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Orange County’s Mega Challah Bake

Women from across Orange County gathered for a unique evening baking challah dough from scratch and celebrating Jewish tradition at the Rushmore Estate Ballroom. The “Mega Challah Bake,” hosted by Chabad of Orange County led by Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston, attracted more than one hundred and fifty women of different ages, backgrounds and levels of observance.

Participants enjoyed an elegant evening of music, entertainment, baking and dancing. “The Mega Challah Bake was an authentic display of community unity and connection with so many people contributing to make this event special,” said Chana Burston, who led the event.

“Jewish traditions are what keep our hearts, our souls and our people alive and thriving,” explained Chana to the large crowd. “As women, we are the powerhouse of our home – we have the unique ability to spread the warmth and beauty of Jewish tradition to our families.”

Each attendee received a “Mega Challah Bake” apron, tote bag, dough mat and pre-measured ingredients. As the dough process began, Burston explained the spiritual significance of the challah ingredients. “The challah recipe is a recipe for life – a rich spiritual experience that brings blessings to our home and loved ones. As the dough rises, we too rise along with it with renewed faith and confidence in our connection to G-d.”

While the dough was rising, participants were inspired by a very special appearance and performance by Hindy Markowitz, 16, of Monsey. Hindy, the daughter Rabbi Zalman Leib and Esther Markowitz, was born at twenty-four weeks gestation and thriving despite the challenge of being visually impaired, Hindy sang and inspired through both her original and traditional songs. She opened the hearts of her listeners to her incredible world in which she “sees through her heart.” Hindy was accompanied by her vocal teacher Liba Hirsch, also of Rockland. “Hindy’s heart and soul poured into her voice which she shared with us tonight,” says Christine Serach Alicia of Goshen.

With arms around one another like sisters, the words of “Hiney mah tov umah nayim” – (how pleasant is it that we sit together united as one) reverberated throughout the ballroom. Ladies then danced and sang to lively music in celebration.

When introducing Hindy, Rabbi Pesach and Chana also welcomed Hindy’s parents, Rabbi and Mrs. Markowitz, and explained their special connection with the Markowitz family. Rabbi Pesach was a student of Rabbi Markowitz when Pesach left home at age fourteen to learn at Mesivta in Morristown. At that time, Rabbi Markowitz became Pesach’s mashpia (mentor) and the two have stayed in close touch over the years. Rabbi Markowitz was also instrumental in the shidduch between Pesach and his wife Chana, and presently has a close connection to the entire family as the family’s mashpia. “If you look at Rabbi Markowitz, you would think he is from Kiryas Joel,” Rabbi Pesach explained to the assembled, who are used to seeing Chassidim from nearby Kiryas Joel, but not usually at Chabad events. “In fact, Rabbi Markowitz left Monroe to join Chabad in Brooklyn. How ironic, that I, his student, left Brooklyn to open Chabad of Orange County and live in Monroe!”

Following the emotional and lively singing, Chana explained the important tradition of making a blessing and separating a portion of dough. Using a sensory journey experience, Chana Burston led a Challah Meditation (see inset). Phyllis Goetz of Monroe recited a psalm, and Anita Reich of Harriman, accompanied by her grandchildren, recited the blessing on separating a piece of dough from the challah. Once the dough was ready, braiding techniques were taught and demonstrated by the “Challah Mavens (experts)” Miriam Schechter and Simmie Gellman of Rockland.

“I had a fantastic evening,” says Hanna Schindler of Monroe, who experienced making Challah for the first time. “So great to be with friends and family sharing this beautiful tradition!”

Participants enjoyed fine kosher wines, a scrumptious salad bar, a variety of unique challahs and fabulous desserts. Participants left with not only a Mega Challah Bake apron, fashionable tote bags, dough mats, candle lighting kits and two ready-to-bake pans of challah-but with memories and Jewish pride to inspire generations to come!

The community effort invested in the event was tremendous. Table leaders included Anita Reich of Harriman, Stacey Finkelstein of Middletown, Mindy Hazzard of Goshen, Jodi Cohen of Highland Mills, Erica Fried of Monroe, Lee Loftus of Goshen, Marina Deskin of Monroe, Bracha Pincus of Chester, Corbett Hoffman of Goshen, Yasmine Kalkstein of Monroe, Suzanne Berkowitz of Warwick and Sherri Eccleston of Johnson. Preparation prior to the event included committee members Michelle Sentell of Monroe, Karen Kanis of Monroe, Sheryl Kewerski of Goshen, Phyllis Goetz of Monroe, Elisa Fertig of Chester, Becky Benezra of Monroe, and Dianne Levine and Betty Grossman, both of Port Jervis.

Table Dedications were generously sponsored by Michelle Sentell of Monroe, who dedicated her table to “all the great women she has met at Chabad.” Corbett Hoffman of Goshen dedicated her table in loving memory of her mother, Suzzanne Katzen. Phyllis Goetz of Monroe’s table dedication read “to our inspiring awesome Chabad leaders – Rabbi Pesach and Chana Burston!”

Addition sponsors and raffle donors include Sherri Eccelston of Sherri’s Heirloom Soaps, Bracha Pincus of Chester, Anita Reich of Monroe, Stacey Finkelstein of Middletown and Yossi & Menucha Burston of Los Angeles. The ballroom was set up beautifully by Marina and Lizzie Deskin of Monroe, Toby and Zlaty Greenberg of Monroe, Hillary Cohen of Middletown, Ira and Karen Kanis of Monroe, Bari and Kaylee Rosenholtz, Bella Hauck of Middletown, Dianna Levine of Port Jervis, Elisa Fertig of Chester, Sherri Eccelston of Johnson, Yasmine Kalkstein of Monroe, Rivkah Burston of Monroe and The Schwartz family of Monroe.

Photos by Chaya Zissel Photography