The Return of Communal Challah Baking

Nov. 15 2019

This week, Jews all over the world attended cooking classes and bake-offs as part of what has become known as the “Great Challah Bake.” Abby Schachter, drawing on her own experience at Great Challah Bakes, comments on these events and their rapid spread over the past few years:

In recent years, communal challah baking has expanded beyond the Orthodox community and Chabad, as Reform synagogues and others have joined the party (or thrown their own). This year, there was even a Great British Baking Show-style competition at a local Reform synagogue, perhaps sparked by an episode [of the television series] where challah was curiously called “a plaited loaf.”

Every one of these events—which I have attended variously as a participant, table captain, or Martha Stewart-like demonstrator—has been an event unlike any other I have attended in a life of attending Jewish events. The crowd is (largely) female; the age range is wide, as is the level of expertise. The crowd includes Israeli émigrés [and] secular, affiliated, post-denominational, traditional, and ḥaredi participants.

The women from across the Jewish spectrum who gather together at these events are participating in what is more conventionally a solitary experience, conducted in one’s own kitchen with a good cookbook propped up on the counter next to a bag of flour. But maybe the current fad of group baking can be understood not as innovation so much as a modification of practices that reach back to an earlier time. Indeed, baking used to be only communal, as towns and hamlets ordinarily would have had one baker who baked loaves for everyone.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish food, Judaism, Sabbath

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine