Mrs. Suri Jaroslawitz’s challah bakes have become legendary. Here’s a taste of the experience
Globetrotting, by all accounts, was never on Mrs. Suri Jaroslawitz’s bucket list, nor did she ever intend to become a public personality, but life has a funny way of blindsiding the most unsuspecting people and, well, here she is, a chassidishe-babbi-from-Boro-Park-turned-globetrotting public personality.
For many years, Mrs. Jaroslawitz and her husband were the owners of Mendel’s Pizza in Boro Park. She was a teacher, and later an assistant principal, when her husband decided to open the store.
“My husband needed my help, so my job was to be at his side,” Suri says simply. She quit her principal job, and for the next 30 years ran the busy Brooklyn establishment with the same drive and energy one would use to run a Fortune 500 company.
Twelve years ago, a friend walked into the store. “Suri,” she said, “you know my daughter didn’t have children for years. We needed a yeshuah, and I was advised by Rebbetzin Kanievsky z”l to organize 40 women to come and be mafrish challah together in one room, all answering Amen to each other’s brachos and davening together. By the next year my daughter was a mother, and now every year I do it again. Will you come?”
Suri laughed. “Hafrashas challah?” she asked. “I’ve been doing hafrashas challah every single day for decades in the back of my store — even more than once a day! Pizzas, calzones, knishes, they’re all made from dough and need challah taken, and I’m the one who does it. I’ll be happy to daven for whoever you need in my store, but a whole gathering? I’m not the type for these bubbe maisehs.”
Her friend pressed her to come see what a beautiful experience this was, so the following day, the day before Erev Yom Kippur, Suri joined a gathering of women who came together to daven and do this mitzvah together… and something cataclysmic happened to Suri Jaroslawitz on that day.
“It’s true that I’d been taking challah for years,” she says, “but this was something different. So many women davening and answering Amen to one another — it was next level. Women have three special mitzvos, but hafrashas challah is the only one that can be done anytime, anywhere, by any woman, and in a large gathering simultaneously. The power of the joint tefillos, the brachos, and the answering Amen — itself a declaration of emunah — can’t be measured and can’t be matched by anything else!”
Somehow, Suri found herself initiating more and more gatherings of women to do the mitzvah of hafrashas challah together. At first, she looked for opportunities — “excuses,” she calls them — to gather women to be mafrish challah together in the back of her store. Rosh Chodesh, Rochel Imeinu’s yahrtzeit, Shabbos Shirah, week of shlissel challah, etc. Slowly the idea took off and women began forming their own groups in homes, but often asked her to lead them.
“You don’t need me!” is one of Suri’s popular quotable quotes. “Forget me, don’t wait, just go do your own — get the women together and just do it!”
But women want Suri. Vivacious, energetic, and dynamic, Suri has magnetic appeal — something magical — that makes women want this chassidiste to lead their groups. She speaks faster than you can keep up; if you accidentally stop listening for ten seconds you just missed three stories and two gematrias — and all this without a single written prompt in front of her. She’s on a roll, telling story after story, quoting maamarei Chazal and pesukim, tying it together with fire-and-brimstone rock-solid hashkafah. She’s been all over; there are no “types” when it comes to Suri Jaroslawitz’s challah bakes. Litvish, chassidish, Sephardic, Modern Orthodox, yeshivish, and anyone and everyone in between, the message of emunah and tefillah breaks every barrier and stereotype.
Says Shainy, “I’m somewhat of an avowed kalte Litvak: I don’t appreciate the ‘trending’ segulos, fad vending machine-type things like stand on your head for 40 days and poof! You got your yeshuah! But a friend asked me to come to a hafrashas challah gathering, and I figured that even though I don’t know if there’s any makor for the 40 thing, any group of women saying brachos and answering Amen is certainly a zechus, so I went. Well, I heard Suri speak and it was unlike any of this new age hocus-pocus stuff. The tefillos in that room weren’t regular. Several of my family members are already so burnt out from davening for something that we need for many years already, and we feel like Hashem is just not going to give it to us. But you know that mashal that every third grader says at the Seder about standing at Har Sinai was like entering a perfume shop… just the experience of listening to this woman who believes so strongly in the power of tefillah and connecting to Hashem was exactly like that — you couldn’t not be moved! She lit a fire of bitachon in every person there — certainly in me! My tefillah for this thing has been recharged. It will happen, even if it didn’t yet.”
“People want to know what the makor is for this,” Suri shares. “And I’ll tell you — there is no makor! You know why? Because it’s not a segulah, a segulah needs a makor. But this isn’t a segulah, it’s a peulah, a way of bringing about unified tefillah, thereby bringing brachah and yeshuah into our lives.”
Taste the Experience
What actually transpires at Suri Jaroslawitz’s challah bakes?
A room is set up with tables and chairs. “Every woman must have a seat!” she calls out to that one woman standing in the back. On the tables there are small sandwich bags for the challah that will be taken, boxes of tissues — lots of tissues — and the bowls of dough each woman has brought with her. Maybe there are 40 women gathered, maybe 60, maybe 15. Suri doesn’t care about the number, because she’s not following any precise formula. As she stresses repeatedly, this is not about plugging in your requests, stating your conditions, and expecting a prize. This is about women coming together for tefillah and to strengthen their emunah in Hashem as the Kol Yachol.
Suri takes her place at the front. She begins with her introduction, telling her own personal story of how these challah bakes began. The women are shifting in their seats, watching their dough, wondering how soon they’ll go around saying brachos and then go home to braid their rapidly rising dough.
That’s the first five minutes.
By minute six, everyone’s forgotten the dough and has their eyes and ears glued on the woman standing before them, speaking a mile a minute, this half comedienne, half holy rebbetzin from a different generation — a description Suri is quick to quash. With a self-deprecating, dismissive wave of her hand she tells her audience that she is “the pizza lady,” and mimics herself standing behind the counter asking customers: “To stay or to go? To stay or to go?”
Yet no one is buying that, because for the next full hour, Suri Jaroslawitz is talking about tefillah, emunah, yeshuos, and the ability that women have to access Hashem’s shefa. She tells story after story of miracles — miracles which she herself either witnessed or was told about — of babies, engagements, medical breakthroughs, financial salvations, children returning to the fold. Her stories are peppered with pesukim and maamarei Chazal, but it’s the burning fire in her eyes that tells the most: It’s the fire of pure, unadulterated emunah in the Eibeshter.
As soon as she says something positive — every three minutes or so — she interrupts herself and calls out, “Say umein!” and her audience responds with a mix of “ameins,” “ah-mens,” and “umeins.”
As she speaks, Suri looks around the room, noticing the details. She works the crowd, intuiting the needs of this particular group. They may be single women, mothers with children in shidduchim, women waiting to have families, or a mix of all. She’s waking up neshamos, forcing people out of their slumber.
“Every mitzvah needs emunah and simchah,” Suri exhorts her listeners. “If your emunah and simchah aren’t shaken and rattled when you do a mitzvah, something isn’t right. It’s about getting closer to the Eibeshter.”
Every challah bake, says Suri, has a “story,” even if we never hear it. She’s constantly called by women sharing something that happened. While the public might not be privy to them, she herself hears them, largely because she begs the women to share the beautiful stories with her privately. Otherwise, she says, it’s simply too difficult to keep doing what she’s doing; the emotional toll of hearing about so many people who need different yeshuos in addition to the physical strain — Boro Park in the morning, Williamsburg in the afternoon, Lakewood or the Five Towns at night, three days of back-to-back gatherings in L.A. is par for the course — the stories fuel her engine.
“It might not be the story we thought we’d hear, or the yeshuah that someone was asking for, but it will always be something. Every time. Our bakashos aren’t conditional,” Suri repeats. “We think we need one thing, and then there is a yeshuah in a place we didn’t even know we needed. I hear this all the time. And sometimes a person doesn’t get what she asked for… but we have emunah that we know we’re on His list — He didn’t forget about us! This is channeling emunah to the next level, knowing it’s not the way I want it right now, but there’s a plan, it’s not shlecht. It just hasn’t happened yet.”
Suri explains that the mitzvah of challah has the power to be poel yeshuos, to generate yeshuos. “Daven for anything,” she says, “because challah is a miracle, challah is roshei teivos, chutz lederech hateva — outside of the natural order. Davening for something is in itself a statement of emunah; we only daven for things we believe can be. He’emanti ki adaber! I believe because I say it! Hashem can make it happen — say umein!
“Women married twenty-five years are still davening for children, fifty-year-olds are davening for shidduchim, you know why? Because it happens! We all know it happens, and just because it didn’t happen to someone yet, she still believes it will. And that’s her emunah. The more emunah we have, the stronger the tefillah.
“A Jew,” she says, “doesn’t use the word never about things we need. Don’t say it can never happen. Take the word never out of your lexicon, people! Instead of never, say if ever.”
Beyond the stories of nissim and yeshuos, Suri continues her presentation with a passionate recounting of something she was taught as a kallah several decades ago. As we know, every home is a mikdash me’at, a mini Beis Hamikdash. Bayis, home, equals 412 in gematria. Mikdash is 444. How do we transform a bayis to be a mikdash, a holy dwelling of Hashem? By adding 32: lev, our hearts.
“There was only one Kohein Gadol in the Beis Hamikdash, ladies,” Suri exclaims. “And in your bayis, there is only one Kohein Gadol, and that’s you! When you put your lev into every part of your avodah, you infuse it with kedushah. When you put your lev into your cooking, your cleaning, your laundry, you’re turning a home into a Beis Hamikdash, and you, the Kohein Gadol of your home, are the only one who can do that. Whoever else you are in your life — a teacher, a CEO, a manager, a principal, a doctor — you’re replaceable, ladies! There is only one place where you are completely irreplaceable, and that is in your Beis Hamikdash.”
Suri continues her talk with hashkafah insights throughout, putting emphasis on the role of tefillah in our lives. She points to the words in the yehi ratzon that is said after we take challah: “Az eheyeh k’ilu noladeti meichadash, nekiyah micheit v’avon — then I will be as if I have been born anew, clean from all sin.”
“The only time we are free of all cheit is once a year, at Ne’ilah,” Suri says emotionally. “Do you know how men bid and outbid one another to be able to do pesichah before Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur? Because everyone understands what a powerful eis ratzon this is. But ladies, we have this power every single time we take challah! What bigger eis ratzon can there be, if we’re like we’re reborn, with no cheit, there is no kitrug between us and our tefillos? There’s nothing blocking our tefillos from reaching Shamayim. Challah, ladies, is roshei teivos chanun hamarbeh lisloach (He is gracious, the One who forgives exponentially) — it’s a Ne’ilah moment!”
The words “Zu hi mitzvas hachallah — this is the mitzvah of challah,” Suri continues, has the gematria of taryag, 613 (Hagaos Maimanios, Hilchos Challah, siman 30). When the mitzvah of challah is done correctly, it’s as if a person has performed all of the taryag mitzvos.
“Imagine!” Suri exclaims. “There are so many mitzvos we can’t do. We’re not men, we don’t have a Beis Hamikdash, we don’t live in Eretz Yisrael… but with this one mitzvah of challah, it’s like a woman is being mekayem kol haTorah kulah… and we said before, the mitzvah brings us to teshuvah — we’re free of cheit like Ne’ilah on Yom Kippur. So imagine doing all of taryag mitzvos at Ne’ilah — that’s power, power plus!”
The climax of Suri Jaroslawitz’s speech is the conclusion. She’s now ready to recite the brachah of hafrashas challah, and this, too, has a hashkafah lesson.
Every mitzvah, she says, needs preparation beforehand, and the preparation itself becomes part of the mitzvah. “Shut the phones!” Suri begs. “You can’t possibly have a phone anywhere near your challah dough — there’s no such thing as answering a call while you’re taking challah.”
While different communities have different nuschaos for the brachah said, Suri focuses on the Ashkenazi brachah of lehafrish challah min ha’isah. The roshei teivos of these words, lamed, ches, mem, hei, she teaches, spell the word machalah, illness. When we pull that small piece of challah from the dough, we should have in mind to take away illness — both literally and figuratively. Anything that plagues a person, a struggle of any kind, even emotionally, Suri explains, is a machalah. Talk to Hashem, daven, ask Him to take away any machalah, any agmas nefesh, as you yourself remove that piece — lehafrish challah min ha’isah.
Suri then explains the power of what is about to transpire. First, she requests that the brachah is said with pauses: Baruch Atah Hashem — comma. Elokeinu, Melech haolam — comma. In this way one can process what she’s saying and have stronger kavanah. Then comes answering Amen: The act of saying Amen to another’s brachah, she says, isn’t simply saying the word. Amen is the gematria of malach, 91, and is roshei teivos malach echad nivra — a malach is literally created when we answer Amen to another’s brachah.
“If there are 20 women saying 20 Amens, that’s 400 malachim right here, right now — a flock of Amens coming out from each brachah! You’re making a brachah that has diesel power to begin with, and we’re breaking through the Heavens! The power of this moment, when it’s like we’re making a siyum haTorah on Yom Kippur, that’s what’s able to bring yeshuos. And when you answer that Amen, remember: We’re not looking at a phone, we’re not looking at a friend, we go inward. We daven during that moment of Amen because it’s not one Amen, but 400 amens s’brecht himmel’n (smashing the Keavens) and it’s unbelievable!”
The tension in the room is so thick it’s nearly tangible. Suri uncovers the dough in front of her, closes her eyes, and says the brachah. Even before she concludes, women around the room are silently weeping, and the Amen that follows in unison is not a loud, Siyum HaShas-type thunderous moment, but raw, hushed, emotional, and without looking around the room, everyone instinctively senses that the women around her are either in tears or very close to it. As they go around the tables, each woman says her brachah, some more steady, some crying. No one is looking at anyone else, everyone is focused on her own thoughts, her own tefillos, her own brachah, her own Amens. Suri then leads the women in saying Tehillim perek 100, Mizmor l’Sodah, and in reciting Nishmas. When they finally conclude, the room is so emotionally charged that no one wants to speak, for fear of breaking the magic.
The Point of It All
Suri is pragmatic and passionate when women approach her to request her presence at yet another challah gathering. Especially now, with so many yeshuos needed in Eretz Yisrael, Suri’s phone is ringing off the hook and she’s pulled in more directions than she can handle. She begs women not to wait for her and just make their own groups immediately.
“Do your own, you don’t need me, people! You’re not allowed to wait for me, people are waiting for yeshuos! Just gather the women and make your own groups. I want the whole world to make challah groups, everywhere, and see yeshuos all over!”
Is that a pipe dream? Once upon a time, says Suri Jaroslawitz, had someone told us that we can finish Sefer Tehillim in 20 minutes, anytime, anywhere, we would have thought it was impossible. Yet today, there are Tehillim groups everywhere, with a Tehillim mechulak being distributed to 15 women, and within minutes, the Sefer is completed on behalf of a fellow Yid. Suri’s dream is to see women making challah bakes all the time, generating zechuyos and yeshuos for Klal Yisrael.
Suri repeats that the point of these gatherings is strengthening emunah and kirvas Elokim. If a yeshuah comes from it, it’s because something got shaken in Shamayim, but we’re not here to make deals with the Ribbono shel Olam.
If so, then what is the point of telling over so many stories of yeshuos that people merited to see after doing this mitzvah? Suri has so many stories to tell, yet so many people are still waiting for their “story” to have a happy ending. If the point is not the happy endings, why does she beg the women to share the stories that do happen?
First of all, explains Suri, when someone does merit a yeshuah and then has a story to tell, it’s not happening to you — it’s not your story. “It’s Hashem’s story and happening through you,” she says. “We’re told, Al tachzik tov l’atzmecha — you don’t keep goodness to yourself. Something good happened through you, share it. You’re only the keili of Hashem shining His face through you and through your life experiences. Maybe the personal details are too much to share, so we don’t share those personal details, but the yeshuos? The yeshuos are Hashem’s story!
“We need to tell the stories because they give us hope, and that hope makes us daven. One person’s story gives another person hope, and hope is the fuel of life. We continue to daven because of that hope.
“But our emunah isn’t conditional — it doesn’t depend on the outcome. The goal here is to change our relationship with the Eibeshter to one of closeness and aligning our ratzon with His.”
Suri is a passionate person who speaks with her whole heart. None of that passion, however, compares to the fire that erupts when she discusses women and their koach hatefillah.
“There isn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind or heart that this galus is going to end because of women — we’re going to bring the Geulah just like we brought the Yidden out of Mitzrayim. How will it happen? Through our tefillos.”
To this end, Suri compiled a sefer techinos in Lashon Hakodesh, translated into Yiddish. It contains tefillos and techinos appropriate for the three mitzvos exclusive to women, as well as various inyanim and kavanos pertaining to these mitzvos. This magnificent compilation, with laminated pages (“It needs to be kitchen proof!”) took the Yiddish-speaking public by such storm that it is now being translated into a Lashon Hakodesh/English version for English speakers.
“From everything I do, this project is probably the closest to my heart, because there is no greater tool for the nashim of Klal Yisrael than their avodah shebalev — tefillah.”
One of the beautiful ideas Suri shares is how each ingredient in our challah is representative of something greater which we should use as a springboard for tefillah as we add in that ingredient, taking advantage of that time to also daven for individuals. Every woman can and should personalize her tefillos in this area, but here are Suri’s starting points:
Yeast: “Hareim keren Yisrael amecha” — please increase our mazel (and the mazel of our loved ones).
Water: “Ein mayim elah Torah” — Torah should flow through our home and may it be home filled with a Torah atmosphere.
Sugar: “Hareinu Hashem chasdecha” — we know Your actions are good, but allow us to feel the sweetness as well. Please show us Your chasadim, point us in the right direction and to the right shlichim that we need.
Flour: “Im ein kemach ein Torah” — please allow us to have parnassah b’derech kavod and enough for our needs.
Oil: “Tov sheim mishemen tov” — may we continue to have a good name, may we find chein in the eyes of those we meet, v’nimtza chein v’seichel tov b’einei Elokim v’adam (Suri also shares a special tefillah for chein which can be said here).
Eggs: “Ein kli machzik brachah elah hashalom” — eggs are the “glue” that binds the other ingredients. May our homes be bound with shalom between everyone. Also tefillos for zera shel kayama.
Salt: Every korban has salt — we daven for Hashem to Klal Yisrael to the rightful avodas korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash so that there will be no more korbanos taken from us in This World. Take away the tzaros, bring us the Geulah sheleimah.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 866)
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