Beth Ricanati. Braided: A journey of a Thousand Challahs.
Finding peace for Dr. Beth Ricanati is in making bread, specifically challah each Friday. Waiting for the yeast to proof, kneading, letting the dough rise, “painting” the surface of the bread, all create the beautiful work of art from this Art Major and MD. Taking time, being present in the moment, and appreciating the small things in life that turn out to be bigger and more important.
There is a physicality in making challah. That is part of the appeal, the process, the magic. When you bake bread, or challah in this case, you find that the work of your hands turns into something delicious and beautiful.
Creating a beautiful challah makes Beth happy, a fleeting feeling that she cherishes each week, knowing fully, especially as a physician, how happiness is not always ours. She remembers patients and friends who have died. “I want the reminder. I want the physical reminder that when we have the chance to be happy, we have to grab it. We have to take it and own and cherish it. It’s not always ours to choose.… I choose happiness whenever I can; I’ve seen just how ephemeral it can be.”
As a physician, wife and mother, Beth found her life full and often stressful. There was just not enough time for her. She knew that stress could make her sick and wondered how she could change the pattern that caused this stress. A friend challenged her to make challah each Friday for one year. Where would she find the time or energy?
She did and found that baking challah gave her a chance to breathe, impacted her body and spirit. “I learned I could change this pattern. In taking this time each Friday to sink my hands into a bowl of dough I learned I could stop for a half-hour and breathe while I cracked eggs and measured flour. I could stop and make something nutritious with my own hands and, in the process, I could reconnect with myself and with other women. I could find some happiness in this mixed-up, faced-paced world.”
Beth bakes alone, with her daughter, and with friends. She encourages the patients in her clinic to bake challah. This baking has changed the way she practices medicine. Waiting for the yeast to rise gives her patience to listen. Knowing that medications are not enough to make people well, she slows down, she and her patients go inward. Each stage of making challah becomes a metaphor in Beth’s life, in her medical practice and in her relationships. She told me. “Making challah requires patience and time; it also gets better over time. Working with patients also requires patience and time; and gets better over time! We have a chance to constantly improve and grow and learn, in the kitchen and in the clinic.”
Making challah impacts both the physical and spiritual. Jewish women (and men) have been making challah for nearly four thousand years, for the Sabbath and for holidays.
Beth says the traditional prayer over making the challah and dedicates making the challah to a person in need. “I always feel my blood pressure lower when I pause to say this prayer—I feel physically better, calmer, for reciting these words.”
Beth said she knew it was time for her to change. Now 10 years and 1000 challahs later, she has changed the lives of so many by connecting body and spirit. The work of her hands in healing and in making challah is connected. “It was here all the time, I just didn’t see it.” (p.159)
Beth’s Challah recipe is shared for you to try. Give yourself a culinary and spiritual lift!