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San Clemente Journal

Creating Friendships & Community

Mar 07, 2023 08:55AM ● By Richard Bash

Rabbi Mendel Slavin and his wife Tzippy’s Challah program has grown to over 150 families.

Shabbat Challah Delivery Program
by Richard Bash

The Covid pandemic was a life changer for many people. There was stress, uncertainty, but the shutdown also allowed some to explore new avenues previously postponed or overlooked due to the hectic nature of our day to day lives. Personally, I began a journey of delving deeper into my understanding of Judaism, and through that I found the Jewish Center of San Clemente. 
I discovered a vibrant and engaging community there, shepherded by Rabbi Mendel Slavin and his wife Tzippy who creates a wonderful atmosphere of inclusion that combines Jewish teachings with fun, exciting events and amazing food. 


During Covid, the Rabbi worked to host outdoor activities and to come up with alternatives to indoor events. This led me to begin attending regularly. Throughout the shutdown, it was Rabbi Slavin’s goal to help those struggling with the effects of Covid to feel they had a sense of community and were not alone. He achieved this goal through his Friday Shabbat Challah Delivery Program.

Having become a regular attendee, during the High Holidays, in September of 2020, I asked the Rabbi if he had any programs or ways that I could volunteer. Rabbi Slavin said he had the perfect job for me and described his Challah Delivery Program. He shared his vision of growing this program and asked me if I would be willing to help deliver Challah and meet others in our community. 
At first, I wasn’t aware of the impact it could have because it sounded like I would just knock on a door and drop the bread off on the front porch. Little did I know it would turn out to be much more than that; something that would be meaningful to me and many others in the San Clemente Community.

Challah is the bread of celebration in Jewish tradition. It has been used to bind and bring Jewish people together to “break bread” for generations. It has a slightly sweet flavor, shiny golden crust and pillowy interior. When making the Challah for his deliveries, the Rabbi gets up early in the morning and begins baking the bread at 5am so the Jewish people in the San Clemente community will have it on their table for Shabbat dinner on Friday nights. 

rior to Covid, the Rabbi had a route visiting approximately 40 families delivering his freshly baked Challah. With the Covid shutdown in place he felt it was important to increase the number of deliveries. He saw it as a way to be more visible and create a stronger sense of community in San Clemente during a time of fear and uncertainty. People could continue Jewish traditions without leaving their home. But in order to make more these deliveries he needed volunteers.
My wife and I fondly recall the first time we knocked on doors with the Challah. We met people starved for conversation and community. We stood in doorways having lengthy conversations with isolated older people, newcomers to the area, and with more people of Jewish faith than we had realized lived in our town. And we realized that this was something we wanted to do on a regular basis. 

Now, nearly three years later, we have formed amazing friendships, and as service seems to go, we have gained so much more than we set out to give. Our “drop offs” often wound up being engaging visits, quite often the sharing of a cup of coffee, cookies or chocolates and sometimes a glass of wine. It wasn’t just the delicious Challah the people were craving, but rather a sense of care they needed. 

One couple on the Rabbi’s delivery route is Saba and Anya Jakobson. Saba and Anya are holocaust survivors from Eastern Europe presently living in San Clemente. They are incredibly hospitable, and were the first to invite us into their backyard for many rounds of coffee and cakes accompanied by amazing stories. Saba Jacobson says, “we are so happy with the deliveries. It’s a very good thing to do for all the people in the community. At our age, we don’t go out much, so the weekly visits help us to stay connected.” They have become dear friends of ours and are very appreciative of the program.

   Another couple who receives deliveries is Polyanna and Cyrille. They moved here from France with their two boys, just weeks before the pandemic. Polyanna feels the Challah delivery became “the joy of my week. It made me smile looking forward to the knock on my door and the opportunity to have a conversation.” Cyrille has joined the volunteer ranks and their family has become integrally involved in the Jewish community, attending events, prayer services and Sunday School.

In just 2½ years Rabbi Slavin’s list of 40 has grown to 150 families and he and his team of volunteers deliver 300+ Challahs weekly. “Challah is a hug in the form of bread. Its nostalgic taste is one that unites us to our heritage and to each other,” says Tzippy. It is the food of unification, love and peace. “Our goal is to continue to grow the Challah bags with more people being reached and lives touched.”

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