Simcha Challah: Spreading joy in pandemic times

By Arthur B. Siegel

For many months, Temple Israel has been providing all its religious, educational and social programs over the Internet, and its synagogue kitchens, once a hub of activity, have been stilled. Melissa Wolff, one of the temple’s young members, saw an opportunity to rekindle camaraderie through the warmth of shared baking. “I love baking with my family,” she says, “and how baking brings joy to other people.” 

Coming from a long line of family bakers and having mass-baking experience from working on the Challah for Hunger program as a Binghamton University student, Wolff said she was confident that she could deliver a high-quality challah in volume, bring the local community together, raise funds for Temple Israel and have family fun at the same time. Simcha (Joy) Challah was born.

Members of the Temple Israel leadership said they were delighted to support the initiative and, after Rabbi Geoffrey Brown confirmed the kosher ingredients, Wolff went to work, perfecting her recipe through several rounds of trial bakes in the temple kitchen. Wolff’s family pitched in immediately, with her sister, Emily, and mother, Wendy, kneading the dough, her father, Michael, procuring the materials, and all contributing advice. The Wolffs donated the first round venture capital for materials to get the fund-raiser started, and it is now self-sustaining. Melissa’s baking schedule must accommodate the familiar constraints of kashrut and Shabbat at the synagogue, pandemic precautions of masking and material handling, and her professional work schedule as a technical programmer/analyst at Visions Federal Credit Union.

Each month, Simcha Challah offers a plain ($8) and a specialty flavor of the month ($9). Orders are placed through an online form, with an optional donation amount of $18. Challot are baked to order, frozen after baking and are picked up from the temple lobby on the third Friday of each month. A link to the Simcha Challah Order Form can be found on the temple website,, and Facebook page, or by calling the temple office at 723-7461.

The first round in January was called a culinary and fund-raising success. “One of the best challot I have tasted,” raved Brown. The sentiment was echoed by all at a recent temple trustees meeting. Capacity is limited and the first round was nearly sold out. Once the pandemic eases, the project may expand the project to involve other volunteers, but for now the baking is restricted to the Wolff family bubble. “We are fortunate that Melissa stepped forward with the creativity, motivation and skills to bring fresh-baked joy to our community,” said members of the temple community.

Arthur B. Siegel is the president of Temple Israel.