By Anne Kallas – VC Star
The acrid smell of burning dough filled the Muchnik home in Oxnard Shores on Sunday as the symbolic pieces of bread were intentionally charred in the oven to remind everyone that a piece of everything they make goes to God, according to Racheli Muchnik.
It was an opportunity to mix devotion in with her baking.
The Muchnik family, which includes Rabbi Dov Muchnik, director of Chabad of Oxnard, wife Racheli and daughter Chaya, 9, welcomed a house full of people who came to help with Chaya’s Challahs Project.
Chaya is one of nine finalists in the Jewish Kids got Talent contest sponsored by Tzivos Hashem, a Chabad youth program that “literally means Army of God and refers to Jewish children being God’s army,” Dov Muchnik said.
Throughout the baking process, the rabbi periodically would break from helping his wife oversee the group of about 10 women and young girls who were mixing dough to create the golden, braided loaves of challah, to gather his daughter in hugs.
“I’m so proud of you,” he repeated as Chaya beamed.
Chaya and her mother will fly to New York City on Dec. 5 for the Tzivos Hashem annual dinner where the contest winner will be named. The winner will earn $1,000 for a school or organization of his or her choice and $500 for the child.
Children are competing in three categories: heart, a charity or mitzvah project; hand, talent; or head, mastery of a difficult subject.
Chaya, competing in the mitzvah project, is baking challah to be delivered to seniors around Oxnard, through Ventura County-based nonprofit Caregivers as well as a network of volunteers the 9-year-old has coordinated. She keeps a decorated spiral notebook with neat lists of bread bakers, drivers and bread recipients.
On a sunny Sunday afternoon, the group of women and girls at the Muchnik home worked over five big bowls that would yield about 12 loaves of the egg-rich bread.
Stephanie Moro, of Oxnard, remembered braiding challah with her grandmother.
“I didn’t make the dough, but I would braid it and then brush it with egg using a chicken’s feather,” Moro said, declining to give her age. “If I have to give my age, I’m leaving.”
The recipe came from Racheli Muchnik, who adapted it from a book by adding whole-wheat flour for a healthier product and dates for a more natural sweet flavor.
The Muchniks make challah each week for their Friday Shabbat meal, and Chaya started bringing a couple of loaves to her neighbor, a Jewish woman who lives alone and has been estranged from her religious roots, Chaya said.
Because of the warm reception she received, Chaya said she got the idea to make more challah for area seniors who otherwise might not be able to enjoy Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.
According to Tammy Glenn of Caregivers, Chabad of Oxnard is one of the volunteer group’s partners.
“We had a number of Jewish seniors, and only one volunteer for them,” Glenn said.
With aprons and bags decorated with the lively Chaya’s Challahs logo, the group hopes to deliver bread packages once a month.