year for her son Joey’s bar mitzvah charity project, which was to provide Purim packages for a local nursing home. She started making simple small challot to order for NIS 5 each. “I expected orders of maybe 10 or 20 challot. In fact, there were over 200 and I had to make 18 batches. From January until Joey’s bar mitzvah at Purim, I made 800 challot to order and raised more than enough money for his project.”
Then, in January 2017, Karen attended a bat mitzvah program with her daughter, Arielle, in Ohel Ari synagogue in Raanana. The women and girls undertook to run in the Jerusalem Marathon in March to raise funds for Shalva.
“We had to raise NIS 3,500 sponsorship to enter the marathon and again I decided to do so by making challot. During those few months, word spread and the orders grew exponentially. I must have made around 800 challot for people in five or six different towns and we raised more than NIS 8,000 for Shalva.”
She does all this without any cutting edge bread-making technology – just her own oven and another donated by a friend who was redoing her kitchen.She thought of continuing until Pesach, turning down a request to make homemade matza. “Even I have limits,” she jokes. But the demand for challot was still there so now she is making to order every single week and is set to continue until Sukkot.
Supermarket checkout ... Karen's regular Wednesday shop
She has her weekly routine down to a fine art. On Wednesday morning she goes shopping with a list that always includes 40-60 kg of flour and around two dozen eggs. In general, the orders now come only from Raanana and include donated challot, which she makes specially and then distributes with Arielle to individuals who are in difficult circumstances, and to non-profit organizations such as One Family.
Ordering is by means of a cheery WhatsApp message she sends to her regular customers – myself included – on Wednesday evening, in which she reminds us of the choices: “plain, sesame, poppy, zatar, fennel, everything, whole wheat, cinnamon and sugar crumble, choc chip and white choc chip” and to send names of people who are unwell or in difficulty for her to keep in mind while she does “hafrashat challah” – separating the challah. (The Torah says: “From the first of your dough you shall set apart challah” (Numbers 15:21). The dough is separated right before it is ready to be shaped, after the flour and liquid are mixed together and it has risen. The moment of separating is considered an especially auspicious time to pray for the well-being of family and friends.) Thursday evening she lays out all the ingredients ready for her pre-crack-of-dawn start.
Karen’s daughter, Arielle, with a tray of delicious freshly baked challot
She began giving occasional challah-making classes more than a year ago in response to a number of requests. “Sometimes it’s an activity at a brunch or light supper to welcome people into their new home, or for someone who is in her ninth month for an easy labor, or to daven (pray) for someone who is sick.”
Karen is happy to give a class to anyone who can host in their own home. “I bring the necessary supplies; the host reimburses me just for those. I also bring and sell about 30 challot and the proceeds go to Shalva.”
Karen keeps stressing that she is not professional, but I can vouch for the distinctive, delicious flavor of her homemade challot. It is lovely to collect them from her each week, with the added bonus of sometimes seeing Arielle or another member of her delightful family as well. While I could try and pass my poppy and sesame challot off as homemade by me (as if anyone would believe me), I want as many people as possible to know that as they eat and enjoy, they are also benefitting a very good cause.
Karen’s taking orders for Rosh Hashanah