Our neighborhood like most others in Jerusalem has its own neighborhood supermarket. All of you know the type, it’s “the large supermarket chain dressed up to be the friendly neighborhood grocery store” design concept.
The staff in our supermarket is mixed, part of the management personnel is Israeli-Jewish and part of it is Israeli-Arab. The check-out ladies are all Israeli-Jewish. The delivery staff is all Israeli-Arab. The kosher meat counter is run by four butchers two Israeli-Jews and two Israeli-Arabs. The kosher fresh fruits and vegetables section is also run by an Israeli-Jewish/Israeli-Arab team. The kosher dairy counter is manned by two Israeli-Jews, one who immigrated from Kiev (Ukraine), the other who immigrated from Tallinn (Estonia). The kosher fresh baked goods counter is manned by Mahjdi, an Israeli-Arab baker.
Now, since this is a chain store, Mahjdi receives pre-prepared dough shaped into loaves, pita, bagels, challot* and other baked goods from the supermarket’s central bakery. Everything arrives oven-ready so that all Mahjdi has to do is place them in the oven for baking, fill the store with that fresh baked smell and sell away! Thing is that long ago our family noticed that Mahjdi’s challot taste especially sweet and delicious. Thinking that it had something to do with the supermarket’s central bakery, one weekend that we were away from home we bought challot at a different outlet of the same chain. What a disappointment! They tasted nothing like Mahjdi’s challot! Truly not even challot from the nearby bakeries taste as good as Mahjdi’s challot.
I was really curious about this and wanted to solve the mystery. So one Friday morning I went to our supermarket early enough to spy on Mahjdi the baker in order to learn his secret. As he took the braided challah bread dough out of the boxes he began to hum, he gently placed six loaves on his work counter, counted out six eggs, separated the yolk from the white, lightly beat the whites to a low level fluff and then shifting from humming to singing began attentively painting the tops of the challot with egg white and sprinkling them with sesame seeds. Then tenderly placing the loaves on a tray, he said something to them as he slide the tray into the oven.
At that point I felt it was ok to interrupt Mahjdi and I said, “You know my grandmother used to sing as she was preparing food or baking.”
Mahjdi shyly responded, “Yes, it is very good for the bread to sing to it. I also ask the bread to ‘bake well and tasty, please’. Now you go do your shopping, come back in about 20 minutes, your challot will be ready then.”
When I returned Mahjdi the baker served up a huge smile, two golden challot, and wished me a “Shabbat Shalom”!
*challot: plural of challah, braided bread for the Shabbat table.