GIVING BACK is a Gift to Our Souls

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GIVING BACK is a Gift to Our Souls

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Sharing traditions and making memories by baking Jalá.

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29 March 2017

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I made my first Jalá at the age seventeen, when I lived with a group of friends in a kibbutz, a socialist community that today no longer exists in Israel. I think of it today and I was just a girl!

There, I worked tending children with Edna, an Iranian lady who had hands of gold and a giant heart.

Every Friday, we kneaded enormous amounts of dough to make the traditional Jala bread. She taught us the right measurements so the dough was soft and fluffy, and she also taught me to make the braids more beautiful with three and five strips.

It was a ritual that both children and I looked forward to at the end of the week.

There was nothing nicer than the smell of jalot baking on Friday afternoons. It was a feeling of peace, of almost religious serenity.

What I learned years later is that the recipe she made was nothing religious since it contained milk and butter, ingredients that no Jalá recipe had, as it contradicted the laws of kashrut.

Months later, upon returning to Uruguay, I tried to transform this into a family tradition by kneading Jalot for my parents on Fridays. Sadly my parents were away almost every weekend so the intention faded away in a short time.

It was many years before I started braiding jalot with my daughter, Florencia. It was in those years in Canada that she couldn’t go to school. When my ability to create new activities to do with her were running low, I remembered what Edna had taught me and I decided to pass on this beautiful tradition to my daughter.

For many years, we enjoyed the delicious aroma in the house, announcing the arrival of a well-deserved rest and delicious Jalot for dinner.

Returning to Uruguay, on one of my visits, Grandma Sara was spending time with my parents. At that time my grandmother was about a hundred years old. I remembered that she made Jalot delectable.

I asked her why she stopped baking. She said it was because she no longer had the necessary strength in her hands and couldn’t knead. I suggested that she could guide me and that I would be her hands.

At first, she was not convinced. She told me she would think about it. When I got up in the morning, my grandmother waited anxiously for me. She did not need to tell me anything. I could understand that she wanted to start cooking.

«You have to buy yeast, but you have to buy the good one,» she told me, «not that powder they sell nowadays. And bring the whitest flour you can find.»

I asked her whether I should bring milk or butter and she looked at me in surprise. «Did you not know that we make it parve so we can eat it with meat?» No, I did not know. That quiet, silent woman came alive.

When I returned from shopping, she asked me for a bowl to prepare the dough. She began to give me instructions.

«The yeast has to be put with warm water and a teaspoon of sugar. Let’s see, let me touch the water, do not make it too hot.»

I put in the eggs and immediately stirred the flour with the oil. «Stir harder,» she told me.

Without realizing it, she was kneading with the energy of yesteryear. The hands moved alone with surprising rapidity. Her joyful face and her satisfaction moved me.

The scent of the Friday jalot returned to impregnate our hearts and our homes. Now it all made sense: traditions from generation to generation…

And the circle ended when we visited Granada, Spain, the Palace of the Forgotten, where the Jewish Museum is. We learned that to date, the so-called Anise Bread or Bread of Oil is nothing more than the Jala masked at the time of the Inquisition by the Marranos Jews in order to continue consuming it without taking risks.

It is the only bread that has neither butter nor milk! Anise bread is parve!

My grandmother Sara is no longer with us, but there are more than a hundred grandmothers and grandparents in the Home waiting to teach us their recipes and culinary tricks. Their hands are willing to knead with ours and flood our minds with memories of past traditions.

I invite you to be grandchildren for a day, to braid your stories with theirs. It is a real gift to your soul and theirs!



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