By Bethany Dawson
I’m vegan, or rather, I like to try hard to be on most days. The one animal product I continue to eat without conflict is eggs. Is that because of my long thought out philosophy on eggs and chickens? Yes. Is it so I can still eat challah? Also yes.
Challah is Jewish ceremonial bread, often presented in a knot or a plait, and it is wonderful. When we would visit my Grandma and Grandpa once a month, my Gran would put out what I called the “Jewish Grandma spread” without fail. There would be bagels (or beigels), a lot of smoked fish, a significant amount of pickled cucumbers, and always too much food to move. And of course, challah.
When I moved to University, and when I would go home to visit my Grandma, she would always give me a loaf of challah because she knew that my dedication to the bread had not wavered since I was a child and I would just want a loaf to myself for dinner.
You can’t get challah easily in Surrey. I thought that I only missed the amazing taste and texture of the bread when I was torn from my love as a result of my move from home. If I was to have an out-of-body experience right now, I may question the reason that I was writing a love letter to bread. However, let me explain.
I’m not fully Jewish. My Jewishness comes from my dad’s side, and that side of my family are very secular, but they are indeed Jewish. My Grandma was very proud of being Jewish. She was always happy to talk to me about Judaism, about our heritage, and about the history that makes up half of my DNA. My grandma, always delivering the traditional Jewish food, felt something of a tie to our heritage, of an acknowledgement of the cultural facets of our identity. It was a polite, tasty, reminder of who we are. I didn’t have much of that connection in Guildford, until I went to the first JSoc shabbos dinner. There was challah. There was the bonding of Jewish students. There was a shared understanding and a proverbial joining of hands over dinner and discussions, and I felt like I had found a community that I had left inside the dining room of my Grandma’s home in North-West London.
I lost my Grandma at the beginning of the pandemic, on March 24th 2020. She passed away after Covid entered her care home, after a six month battle with a traumatic brain injury. When she was in hospital, I would try and go to her every day after my placement and talk about whatever came to mind. I would speak about challah a lot.
She was the real embodiment of a Jewish grandma, who fed you too much and cared a lot. She would never not want to hear your news, and regardless of what was going on in anyone’s life, she would make sure she could get me my challah. Even if it’s not vegan-friendly – being unlike other bread because it contains eggs – it’s a representation of my Grandma, of my love for my heritage, and of my happiness in finding a Jewish community at Surrey.