In yesterday's New York Times there was an article about the National Day of Unplugging which begins tonight at sunset and ends tomorrow at sunset. The focus of this day is to turn off technology and reconnect with your family, your environment, and maybe even yourself. We Jews call it Shabbat or the Sabbath and it's not exactly new. Actually, it's at least 3,000 years old. But the concept of slowing down our lives just one day a week is probably even more necessary today as it was when Moses came down from the mountain.
I did not grow up in a household that unplugged or slowed down on Shabbat. This is sort of ironic because as native Hebrew speakers we referred to Saturday as Shabbat but didn't treat it that way. It was as good a day as any to run errands, set up lessons, and take care of all the necessities of life.
When I got married we continued to treat Saturday as just another day of the week. Until a few years ago when we made a conscious decision to change Saturday back into Shabbat. We started to be regular Friday night synagogue attendees and even the occasional Saturday morning. We made a point of having dinner together as a family and including friends at our table. We began lighting candles on Friday night to mark the beginning of Shabbat and, though I'd not grown up baking or watching challah being baked, I started baking two loaves of challah every Friday afternoon.
Nothing helps you take the deep, deep breath that signals Shabbat like walking into a room and smelling fresh, baked challah. But that deep breath would be hollow without the knowledge that tomorrow you're not going to do all the usual stuff. You're not going to check your email, or stress about work, or plan out your retirement. You're just going to be. It's amazingly liberating.
One of my favorite things to do on Shabbat is read...all day. I love having hours of uninterrupted reading, knowing that I don't have to stop at an exciting point in the story because I need get something done. And I like to get started on my all day reading early. I get up before anyone else in the family and eat some of the leftover challah while curled up in a chair with my book. Add some nutella to that challah and...oh man...it just doesn't get any better than that.
So, in honor of the National Day of Unplugging, I'm sharing my challah recipe with you. It's not really mine, but excerpted here from Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible. I should note that in the recipe, the challah loaves pictured are round rather than braided. That's because this recipe is geared toward challah intended for Rosh Hashannah or Jewish New Year. You can shape yours like the ones in the picture or braid them like mine. Either way, they're a perfect accompaniment to an unplugged day.