BY DEBORAH MOON
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and Challahman teamed up to bring the taste and texture of the High Holidays to seniors living in area retirement communities.
Challahman baked and delivered 184 loaves of round challah to residents in five senior communities the morning before Rosh Hashanah. Federation funded the gifts for 114 residents at Cedar Sinai Park, 26 at Mirabella, 22 at Courtyard Village, 15 at Touchmark in the West Hills and 7 at Pacifica/Calaroga Terrace.
The gifts were inspired by two men – Rabbi Barry Cohen and Rich Meyer – who were searching for ways to enrich the High Holidays for seniors in the community.
When Rabbi Cohen arrived in Portland in fall of 2018 to become Federation’s first full-time community chaplain, he began visiting retirement communities and getting to know residents through dining and studying together.
“And then the COVID-19 pandemic struck,” he says. “Since then, I have not been able to visit, and except for occasional Zoom or phone calls, we have had no contact. With the High Holidays, I wanted to reach out to residents. I am grateful to have worked with Rich Meyer, the Challahman, to connect with our seniors.”
The Challahman, maker of Portland-baked kosher challah, returned to its roots with a home delivery service in early June in response to the changed reality of life during the pandemic. Congregation Shaarie Torah soon partnered with the Challahman to deliver challah each Friday to 10 random congregants.
Rich says that one week he received a sweet thank you note: “What a delightful surprise for Shabbat, two loaves of challot. At the retirement facility where I live, the few Jews among us gather informally on Friday afternoon/evening to make Kiddush. The challah is very important to us and lovingly critiqued. We will especially enjoy challah from Challahman.”
“I was touched by the note, but it made me think about the many Jewish seniors in our community who have been so affected by the pandemic, especially when it comes to participating in communal celebrations and rituals,” says Rich. “I got in touch with Rabbi Cohen and the Federation and talked about ways to reach out to people who might feel isolated. He came up with the idea of providing round challot for Rosh Hashanah.”
Both men say they hope the challah reminds the seniors the community cares even when visiting is impossible.
“I hope that the simple gesture of a Rosh Hashanah challah will let them know the Jewish community still cares for their health, safety and welfare,” says the rabbi.
Rich agrees.“It’s a small way to connect, but I hope it helps people feel that the community is thinking about and caring for them, and that we look forward to the time when we can all celebrate together.”