A physician with three young children, Beth Ricanati found herself trying to be a great doctor, mom, wife, and friend simultaneously and feeling overwhelmed. Then, a friend recommended that she bake challah. “I thought the suggestion was absurd because I didn’t have any time and I never baked anything except boxed brownies,” said Beth. Still, she gave it a shot. With her hands covered in dough and her fingers consumed with braiding, Beth couldn’t touch her email or her to-do list and she began to relax. Soon, her home smelled like freshly-baked challah and she was hooked.
Ten years later, JWRP sister Beth Ricanati has written about her transformative experiences with baking challah in her book, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs, which was recently named a 2018 National Jewish Book Award Finalist. In our conversation with Beth, she shares a few of the life lessons she’s learned while baking challah, as well as her advice for practicing self-care.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I had been studying with the Jewish Women’s Initiative in Los Angeles and baking challah for a few years, but I had never visited Israel. I wanted to deepen my learning and reflect on my career, and the possibility of doing so in Israel with a group of women from my community was very exciting. I had never been away from my kids for nine days, but I knew they’d be fine without me. I leaped at the opportunity!
How did MOMentum impact you?
My MOMentum Trip began on a 17-hour plane ride with over 40 other JWRP sisters. The entire flight was magical and when we landed in Israel, I felt like it was exactly where I was meant to be. Walking the same streets that our people had walked for thousands of years was powerful. I also loved learning about the tradition of baking challah in honor of the people in our lives. On Shabbat, we celebrated and honored our history, and then I stood on a rooftop overlooking the Kotel, feeling so grateful to have this experience.
MOMentum showed me that what we do at home can have a big impact on our families. We live in such a fast-paced world, and I realized how important it is to slow down and share Jewish traditions with my children. Now, Shabbat dinner is an essential part of our lives and it’s nourishing for both me and my family.
How has baking challah changed your life?
Baking challah has made me more mindful both in the moment and during the rest of the week. Each time I bake challah, I learn a new life lesson. For example, sometimes I pour in the packet of yeast and it bubbles and sometimes it doesn’t. Instead of worrying, I’ve learned how to go with the flow. While waiting for the dough to rise, I’ve learned patience. Carving out the time to bake challah before Shabbat has been grounding for me. No matter where I am in the world, I wrap up each week with this meaningful ritual that’s filled with so many powerful reminders.
What advice would you give other women who want to make time in their lives for a ritual that is meaningful to them?
From a physician’s point of view, chronic disease is 70% lifestyle-driven, which includes nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management. To stay healthy both physically and mentally, we need to practice self-care. This is something that is especially important for moms because we tend to put everyone else’s needs before our own. Ironically, flight attendants always remind us that, in the event of a problem, we need to put on our oxygen masks first before helping anyone else. We need to take care of ourselves before we take care of others. Taking time for ourselves by adding a meaningful ritual to our week — whether that’s baking challah or something else — can make a big difference.
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