Bette asked me what I was doing Sunday. "We need to bake challah and pray" she said, "Shelley's friend is really sick with cancer". "What kind of ritual is this?" I asked. I'm a rabbi, and if it was a Jewish ritual, I figured I'd have heard of it. But as it turns out, it is a Jewish custom. It comes from the Chassidic tradition, and it's called a challah segulah. Challah is the braided bread which is traditionally served on the Sabbath, but there is a tradition that a group of 40 women, (or 41, or 43, depending on the custom) baking challah together should pray for infertile women to become pregnant. That tradition mutated, and is also used as a prayer for those in need of healing. Bette's friends from the dog park, none of whom are Chassidic and only some of whom are Jewish, observe the custom. When those among them, or ones that they love, are ill, they gather as many of them as they can and bake challah. I figured, so what if I never heard of it?
Five women gathered in our kitchen and mixed, kneaded, braided, prayed and baked. Two other women baked in solidarity with us in California. As far as we know, Shelley's friend is still hanging in there, and Shelley was very much comforted by the act. We're still eating the challah. What a good custom. I'm glad I heard of it.