Ways of Seeing: Challah bread for the senator


As soon as I got the fire started in the wood stove this morning, I got out my mixing bowls. There was hot water left in the kettle from making coffee, so I poured some into the biggest bowl, added some cool water, and then sprinkled in a tablespoon of baking yeast. Yesterday, Peter Welch joined the call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and today we will be bringing him a fresh loaf of challah bread to say thank you.

In the weeks since Israel began bombing Gaza in response to the Hamas terror attack, the movement for Palestine has taken the number of members of Congress calling for a ceasefire from zero to almost fifty. Vermont’s one state representative, Becca Balint, spoke out for a Ceasefire a couple weeks ago, bravely becoming the first Jewish congressperson to do so. We brought her a challah too.

The Jewish teaching that guides my life is Tikkun Olam. This means “world repair” and has led me to devote my energy to a long list of causes, starting in high school. I don’t think I knew what Tikkun Olam meant then, I just knew I had to be a part of bringing more justice and safety to our hurting world. I was in college in the 1980s, and the big issue on our campus was getting the university to divest from South Africa. We knew the apartheid state, that granted full citizenship to one group of people (South African whites) while oppressing Black South Africans, was morally wrong. 

Today we know that apartheid exists in Israel/Palestine. Israeli citizens live in a modern nation, with a life expectancy of 82 years, due of course, to access to safe housing, food, and medical care. Meanwhile, Palestinian people in Gaza endure life in an open-air prison, and have to contend with checkpoints, arbitrary arrests (including of children), and lack of access to basic necessities. And this was before the bombing began.

I am part of a group of Vermont Jews who are against Israel’s occupation of Gaza. We are angry that our tax dollars, which could be used to house the homeless, feed the hungry, and save our warming planet, are instead funding a campaign of violence against the Palestinian people. 

When the yeast started to bubble, I added beaten eggs, melted butter, honey and salt, and whisked it into a slurry. Then I added flour, a cup at a time, until it became too thick to whisk. I turned the dough out onto the counter and kneaded. I’ve made so much challah in the past 5 weeks, since Israel began its bombing campaign in response to the Hamas terror attacks. We have held a Ceasefire Shabbat in downtown Middlebury, a Mourners Kaddish in Montpelier, we have visited the offices of our congressional delegation, we have marched and rallied. I have made this dough so many times I don’t even need to think about it. 

But I do think. I think about how this is the bread of my people, who have been through so much. We know what it is to be cast out, disregarded, dehumanized, brutalized. We know what it is to have families ripped apart, parents and children arrested, jailed, murdered. We know what it is to be made a refugee, to be forced to flee. So I cannot bear to think of Jewish people inflicting these traumas on others.

When I say I cannot bear to think of it, what I mean is that I cannot accept it, and I believe is it is my responsibility to change it. I can’t do it alone, but thankfully I don’t have to. People all over the world have been rallying for Palestinian freedom like never before. The gruesome images of parents carrying shrouded tiny bodies (the age of the largest group of people killed in Gaza is five years old), of children looking for their family members in rubble, the stories of people searching for food and water, has galvanized people everywhere to speak out. Many of these people are Jewish like me.

  Every year, Israel receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid, more than any other country. For many American Jews, this aid to Israel is something that should never be questioned. A lot of people, even people in my family, feel safe because Israel is a place we can always go to. But can true safety ever come at the expense of our humanity? You don’t need to be a geopolitics expert to understand that safety and justice for Palestinians will make the world more safe for Jews. Everyone deserves to be safe. Everyone deserves fresh bread to eat.

Joanna Colwell is a certified Iyengar Yoga teacher who founded and directs Otter Creek Yoga, in Middlebury’s Marble Works. Joanna lives in Ripton, where she enjoys taking walks, gardening cooking for Abolition Kitchen,  and working with the Middlebury chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Feedback welcome at: [email protected].

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