This group of Jewish women “barely” speaks of challah – J.
There is a group of Jewish women in the Bay Area who like to go unnoticed. For an hour every Friday morning, women gather on Zoom to deliver challah, participate in intellectual discussions and emotionally vulnerable conversations, and join in the voices of Jewish blessings. Entry is by invitation from those already involved. This is called the group of barely strictly Jewish women.
At first glance, it would look like any social havurah one might find in the local synagogue. The fact that it is not attached to a synagogue, or any institution, is significant, as it connects women – typically around 20 each week – from all adjacent Jewish and Jewish homes across the Bay Area.
Group founder Jackie Shelton, a San Francisco resident with a long resume in Jewish philanthropy and nonprofit Jewish leadership, came up with the idea in January 2020 to ask friends and acquaintances to donate. challah dough together, planning a monthly meeting. When the pandemic struck two months later and moved their meetings to Zoom, participants agreed to join online sessions every week and invite friends as well.
âI just didn’t think I really needed a business to make challah,â said June Bell, a Foster City reporter whose friends pushed her to attend a Zoom meeting in March 2020. âBut I thought I would give it a try. And I really got hooked.
Prior to joining the âchallah group,â as Shelton likes to call it, Bell regularly made his own challah for Shabbat, freezing additional loaves of bread for use on subsequent Shabbat. Once she started faithfully doing the hallah each week with Shelton’s group, she realized that she had bit more than she or her family could chew.
“So I have this huge amount of challah, what am I going to do with it?” Bell thought about it. âI can give it to people! “
Now, Bell has a delivery route, leaving her baked breads at her neighbors’ front doors every week. A neighbor leaves in exchange fresh cut flowers from her garden at her doorstep.
âIt gives my Shabbat a lot of meaning,â Bell said. âIt’s fun to cook, but it’s so much better when you can share it with other people. “
Erica Saltiel-Levin, a real estate agent from San Francisco who describes herself as a “computer hate” who wouldn’t normally look forward to another Zoom room at the end of a busy work week, finds herself now looking forward to the hour-long meetings every Friday morning.
âI know I can count on these women to be really vulnerable and support me and teach me something, and just show up,â said Saltiel-Levin, sharing that the group was a source of mental health support during the pandemic, when she craved connection with others more than ever. “The conversations get really pretty deep, and sometimes very, very vulnerable and really pretty intense.”
Each meeting begins with a invite, an open-ended question that Shelton emails the group a day in advance. For example, as Thanksgiving approached, the group discussed the concept of gratitude.
I know I can count on these women to be really vulnerable and support me and teach me something, and show off.
âBut it wasn’t just ‘What are you grateful for?’ It’s the idea that we have so many blessings in Judaism that we’re talking about gratitudeâ¦ so kind of being more expansive, âShelton said. “Where is the interplay between gratitude in the Jewish tradition and gratitude on Thanksgiving?” Where do these things overlap for you? What does American gratitude look like? You know, we’ve tried to go a little bit beyond that.
One discussion, led by Bell, focused on the Orthodox Union’s decision not to give kosher certification to the vegan product Impossible Pork.
âWe talked about how we make decisions about food and what to eat, and other ethics that go into deciding what to buy, whether it be fair wages for workers. workers, animal protection or safety, buying organic products or packaging, âBell said. noted. “This led to a really solid discussion that wasn’t just about Impossible Pork, but was really about how Judaism interferes with what we eat and the ethics of making those decisions.”
In some ways, the group appears to be a modern day salon, in the style of Gertrude Stein or French Enlightenment women – but Jewish.
âI think it’s a brotherhood,â Shelton said.
Saltiel-Levin will often pose group discussion topics to his children, ages 12 and 9, around the Shabbat dinner table.
âOr if someone has shared a poem or a little Jewish learning, we’ll talk about it overnight. I feel like this is the common thread that continues for me, âsaid Saltiel-Levin.
The meetings end with the women chanting the Mishebeirach, offering a healing prayer for their loved ones. They also observe the yahrzeit and commemorate the stages of life. Recently, some women have started to meet separately for a Mussar group.
âThis group has evolved in ways that I never expected,â Shelton said.
She hopes talking about it in J. will inspire more women to consider forming their own similar groups.
âThat’s what I always say,â Shelton said. “You come for the challah, but you come back for the people.”