Bookstock: Big, Bold, Bountiful – and a Lot of Fun!

As a child, Neal Rubin loved nothing more than being in the family hammock, Dugout Jinx or Fiery Fullback in hand. The series featured Chip Hilton, a football/basketball/baseball star who had pals like “Biggie” Cohen and “Red,” plus a swell girl, Mitzi, who was head cashier at the drugstore. Best of all, Chip was a stand-up guy who spoke up when other kids were bullied or excluded.

Neal with Mike Morse, presenting sponsor of the 2019 Bookstock

Today a columnist for the Detroit News and the longstanding Bookstock Honorary Chair, Rubin remains loyal to his boyhood buddy: He still owns the entire Chip Hilton series, and he gets a bit sentimental when talking about the happy times he spent with those books. But he notes that eventually author Clair Bee could barely stomach his annual obligation to chronicle Chip’s wholesomeness, and the only way he could write was to “lock himself in his office for a week with his typewriter and a case of whisky,” Rubin says.

These days Rubin opts for mysteries, biographies and history when looking for something to read, and his favorite place to find them is at Bookstock, with more than 300,000 gently used CDs, DVDs, vinyl and, yes, books. 

The largest used book and media sale in Michigan and now in its 17th year, Bookstock opens Sunday, April 7 and continues through April 14 at Laurel Park Place, 37700 Six Mile Road in Livonia. Bookstock is entering into a new partnership with JVS Human Services, which will soon become its institutional home. Alycia Meriweather, Deputy Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools, is Honorary Chancellor, and the Mike Morse Law Firm is Bookstock 2019’s Presenting Sponsor.

Neal Rubin has been a dedicated Bookstock supporter for many years, ever since he met the volunteers, all of whom he says were “so nice, so friendly and so committed.” He remembers when Bookstock started with a bunch of boxes in a former health club at Laurel Park Place; now it includes not just a huge sale but events (see below), a contest and Teacher Appreciation Days. For the eighth year, Bookstock will sponsor an essay contest for fourth-graders where the winning student, four runners-up and 10 honorable mentions, along with all their teachers and schools, receive a cash prize. The awards ceremony, which Rubin will host, will be broadcast live on WDIV Local 4.

When Rubin heads to Bookstock, he knows the crowd. There are the serious buyers who, with reselling in mind, come with barcode scanners to the presale. The cookbookers are always intense; Rubin has watched shoppers exit with dozens and dozens of French Food, Cooking Italian Now and On the Table in 25 Minutes!, their cheeks bright with joy, like happy apples popping out of a pie. He enjoys hearing amazing stories, like the volunteer who found a cake recipe, in her late mother’s handwriting, left in one of those cookbooks. Another woman bought every copy of A Day in the Life of America because it included a photo of her mother at a water aerobics class. The mother had since died, and seeing the picture was a way for her daughter to reconnect. Rubin can, no doubt, understand how she felt: This will be his first Bookstock without the small spiral notebook where he kept titles of detective books his mother-in-law had finished, allowing him to search for new, unread ones. His mother-in-law, Fran, died just weeks ago.     

Rubin will wander over to the Bookstock history table, where he might pick up a title about WWII. He’s always happy to find – “pounce on,” he says – a book by a friend like the late Elmore Leonard, or Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker, the true story of a couple who adopt a girl left to die in a field in Zimbabwe. Rubin says he was “sobbing” by the end. Or maybe he’ll pick up an early Robert B. Parker or something by Dennis Lehane. He’ll be happy to see All Quiet on the Western Front and Johnny Got His Gun, favorites from high school, though he won’t open them because he loved them so much he doesn’t want to chance losing anything in a second reading. A lot of times he’ll buy something “I didn’t even know I wanted” and then it becomes a favorite, like Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs by “Jeopardy” champ Ken Jennings (“It’s screamingly funny,” Rubin says).

Neal with Honorary Chairperson Alycia Meriweather, Deputy Superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools

From Bookstock, titles find their way to Farmington Hills where Rubin, the father of two sons, lives with his wife, Marcy Hayes. He’s always reading four books at the same time, so one will be on his nightstand (now it’s Killers of the Flower Moon), one in the basement for when he’s doing laundry (“I’m the laundry god in our house”) and one in the car, in case he’s left waiting somewhere. Finally, he’ll take one to work for lunchtime because “Me, a sandwich and a book; it’s fabulous.”

This year’s co-sponsors are the Ann Arbor Jewish Community, B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, Brandeis University, Delta Kappa Gamma, Farber Hebrew Day School/Yeshivat Akiva, Frankel Jewish Academy, Hadassah-Greater Detroit Chapter, Hillel Day School PTO, Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit, Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, Jewish Federation of Greater Ann Arbor, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit-Women’s Philanthropy, JVS Human Services, National Council of Jewish Women, Oakland Literacy Council and ORT America.

Bookstock is for browsing and buying to support literacy and education projects throughout Michigan

Bookstock by the Numbers

  • Number of volunteers: 800+
  • Typical number of books for sale: 300,000+
  • How many months it takes to prepare: 12
  • Amount raised: More than $2 million for literacy and education projects throughout Michigan

Hours and Events

Sundays 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-9 p.m.


  • Pre-sale: Sunday, April 7, 8:15-11 a.m. ($20 admission charge)
  • Monday Madness: Monday, April 8. The first 2,000 shoppers receive giveaways and a chance to win a $100 VISA gift card every hour.
  • Teacher Appreciation Days: Tuesday and Wednesday, April 9 and 10. From 3-9 p.m., teachers (with a valid ID) receive 50% off.
  • BEST Awards: Tuesday, April 9, 5 p.m.: Presented to Detroit Public Schools Community District fourth-graders who wrote the top essays on “My Favorite Book Character…and Why.”
  • Bookbuster Days: Thursday and Friday, April 11 and 12: From 3-9 p.m., buy three books and the fourth (least expensive item) is free. Plus: Spend $25 or more on either night and be entered in a drawing for skates signed by Olympic Gold Medalist Meryl Davis; four tickets to a Detroit Tigers game; two grandstand tickets to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear.
  • Cookstock: Saturday, April 13. All cookbooks are half price, with cooking and dining prizes awarded throughout the day.
  • Half-price Finale: Sunday, April 29: All books and media are half price.

For information about Bookstock: (248) 645-7840, ext. 365, or visit

A New Aquaclub at the JCC

Everything disappears.

All that remains is the pace of your breath and the feel of your muscles reaching up and out and then slicing in . . . and the water on your skin.

For Olympian Nimrod Shapira, swimming is like music – a place where you get lost, it’s so beautiful.

“You have to concentrate, even with the act of breathing,” he says. “Usually you just inhale and exhale, but here you have to learn how to breathe. You have to learn technique and speed. Swimming is a sport that challenges you not only physically but mentally. “It’s also like an escape, a quiet spot where you can meditate.”

When you’re on a swim team, it’s family.

This summer, the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit in West Bloomfield opens its new Aquaclub, with swim teams and programs for all ages and all levels. Aquaclub was founded and is directed by Nimrod Shapira who competed on behalf of Israel at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and will swim for Israel at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Now residing in Farmington Hills with his wife, Katherine, Shapira says he has “the best job in the world” and loves his fellow swimmers.

“We call it a swim team for a reason,” he says. “It’s like a big family.” Shapira, 26, makes it a point to attend every Aquaclub practice. His goal is safety, developing skills and fun. “I want the kids to feel like they’re having a party with their friends,” he says of the practice.

“It is a pleasure to work with such a knowledgeable and great person,” says the JCC’s Aquatics Center Director Ronda Brodsky. “This is a spectacular opportunity for everyone to improve his or her swimming and have a great time!”

Shapira’s early experiences would never have foretold his future as a swimming champ who established the Israeli 18-and-under national record in the 200 meter freestyle, set new Israeli records in the 200 meter freestyle and 100 meter freestyle, and won gold medals at the Israeli Summer National Championships.

When he was six and living in Jerusalem, Shapira fell into a pool and almost drowned, saved thanks only to the efforts of his father who, fully clothed, jumped into the water to get his son.

The heart of a champion

Shapira avoided, and then eventually made peace with the water. His real love was playing basketball. Then one day the basketball team had a day at the pool and his coach told Shapira: “You swim pretty good for someone who never had lessons.”

Swimming did have its benefits, Shapira quickly realized; unlike basketball, for example, it didn’t mean endless stress on the knees. So he gave it a try, and he soon saw it was exactly what he wanted.

“When I’m in the water,” he says, “everything that happens outside of the pool disappears.”

Shapira lived and trained in Israel, England, Florida and Arizona, swimming with 13 different teams and was very lucky, he says, “because my family always supported me.”

He learned a lesson from his parents that he strives to teach his students: Everything is about little steps, about constantly striving, about “the small details.” “Champs are not simply born, he says. They work hard and understand that the process takes a long time.”

Shapira believes that the skills swimmers learn in the pool extend outside the water as well. Being on a team isn’t just “about being a winner,” he says. “It’s about making kids successful, learning and sharing the passion, and supporting each other.”

Participants in Aquaclub must complete the 2015 USA Swimming registration form; have a physical exam or submit a copy of their high school or middle school sports physical; and fill out a new member waiver form.

Pre-Swim Teams will meet at the JCC on Mondays and Thursdays 5:30-6 p.m.; the Junior Team will meet Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 6-7 p.m. and Sundays 3-4:30 p.m.

For information and to register, contact Ronda Brodsky at 248.432.5502 or

Book Your Dates!

Presenting a dazzling roster of authors ranging from a Bravo TV host to the man who helped free Gilad Schalit, the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s 63rd Annual Jewish Book Fair opens November 5 and continues until November 16. In preparation for this year’s event, co-chairs Susan Lutz and Terry Hollander have been living-breathing-reviewing books at the JCC for the past few months.

When asked for a short list of stand-outs this season, Sue Lutz starts with A Backpack, A Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka, a brilliant memoir of life in the Soviet Union by Lev Golinkin.

A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, a memoir by Lev Golinkin

A Backpack, A Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka, a memoir by Lev Golinkin

Lev Golinkin describes a nation with grand parades of soldiers marching with razor-sharp precision, photos and statues of Lenin watching from every corner and brutal anti-Semitism. His memoir is an unnerving journey to a new country, a story of strangers who step forward to help and the challenges and wonders of being an immigrant in the United States.

Lev was 9 years old, on his way with his family to the United States with little more than a few suitcases and a bit of money. In precise prose, he recounts how it felt to stand in a house in Vienna, amidst tumbling mountains of donated shirts, pants, socks, underwear and dresses. He was told he could choose any coat, to replace the one destroyed when he and his family left the Soviet Union. Lev looked all around, and then he saw it: a bomber jacket, with so many cool zippers. This was happiness.

In her review of the book, Lutz shares, “I have been fascinated the last few years with the new genre of books being written by Soviet émigrés. There are many 20 and 30-year-old authors who were affected by their journey out of the former Soviet Union and have begun writing about it as both fiction and non-fiction. (I remember the trickle of Russian Jews into our community, but naively thought it must be wonderful for them to be in the USA, and their trajectory would be increasing success.)”

“Golinkin’s book personalizes the challenges and heartbreaks of the families electing this journey out of the USSR in the 1980s and ’90s,” Lutz observed. “They survived by their street smarts and set aside the knowledge of their advanced degrees.”

Recalling the efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee  (JDC) and the thousands of volunteers and millions of dollars donated to help, Lutz still asks, “What was the outcome of the resettlement of these families? Did they find jobs? Were their children educated? Most importantly, did they elect to pursue Judaism or assimilate into the American culture? A Backpack, A Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka answers many of these questions and allows readers to “laugh, love, learn and be filled with hope and awe.”

Lev Golinkin is one of more than 30 authors set to appear at the Book Fair  during its 12-day run at both the West Bloomfield and Oak Park JCC’s.  Guest speakers include Barbara Winton, author of If It’s Not Impossible…The Life of Sir Nicholas Winton; Ayelet Waldman, author of Love & Treasure; Joel Hoffman, author of  The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor: The Holy Scriptures Missing from Your Bible; Andy Cohen, author of  The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year; Gershon Baskin, author of The Negotiator: Freeing Gilad Schalit from Hamas; and Bob Mankoff of The New Yorker, author of How About Never – Is Never Good for You? My Life in Cartoons.

The Lie, by Hesh Kestin. Shrewd, brash, suspenseful. What great fiction is all about.

The Lie, by Hesh Kestin. Shrewd, brash, suspenseful. What great fiction is all about.

For fans of fiction, Terry Hollander recommends The Lie by Hesh Kestin and The Winter Guest by Pam Jenoff. The Lie tells the story of an Israeli human-rights lawyer, Dahlia, who specializes in defending Palestinians accused of terrorism. What a curious surprise when Dahlia is asked to help the government determine when it’s acceptable, for security purposes, to use harsh interrogation techniques on prisoners. At last, Dahlia is convinced, she will truly be able to help the wrongly accused. But it’s not going to be that easy. For soon Dahlia’s son, a lieutenant in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is captured by Hezbollah, and Dahlia’s childhood friend, an Arab man, may be involved.

The Winter Guest tells of two 18-year-old twins caring for their younger siblings in Nazi-occupied Poland. Then one of the sisters discovers an American paratrooper who is alone and in need of help – and Jewish.

Book Fair Director Rachel Ruskin recommends Canvas Detroit – a collaboration of Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian, a photo journeythrough Detroit,  filled with art in all its forms (and with many surprises). “It makes me want to go out and see each area for myself,” Ruskin said, “and it gives people just another reason to love Detroit!”

Canvas Detroit by  Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian, published by Wayne State University Press

Canvas Detroit by Julie Pincus and Nichole Christian, published by Wayne State University Press

Lev Golinkin will speak at 4 p.m. Sunday, November 9 at the JCC in West Bloomfield and at 1 p.m. Tuesday, November 11 at the JCC in Oak Park.

Julie Pincus, will speak at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, November 12 at the JCC in West Bloomfield and at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 12 at the JCC in Oak Park.

Pam Jenoff will speak as part of Lunch with the Authors at noon Thursday, November 13 at the JCC in West Bloomfield and at 7 p.m. Thursday, November 13 at the JCC in Oak Park.

Hesh Kestin will speak at 12:30 p.m. Sunday, November 16 at the JCC in West Bloomfield.

For a complete schedule of Book Fair events, visit


Diving into Hebrew

Eli Ostroff is only five years old, but he is about to begin an adventure that will not only be incredibly fun, it’s likely to benefit his math skills, his cognitive abilities and his use of the English language – along with creating a profound connection to the State of Israel.

Eli, of West Bloomfield, will be one of 24 children attending the new Hebrew Immersion Program this summer at the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit’s Center Day Camps in West Bloomfield.
Diving into Hebrew
The eight-week program will provide children with a full camp experience, everything from sports to swimming, arts to singing. But instead of English, the entire day will be in Hebrew: conversations with friends, instructions for learning a new game, the daily schedule.

Children do not need to know any Hebrew to participate.

“Israel always has been an important part of our summer camp,” said Center Day Camps Director Tal Siegmann. “With programming, celebrations and Israeli counselors, we want to bring a fun and meaningful taste of Israel to camp. “Now we are proud to offer this pilot program that will give kids a totally immersive Hebrew language experience.”

Center Day Camps is one of only four camps nationwide that will offer the Hebrew Immersion Program. Available to students in grades K-2, the program allows students the chance to learn, understand and speak Hebrew naturally, by listening to and engaging in daily conversation with their counselors and peers. From the moment camp begins, all aspects of the day will be conducted solely in Hebrew, giving kids an opportunity to gain proficiency as they participate in all their favorite activities.

Jennifer Ostroff, Eli’s mom, knew this would be the perfect program for her son. “I am really excited about it!” she said. Numerous factors inspired Ostroff to enroll Eli in the program. Five years ago her brother made aliyah, and she began reflecting on the fact that no one in her family could really speak Hebrew. Her mother-in-law knew Yiddish, but none of her children learned the language – a loss they feel to this day. Studying a new language is excellent for brain development, she noted. And she believes strongly in the “immediate connection” to Israel that comes when you know Hebrew.

There’s Sunday school, of course. But usually Sunday school focuses on learning biblical Hebrew – the Hebrew of prayers and reading and learning. Conversational Hebrew allows children to be part of a living language – the language of the Torah, but also of Israeli rock stars like Shy Nobleman, Noa and Yoni Bloch; the language of the Israel Defense Forces; the language spoken in department stores, in films and on the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Eilat.

Key to the program will be staff.

Siegmann is in the process of hiring counselors, unit heads and specialists who are fluent in Hebrew, love working with children and understand the importance of Jewish camping.

Camp typically works with the Jewish Agency for Israel when hiring schlichim, Israeli emissaries who serve as summer camp staff. For the Hebrew Immersion Program, the Jewish Agency conducted additional interviews to identify individuals with a teaching background. Siegmann then selected his final candidates, “all of whom have the right background and approach,” he said. This includes four Israelis and two Americans who are not only fluent in Hebrew, but have a perfect Israeli accent.

At the end of the Hebrew Immersion Program, participants will have the chance to keep up their language skills with regular programs at the JCC. According to Siegmann, Center Day Camps will host weekly events, with a fun camp feel, like playing games and making sufganiot (jelly donuts) for Chanukah, where everything spoken will be in Hebrew.

“There are many benefits to this program,” Siegmann said. “It helps children develop important learning skills, and it is the perfect start for any child who will continue with a Jewish Hebrew education, whether in a day school or Sunday school, or who wants to establish a deeper connection to Judaism.”

Learning a second language in childhood also helps develop cognitive and listening skills, according to numerous studies, notably the Armstrong and Rogers 1997 report: “Basic Skills Revisited: The Effects of Foreign Language Instruction on Reading, Math, and Language Arts.” Learning a second language further boosts a student’s memory, appreciation for his own language and can significantly improve children’s skills on core subjects such as math and social studies.

Presented with support from the Areivim Philanthropic Group, the Center Day Camps Hebrew Immersion Program will begin June 23 and continue until August 15. For information or to register, visit us or call (248) 432-5578.

JCC’s Maccabi ArtsFest

In a single week, 17-year-old Sara Berlin found a second family, made dozens of new friends from around the world, had ridiculously fun adventures (late-night swims, visiting the beach, chowing down at cool places even though everyone had eaten dinner just a few hours earlier), learned the basics of how to be a mime and began writing a play about Ethiopian Jews coming to Israel.

Four years earlier, Sara’s cousin had attended the JCC Maccabi Games and raved. But Sara, of Oak Park, knew it wasn’t for her. She was interested in the arts, not sports.

Then last year, Sara went to Orange County, California, where she participated in the JCC Maccabi Games & ArtsFest. “I had the most amazing time,” she said. “I wouldn’t have believed I was missing out on Maccabi until I actually went.” And she’s pretty certain that anyone else who attends will feel the same way.

Let the Art of the Games Begin!

This summer, the Jewish Community Center of Metropolitan Detroit will host the 2014 JCC Maccabi Games, the fourth time the local JCC has played host to the event, which will involve more than 1,500 teens plus family, friends and coaches from around the world and Metro Detroit.

This year’s Games also include the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest, where participants have the chance to learn and develop skills outside of sports. ArtsFest includes acting/improv, culinary arts, vocal music/glee, dance, musical theater, rock band, star reporter and visual arts.

Getting ready for ArtsFest production

Getting ready for ArtsFest production

The ArtsFest program brings leading talent (Broadway star Eric Gutman of “Jersey Boys,” for example) who serve as artists-in-residence and lead workshops for participants. It also allows teens the chance to showcase their talents in concerts, exhibits and more at the end of the week.  At the same time, ArtsFest is very much a part of Maccabi, with time for all the teens to get to know each other, be part of JCC Cares (a day of community service) and attend social events.

It takes a lot of people to make a huge program like JCC Maccabi ArtsFest a success. One of them is Sallyjo Levine.

Along with Terry Hollander and Elaine Serling, Levine is a volunteer chair of ArtsFest, which means she will be responsible for everything from securing venues, to helping kids get involved, to all those logistics that come with supervising hundreds of people. Active for many years with the JCC’s Annual Book Fair and Stephen Gottlieb Music Festival, Elaine came to Maccabi after her friend Terry Hollander announced: “We’re going to sign up together.”

A bit of wistful nostalgia helped too. Levine says that she herself, as well as her daughters who are now adults, weren’t the sporty types, but would have been thrilled for the chance to be part of the camaraderie and fun that comes with Maccabi. “I only wish they had ArtsFest 20 years ago,” she said. “My daughters would have loved it.”

Although still relatively new to the JCC Maccabi experience, ArtsFest already has famous alumni including Brett Loewenstern, of Boca Raton,  who appeared on “American Idol” in 2011. Loewenstern was only 16 when he sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the show, winning over judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson.

ArtsFest will be a “really, really great opportunity for kids to come and do the things they love to do,” Levine said. It also allows for participation from a different age group. (Sports activities are open to those 12-16, but ArtsFest includes 17-year-olds too.)

“Maccabi may be best known as a great opportunity to play sports,” Levine says, “but ArtsFest will be a phenomenal experience where you can learn something about you’re really interested in, or even something that just sounds interesting.”

“You don’t even have to have an amazing amount of talent to participate,” she added. “You just need a willingness to try the experience.”

“I am lucky to be part of the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest,” added Elaine (Hendriks) Smith, local director of the JCC Maccabi ArtsFest and managing director of The Berman Center for the Performing Arts. “It’s wonderful to see young artists from all over the world celebrate, study and create art.  While they are together, they make friendships and bonds that they will cherish for their entire life.  How much better can art get?”


My Sister’s Challah

More than anything, I wanted a sister. When I turned 12, Rebecca finally came along.

Showered with love

Becca, as we always called her, was smart, strong and devilishly clever. Between the two of us, our brother Avrum didn’t stand a chance. There were few things Becca and I loved more than torturing him, especially when he took a shower. Our home’s plumbing was such that turning on the water in one area invariably affected water running in another area. Whenever Avrum got in the shower, Becca and I conspired. So many opportunities: we could turn on the kitchen faucet or the dishwasher, flush a toilet. Moments later we would listen with glee as Avrum screamed, his water suddenly icy. Then he would yell: Who turned on the water?!”

One “hot mamma”

I have a suspicion that Becca and I inherited our wicked sense of humor from Max and Tillie Kaplan, our great-grandparents. Max and Tillie were immigrants who settled in Detroit and helped establish the Workmen’s Circle here. They were extraordinarily kind and loving people.

Our family was living in Columbia, Missouri, and Max and Tillie were in Oak Park, Michigan, when we came to visit one summer. Max and Tillie must have been well into their 90s, but they had such patience with us, playing game after game of Perfection, where you try to fit tiny, plastic yellow shapes into their proper places in just 60 seconds. At the end, a timer goes off and all the pieces happily jump up, making you laugh and surprised even though you know to expect it.

At one point, I remember Tillie saying: “It’s always hot in this place. Even at night I’m too warm!”

“It’s not a problem with the heat,” Max told her. “That’s because you’re a hot mama.”

I wish I had told Max and Tillie how much their humor shaped my own.  What a gift to know exactly how you have influenced someone you love.

Sisters, best friends forever

Becca eventually went to college in New York, married, had three children and settled in Chicago. I married, had four children and moved to Oak Park, the very city where my great-grandparents lived in their final years.

On the surface, Becca and I are different. I’m obsessively clean; she is not. She loves shoes, and I like purses. Becca lives yoga; my idea of exercise is walking across the room to get cookies.

Yet, outside of my husband, Phillip, Becca is my only true close friend. Whether as my partner plotting against our brother or hearing my problems today, she always knows what advice to give.

Unlike me, Becca is also an exceptional cook, so a few years ago, when I finally decided to start making my own challah, I knew where to turn.

“Make the directions SIMPLE,” I e-mailed Becca, because she’s the kind who can look at dough and say, “It needs some flour.” I warned her not to do that.

Now, whenever I make this challah, I imagine Becca making it in her Chicago apartment, as well. She’ll likely just be back from yoga or planning an activity with friends. Unlike me, she will not reach for a paper towel the second sugar spills.


Rebecca Sykes’ Challah Recipe (with her comments)

v'ahavta looking down

Becca Sykes, exceptional sister, rabbi’s wife, mom, cook and challah-baker

2 cups very warm water (hot, like a nice bowl of chicken soup)

2 packets of yeast

1 cup honey or sugar

8-10 cups of flour (maybe a little more)

2 tsp. salt

4 eggs

¾ cup oil

1 beaten egg, mixed with a little honey


  1. In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in the hot water. Add the cup of honey and stir to dissolve. Let it sit for a few minutes and get bubbly. A fun fact to discuss while waiting: the yeast is actually alive, and it will wake up in the bath and begin to eat the honey.
  2. Add the eggs, oil, salt and two cups of flour. Mix well. You can use a mixer that has a dough hook attachment (for wimps) or just use a wooden spoon.
  3. Gradually add the remaining flour. You will have added enough when the dough starts to feel smooth and elastic, not sticky.
  4. If you are doing this on Thursday night, add oil to the bowl, scrape the sticky gunk off the sides and make sure that puppy is slicked up like a Coppertone beauty. If you are doing this on Friday, keep kneading for about 15 more minutes and then add the oil.
  5. If it’s Thursday night, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator. Do your dishes and clean up the flour that spilled on the floor. Your mother doesn’t work here. (If you are baking on Friday, let the dough rise until doubled, covered, for at least an hour.)
  6. In the morning, set the bowl (still covered) on the counter and go about your business. In the afternoon, punch down the dough and give it a quick massage.
  7. Divide dough into four equal parts and shape.
  8. Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place challah on the prepared sheet. Let the challahs rise again, uncovered, about 30 minutes. Bake for about 25-30 minutes. The challah will be brown when done and sound hollow when you thump them.