What’s More Exciting Than a Homemade Sukkah and Challah? Not much.

challah

Raising my kids with Jewish tradition in their lives has always been a priority for me, but it’s something that I’ve had to teach myself.  I wasn’t raised observing all of the Jewish holidays, just the major ones. But when I joined a conservative shul as an adult, I immediately felt a pull toward a lot of the traditions and I’ve embraced them…in my own way.

I wouldn’t call my family observant at all, and I often wish I could do more, but I do know that my kids know who they are, where they came from and that they will take what we do through their lives. When you aren’t raised with a lot of tradition and religion, it’s not easy to teach yourself but I look to my friends and shul for guidance on what I can bring into the home.

The reason I’m writing this now is that this week has been quite special in terms of bringing NEW traditions into our home.  For one thing, my husband put up a Sukkah. It’s something I’ve been wanting for years. Without asking this year, I somehow found him banging nails and building one in our backyard last Sunday and by the end of the day, it was up.  The kids helped every step of they way, and I think they’ve been to Home Depot three times now to get more wood and other pieces to make the structure Kosher. We’ve spent the last few days coming up with decorations – hanging pictures of fruit, streamers, and pictures. We even hang pumpkin lights and have Halloween candles and are calling it our “Halloween Sukkah” (you gotta love it).  Last night we welcomed in the holiday with prayers and then my daughter did her homework (which is getting so hard!) under candlelight in the Sukkah. It feels like a new era in our home.

If that wasn’t enough, last night for the first time ever, I pulled out my cookbook and told my kids we were making challah.  There were literally squeals of joy and my kids were jumping up and down.  We had never made one before and it was SO easy. All you need is yeast, water, sugar, flour, salt, eggs and oil!  Who knew it was so simple?  We let the dough rise overnight and this morning…voila!  It was ready to braid.  They felt so accomplished and I have a feeling tonight’s Shabbos dinner in the Sukkah is going to be extra exciting.

Here’s the recipe for the challah* (if you want to know how to build the Sukkah, do a Google search for directions or call my husband!):

Ingredients:

2 packets dry yeast

1-1/4 cups warm water

1 cup plus a pinch of sugar

7 cups flour

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

4 eggs

2/3 cup oil

MAKES 2 CHALLAHS

1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water with a pinch of sugar

2. Using an electric mixer or by hand, combine 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of the flour, salt, 3 eggs and oil.  Then add the yeast mixture and gradually add the rest of the flour.  Mix until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl.

3. Move the dough to a floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes. Oil a large bowl, put the dough in the bowl and cover with a moistened cloth.  Place the bowl in a warm place, and let it rise about one hour.

4. Punch down the dough and let it rise again until it’s tripled in bulk, about 1-3 hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the dough on a floured surface and divide it in half (to make 2 challahs).

6. To braid, cut each half into 3 parts.  Roll out each part to form a long rope.  Braid the 3 ropes, and place on a greased baking sheet.  Repeat with the other half of the dough.

7. Beat the remaining egg with 1/4 teaspoon of water.  Brush the egg wash onto the challah.  Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

(*This recipe comes from GET COOKING! A JEWISH AMERICAN FAMILY COOKBOOK)

Comments

  1. Holly,

    I love this. I don’t think I knew this about you—I wasn’t raised with much religion, either, so I’ve also taught myself. I’m proud to say I do make a mean challah and I’ve got that down; but we’ve never had a sukkah and…maybe I’ll make that a goal for next year. We’re going to shul Sunday for services under the sukkah and then lunch. I’m embarrassed because my kids have never seen one. We’ve been kind of off the Jewish train for awhile b/c I was serving on the board of a new temple and things got ugly (super long story that’s better told in person). I found out some things about our rabbi and many of us left, and unfortunately left with a bitter taste in our mouths. I’m sorry to say I kind of took a hiatus from Judaism b/c of everything that happened.

    But now, we are starting over at a new shul where we know a lot of people already. We are Reform, but we love the new place. Tell me it’s not too late for us. Tell me it’s okay that my kids are just starting religious school (they just started 2nd grade and they know basics, Shema, major holidays, challah, Hanukkah, but Sukkot is brand new to them). Tell me it’s okay they don’t know the Alef Bet yet….and I? Will be learning along with them because I did not have a Jewish upbringing. I am Jewish, but I never had a bat mitzvah. My mother had some experiences where her Judaism growing up also left a bad taste in her mouth, so I think that is part of why we didn’t grow up w/ ANY religious ANYTHING….

    So now, I atone. I atone for that. I vow to teach myself and our children about being Jewish. And I tell myself it’s okay not to have ever had a sukkah before….there is next year….

    But before Sunday, I need to haul out some of our PJ Library books and at least talk with them so that they know what’s going on when we arrive Sunday…..

    Thank you for sharing this. My Jewish guilt is overwhelming sometimes.

    xoxoxo

    • Erin,

      Your kids will be fine! Chag sameach!

    • No guilt, Erin! If it would be helpful to you, join us at JewishHolidaysinABox.com. We send out a free weekly blog you can sign up to get in your inbox. Our whole goal is to give ideas for quick, easy, fun ways to celebrate at home. (We even just posted about an indoor sukkah, if you can’t do an outdoor.) Repeat – no guilt :)

  2. I atone for a lot more than that so you are in good shape (losing friends, begging for forgiveness, trying to be a better person). I think you’re a rock star, and you’ve had your energies in very important matters (like raising awareness where it needs to be raised most). I am trying to get my husband to bless my kids on Friday night, but that’s not really in his realm. We do what we can. I think I realized I needed a little more Judaism in my life after watching a close family member who is must more devout than me experience the New Year in a different way, so I am working on it. I think you have a GREAT start. I hope you can teach me what you learn!

    (By the way, I might go to Torah study tomorrow morning for the FIRST time ever. If I can get out of bed.)

  3. What a great experience! I did not grow up with sukkah building or challah baking, but my husband did. He and a friend build our sukkah each year, and this was the year our kids could decorate it alone! It looks great, a pic is on my facebook page if you’re interested https://www.facebook.com/AskDoctorG/posts/560768307323803 It’s my favorite holiday. If I’d known about this I don’t think I’d have had so much Christmas tree envy as a kid!

  4. Having dinner in an old friend’s Sukkah tonight! Can’t wait!

  5. Okay, I am the worst Jew (and the worst cook) ever, but I TOTALLY want to try making a challah.

    • I’m with you, Aliza! The only challah I ever made was gorgeous (back in grad school) — but heavy as a brick. I joked that you could have used it as a doorstop. People keep telling me it’s easy. It’s on my goals list for this year.

    • it’s so easy- please say you will (and then blog about conquering that fear!)

  6. We still have never built a sukkah even though like you I have are a huge effort to create jewish traditions for my family that we did not have in my house growing up. Luckily, we have been hosted twice in a sukkah by friends this week so far and hopefully will have another meal or two in a sukkah this week. My husband promises ” next year” but I won’t hold him to it. Conceptually I love the idea, but clearly not enough to get my butt up and do it.

  7. I’ve always said that too re: Xmas tree envy and the Sukkah. Though I didn’t grow up having a Sukkah either.

    So glad you’ve discovered the joy of it! It’s never too late!