Bread for books

Honoring the dead with new library built with proceeds from mother and daughter’s home-baked challah

Moussia Zwiebel shares some of the library books purchased with funds raised through her challah sales.

Moussia Zwiebel shares some of the library books purchased with funds raised through her challah sales.

Photo by Ken Smith

When frequent Chabad Jewish Center visitor Selda Arnoff passed away last November at the age of 96, Rabbi Mendy Zwiebel and his wife, Chana, found themselves facing the unique parental responsibility of explaining the passing of a loved one—whom their children called Bubby (Yiddish for grandmother) Selda—as well as teaching them how death is observed in the Jewish faith.

“In Judaism, we believe that everything we do in honor or in memory of one who has passed helps elevate their soul,” Chana explained as five of the couple’s six children scurried around the center, a large Victorian in the south campus neighborhood, and eldest daughter Moussia, 8, sat close to her mother on a couch.

“We were discussing those concepts with our children and thinking of what we could do for her, and Moussia came up with the idea of starting a children’s library,” Chana said, adding that Arnoff was a “passionate librarian and lifelong book lover.”

As they talked the idea through, Moussia realized they’d need money to buy books and other materials, and came up with an idea of how to raise the necessary funds. Chana explained that her daughter’s favorite activity is baking, and she’s been helping her mother in the kitchen since the age of 3. Moussia especially likes making challah, the braided Jewish bread traditionally eaten on Shabbat and during holidays.

“She loves making the braids, and is very good at it,” Chana said. “It’s usually made with three braids or six, which is more complicated, and she learned to do six braids very young. She even taught my mother how to do six braids, and my mother has been baking challah weekly for over 30 years.”

Rabbi Mendy Zwiebel demonstrates the blowing of a shofar during the opening of the Jewish Children’s Library.

Photo by ken smith

Moussia and her mom get plenty of practice making challah, as the Chabad Center hosts regular weekly Shabbat dinners and delivers food to elderly home- or facility-bound members of the local Jewish community. Chana estimated she and Moussia managed at least two large batches a week even before they started baking it to sell to the public.

For the fundraising, the two began baking about 30 loaves of white and whole-wheat challah weekly to sell at Chico’s Saturday farmers’ market and the Thursday Night Market downtown, as well as taking orders via email and phone.

In July, Moussia met her initial goal of raising enough money to purchase about 100 books, and a few other materials—a wooden Rosh Hashana play set and Jewish-themed toys, including a stuffed dreidel and Matzah Man doll.

A carpenter in the Chabad community offered to build shelves for the Jewish Children’s Library, which is housed at the Chabad Center and celebrated it’s opening Sunday, Sept. 14, with a “Shofar Factory” workshop for children. A shofar is a musical instrument made from a ram’s horn of special significance during Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which began at sundown Wednesday (Sept. 24) and ends at sundown Friday (Sept. 26).

“On Rosh Hashana, the mitzvah [religious duty] of the day is to hear the shofar blown,” said Rabbi Zwiebel. “Rosh Hashana is the day God judges the world and decides what its fate will be in the following year.

“Jews traditionally go to synagogue to pray to God to overlook our misdeeds and see our true essence that wants to connect to God. We ask forgiveness for things we might have done incorrectly the previous year,” he added. “The shofar-blowing is like the cry of the soul calling out to God and saying, ‘Please allow me to come home.’”

When asked what her daughter has gained from the experience, Chana said, “I think it helped her learn a lot about the value of giving of yourself to help the community, as well as having the experience of working toward a long-term goal.” And as the Jewish New Year begins, Moussia and her mother will continue to bake and sell challah and honor Bubby Selda, with profits marked for further library improvements, including bean-bag chairs and other seating, more holiday-related, educational play sets and, of course, more books.