As Simple As…Challah

I first baked challah (Shabbat bread) as a little girl
helping my grandmother. She would give me a small piece of dough to knead,
while she worked on the larger portion. Her mound would be shiny and smooth
while mine was crumbly and dull looking. Grandma would send me on an errand to
the living room and when I returned my piece of dough looked as good as hers.
As my skills improved, the errands stopped.

As a young wife, I baked challah for my family and guests, a
tradition I have kept up through the years. My challah is usually delicious,
but only on occasion do I think it looks as good as it tastes. This means that
I am a sucker for braiding techniques and tips (challah is traditionally a
braided loaf).


YouTube has been a tremendous boon, since written or even
illustrated instructions for 3, 4 or 6 strand braided loaves tend to be
confusing.  With YouTube, I put my
computer within sight and try to get an assistant (does my husband really have
anything more important to do?)  to hit
the pause button as needed so that I can keep pace with the video. I actually
can do a pretty decent 6 braided creation at this point, but the quest for the
most aesthetically pleasing challah continues.

When someone posted a link to this video (yes, I know that
the dialogue is in Hebrew, but it is really more of a ‘show’ than a ‘tell’) presenting
a woman producing amazing results with what looked like simple techniques, I
was a goner. Sadly, my husband wasn’t available for ‘pause duty’, but I figured
that I could watch the sequence four or five times and then copy. Not quite.
Trying to follow steps that seemed simple produced some of the least
attractive challahs I have ever made.

Isn’t that often true in life? When we do something truly
well, whether it is braiding challah, running a business, playing tennis or
raising children, people looking from the outside often assume that it is
simple for us, possibly even effortless. Does the person telling me, “You’re so
lucky that your children help in the kitchen,” truly think that my son and
daughters’ skills and desire arose spontaneously? Does the person who resents
his neighbor’s salary truly think that the compensation amount is random and
unrelated to performance?

I don’t know the baker in the video but I am certain that
she has logged many hours perfecting her technique. I think I am on solid
ground assuming that she has invested a fair amount of money in basic supplies,
sighed over failures and probably even sports a kitchen injury or two. She
resisted the temptation of the local bakery, honestly earning her skill set.

When a person, family, business or country seems to function
smoothly and naturally, it’s time for us to pay attention and ask what they did
right, rather than belittling their persistence and perseverance by intoning
luck. Truth be told, while I love baking challah, I am basically happy with my
tasty, slightly unsymmetrical loaves.  I
would rather devote the hours needed for mastery towards other activities and
take pleasure in watching the above video to see the seemingly effortless
results of hours of effort.

Is there something in your life for which you labored and
struggled, that leads people to comment on how lucky you are?

    *Image copyright Bitsela, used courtesy of    

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5 thoughts on “As Simple As…Challah”

  1. So true! This happens to artists all the time. “I wish I was born with a talent.” The truth is that creating art is a skill that takes time and practice to master. To dismiss hard work as “luck” is to downplay the accomplishment.

  2. My daughter had a T-shirt with “The harder I work the luckier I get.” That message should be posted in every school room and workplace in the country.

  3. The people who are envious of someone else’s skills and talents may never know how long and how hard they worked to get them. I heard a speaker recently who used to run with a man who won a medal at the Olympics. He commented that when he was tired and hot, he quit. Not so for the other man. He would continue to run regardless of how hot or tired he was. He earned the medal; it was not foisted upon him or given to him just because he showed up. We do children a disservice in not teaching them that to do a task well takes, time, effort and sometimes years to get it “just right.” It’s not luck, just plain old hard work. Something people seem allergic to today.

  4. How very true of ‘most anything in life! There is a new ‘wisdom’ in the popular press that would advise us ‘don’t sweat the small stuff.’ Hmmmm… To me this pales, blanches and fades away in the shadow of the ominous older saying, which goes: “the devil’s in the details.”
    Sure anything is easy, once you know how to do it. But so many things in life are in the end a fine art. The catch is that the smallest of details, ignored or unheeded, can trip us up in anything we do, whether baking, carpentry, arts, crafts, chemistry or presumably astrophysics. We sorely need a mentor to take us under their wing. Like the Russian mother said to her daughter in the kitchen: “Pay attention! Learn from me while I’m alive!”

  5. Well, Susan, you have done it again, if it were not for the fact that this is our ‘fast’ day I would be down in that kitchen right now practising! Didn’t she make it look easy. Again thank you for your ‘post’ it has caused me to pause in my life again and think whether I presume anyone is ‘lucky’ whereas they got ‘there’ due to sheer hard work, thank you.

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