Shlissel challah bakers pray their bread will be the key to freedom

200 women came together to bake key-shaped challah and pray for the release of the 133 hostages held in Gaza


Organisers of the Bake For Freedom event at Mill Hill Synagogue, holding their shlissel challah and posters of some of the hostages. (l-r) Shira Jackson, Nivi Feldman, Tami Isaacs Pearce, Haya Langerman and Natasha Goodman (Photo: Sharna Kingsley)

As is the custom on the first Shabbat after Pesach, over 200 women came together to bake shlissel (key-shaped) challah in north-west London. Usually, the shlissel symbolises a wish for good fortune. But this year, there was an added layer of meaning – a heartfelt wish for the release of the hostages.

Hosted by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum UK, the Bake For Freedom session at Mill Hill Synagogue on Thursday evening raised £4,500 for the organisation, with donations continuing to come in.

Spearheaded by Nivi Feldman from the forum, the baking event had initially been intended for 133 women to correspond to the 133 hostages still being held in Gaza, but the huge interest meant that numbers swelled.

Feldman told the JC: “We wanted to bring 133 women together to do the mitzvah of hafrashat challah (separating the challah), blessing for the return of each and every hostage individually. We hope the shlissel challah is a key to our success in bringing everyone home safely.”

Attendees received guidance on how to braid the challah from Tami Isaacs Pearce, aka “The Challah Queen” from Karma Bread. Pearce said afterwards: “The gathering of all these women, with one intent, to see the hostages freed, was incredibly powerful and emotional.

“It was such an honour to share my love of challah and the profound meaning it has in my life. I am blown away by the organisation and the absolute commitment from Nivi. They moved mountains to make the event happen.”

Shira Jackson from the United Synagogue’s Ma’ayan programme addressed the bakers, saying: “We’re the living proof of an ancient promise that God made to Abraham, that his descendants will miraculously survive everything the world throws at them, and not only survive, but thrive.”

Speaking afterwards, she said: “The energy and the warmth of the shared emotions in the room was palpable; there’s an intrinsic connection between us all and we feel it when we come together.”

Each attendee was given a key with a yellow ribbon tied to it. They removed the ribbon and placed the key in the challah. They were encouraged to take the ribbon and place it somewhere as part of the ongoing #Tieayellowribbon campaign.

Feldman said: “Tie a yellow ribbon is an initiative, so when a prisoner or a hostage comes out, if they see a yellow ribbon, they know that their loved-one has been waiting for them. We’re tying yellow ribbons, so that when the hostages come out, they know that the whole world has been waiting for them.”

Shlissel challah committee member Natasha Goodman paid tribute to bakers and helpers, saying: “We are so grateful to everyone who supported and attended the event. Thank you to all the volunteers behind the scenes for making it possible. The unity and generosity shown by our community is a testament to the strength of our shared hope to bring our loved-ones home.”

Aside from the in-person event, organisers invited people to join virtually to bake a shlissel challah at home and upload photos onto social media, using the hashtags #bringthemhomenow #key2freedom #bake4freedom #challah #tieayellowribbon, while tagging @BringHomeNow_UK

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