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March 31, 2004 - "Baking Loaves of Love" by Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein
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What a wonderful new addition to our writers we have in Doctor Becker-Holstein! Her story is so beautiful and eloquent - it makes me proud to be a woman (and also makes me want to do some baking)!

"Baking Loaves of Love"
by Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein

One beautiful Wednesday morning, I drove from my home in suburban New Jersey to Borough Park in Brooklyn, a densely populated Jewish neighborhood. Men in long beards, little boys with side curls, and women wearing long, dignified skirts and wigs filled the streets. On a street of small grocery stores and plain row houses with well-kept gardens, I found Toby's house. She stood at the top of a long staircase, and seemed delighted to see me--a warm , friendly woman without a hint of make-up. Her hair was covered with a kerchief and she wore a housedress that looked like a bathrobe, the kind my grandmother used to wear. She also looked five months pregnant. I later discovered that she had 10 children--the oldest, 22, was already married--but only one was currently at home, a little girl, about two and a half, who clung to her mommy's apron strings.

Toby ushered me into her clean, but by American standards, barren kitchen. There were no photographs or magnets on the refrigerator, no paintings or wallpaper of fruit and vegetables, no radio or television-in fact, no appliances at all. It was as simple a kitchen as I had ever seen. Yet the old stove was already warm. I immediately felt a sense of peacefulness as if the whole apartment was radiating positive energy. The windows were open and even the Brooklyn air smelled fresh. Children's voices and traffic noises wafted up from the street, combining to create a silence that somehow felt sacred.

Toby showed me a giant dishpan in which a batch of challah dough was already rising. She explained that we would need another batch and asked if I wanted to do this by hand or by electric mixer. I chose the hand method. I was craving to get my hands into the dough. Toby said that many women prefer using the mixer, which is easier. However, her radiant face indicated her implicit approval of my choice.

She then produced another giant dishpan and told me to combine five cups of sifted flour, a cup of oil, five egg yolks, and salt. The leavening yeast was left to rise in another dish. After a while, when she told me to mix the ingredients together, I plunged my hands into the redolent mass feeling as if I were a girl again, playing in a sandbox. I didn't stop mushing until Toby told me to roll the dough into a giant ball and place it on her countertop. It was time to knead.

What a transforming experience! I felt as if God's feminine side whispered in my ear, "You have a wonderful task to do and it involves working this dough to the point of pure pleasure." For half an hour I pressed, rolled, pushed, pulled, squeezed, turned and lifted the dough as hard as I could. Toby, an instinctive teacher, praised my kneading technique and the strength of my hands. I found myself talking about my grandmother and the homemade challah she made when I was young. My hands, it seemed, had been inherited from a long line of women empowered by a sacred undertaking.

When my hands and arms grew tired, Toby encouraged me to rest and have a snack- delicious marble cake, creamy cheesecake, and homemade coffee ice cream-all handmade from the egg whites left over from her challah baking.

After our snack, we returned to our baking. Toby produced a bowl in which the challah had already risen. That's when I realized that the batch I had fashioned would be presented to Toby's next student-a woman I didn't know but to whom I was giving something very special, just as a stranger had bequeathed her kneading bowl to me.

I cut my new dough into six pieces, which I then rolled into long, thin strips. Toby showed me how to braid them. I tried to follow her as she spoke: "Bring these two strips close together and then bring this one under them and then it goes up over the right." Or did she say left? "Then the other goes down, and then you start all over."

I loved braiding the dough. After all the loaves were shaped, we made some miniature loaves with the leftover dough. Everything went into the oven. Toby invited me to visit the neighborhood while the bread baked, so I shopped. The time flew by. When I returned, about an hour later, I found Toby walking down the steps from her house with big gray plastic garbage bags in her hand, filled with the fruit of our labor. She placed the bags in the passenger and back seats of my car. We hugged and kissed each other. She told me to come back any time for my next lesson.

The aroma filled the car. I had enough challah to last at least a month. Toby climbed the stairs back to her family, and I began driving toward the Verrazano Bridge. It was rush hour, but I was calm. I felt as if I had accomplished something special, a feeling I hadn't had for years, perhaps not since I was a girl and learned how to skip or ride my bike. The scent of the challah and the memory of its baking replenished me. I had a restorative sense of a job well done.

From my experience I learned that I am strong and full of life. My vibrancy is a reflection of my own courage and energies to try what to me was new even though in my culture it is very old. And yet my vibracy is also a clear reflection of the energies of women who I will never know - women who gave birth to babies and loved and cared for them generation after generation so I could finally be born. My hands are strong because they had strong hands and full hearts!

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein copyright 2004

Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein , originator of THE ENCHANTED SELF®, a method of bringing delight and meaning into everyday living, invites you to view her new line of ENCHANTED WOMAN products, downloadable e-books, and free gifts at Chat with others in Dr. Holstein's e-group,, and sign up for her free e-group at . Order her book, THE ENCHANTED SELF: A Positive Therapy, or the CD-rom or tape version and her book RECIPES FOR ENCHANTMENT: The Secret Ingredient is YOU!, or the ED-rom version, at


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