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Women gather in Columbia for fifth annual Challah Bake, hosted by Jewish Federation of Howard County

The fifth annual Challah Bake, hosted by the Jewish Federation of Howard County, had 200 women come out to make challah, a traditional Jewish bread.

When Sara Lustbader was a child, her grandmother Molly made such a great challah bread that Lustbader and her brothers wanted her to start a business called Molly’s Chally’s.

“For both of my grandmothers, I never learned recipes because when I would go and watch them, they’d say, ‘Well, you add flour till it feels right,’ ” Lustbader said. “I didn’t know how it was supposed to feel because I was young, so I just watched.”

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Thursday night, Lustbader added flour like she was taught many years ago. She still didn’t know how it was supposed to feel, so she asked a woman who bakes challah every week when it felt right.

Lustbader was a first-time attendee of the fifth annual Challah Bake hosted by the Jewish Federation of Howard County. She joined 200 women who gathered at Kahler Hall in Columbia to learn how to bake challah.

Challah, a ceremonial bread pronounced haa-luh, is what Jewish people use on the Shabbat table and on other holidays, according to Jewish Federation Program Director Shauna Leavey. The Challah Bake is a women-only event because challah is traditionally made by women, she said.

“There’s something really special about taking advantage of something just for women to gather us all together,” Leavey said. “[The Challah Bake] brings women of all ages together in sisterhood. We bake challah, we enjoy each others’ company, we dance, we celebrate Shabbat.”

Shabbat is the Sabbath, a day of rest, observed by Jews from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday. It provides the opportunity to rest, refrain from work and focus on the more spiritual aspects of life, according to Hanni Werner, marking and communications director for the Jewish Federation of Howard County.

Laurie Avrunin has yet to miss a Challah Bake. Each year she comes with the same friends; they bring their mothers and other family members. This year her niece joined for the first time.

“[My niece is] seeing a lot of her friends,” Avrunin said. “[Seeing] the generations is so cool. It’s such a great way to get together with friends and family all in the same room and to bake challah; what’s more fun than that?”

About 10 women surrounded each table in Kahler Hall. The necessary ingredients — donated from local grocery stores — recipe cards, aluminum trays and plastic gloves were set up at each table. Participants mixed the ingredients together to create their dough. Once they were done, they covered their challah and let it rise in the aluminum trays.

While the women waited 30 minutes for the dough to rise, a live DJ played music and they were able to dance the Hora, a traditional circle dance often performed at Jewish weddings to the song, “Hava Nagila.”

According to Leavey, 30 minutes is the minimum time you can allow challah dough to rise — it can rise for up to 12 hours. She also said they bake for 20 to 35 minutes depending on how big the challah is.

After the 30 minutes expired, women were able to braid their dough, some into a circular shape, others into long thin breads that resembled a hair braid. They could then take their challahs home for Shabbat dinner.

This year, for the first time, the Jewish Federation partnered with the Howard County Commission for Women for the Challah Bake. The two organizations decided to use the event to collect feminine products for inmates at the Howard County Detention Center for Women.

As Challah Bake participants walked in, there were boxes for them to drop off donations. According to Kashonna Holland, of the Howard County Commission for Women, they collected between 50 and 75 boxes of feminine products.

“Once we repackage them at our next meeting, we will take them to the detention center and they’ll be able to be distributed to the women who are in transition,” Holland said.

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Lustbader was one of the many attendees who donated feminine products for women at the Howard County Detention Center. She heard a story on the radio about women collecting feminine products in New York for the same cause.

“I’m listening to this and then I’m going to [the Challah Bake] so it just seemed like it fit in real well together,” Lustbader said.

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