About a decade ago, Beth Ricanati’s friend suggested she make challah for the Jewish New Year.
The only thing Ricanati baked back then were boxed brownies. To her, a physician and mom of three kids, the idea of making anything from scratch seemed overwhelming and downright impossible.
But she did make challah that year. And she’s been making challah every Friday ever since.
As Ricanati told me, “It’s become part of my life.” She can’t imagine not making it. “Now, it just is what I do.”
After a while Ricanati found herself rearranging her schedule so she would have time for making challah: “Not just because it tasted delish (it did!), but because of how I felt each week—calm, present, focused. Making challah forces me to stop, to get off the treadmill for a bit, get messy in a bowl of flour.”
Ricanati recounts her story, the story of Jewish rituals, the details of her medical training, the power of presence, the power of connection, and more in her beautiful memoir, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs.
Throughout her ten years of making challah, Ricanati has learned a lot.
“Outwardly, I have learned about the history of challah, the various rituals incorporated when making the bread itself, how this special bread both sustains and creates community,” Ricanati said. “Inwardly, I have learned how meditative it is to make homemade bread, how calming and centering this behavior is. I have learned how wonderful it feels to nourish my friends and family with this homemade bread.”
Ricanati believes that all of us should have a meaningful ritual in our lives—whatever it is. For instance, she said, it might be gardening. (“I can’t keep a succulent alive, so alas that is not for me.” I so relate to this!)
What really matters, she said, is that you pick something that resonates with you.
Maybe your ritual is a simple, homemade dinner every Saturday. Maybe it’s a morning walk as you savor the fresh air and listen to the sounds all around you. Maybe it’s stretching your body every night before you go to bed. Maybe it’s attending a restorative yoga class on Saturday and Sunday.
Maybe it’s coloring with your kids as everyone eats breakfast. Maybe it’s sketching for five minutes about something that’s on your mind (or on your heart). Maybe it’s writing a poem about it. Maybe it’s writing a playful micropoem. Maybe it’s stopping by the park most evenings after work. Maybe it’s listening to classical music as you sip your tea as you journal.
To figure out your ritual, you might start by thinking about what nourishes and supports you. Think about what inspires and uplifts you. Think about what you need. Think about what you’ve always wanted to try, and maybe break it down into a tiny step. Think about what energizes or calms you. Think about what connects you to what’s most important.
What if you don’t have time?
Ricanati shares this in Braided. Replace baking bread and dough with any ritual that you need to practice:
“Maybe you have a mandatory meeting, a work commitment, a child to pick up, an errand to run. I get all that; I have all that on my calendar, too. But I also know that you can figure this out, and that once you do, you will be amazed at what getting your hands in a bowl of dough each week will do for you. It will impact your body, your spirit, your friendships, and your family. It will get you to slow down, to chill out, to tune in. It will change things at the exact level I suspect they need to be changed.”
Rituals anchor us. They remind us to pay attention, to live inside a moment. They reconnect us and root us to ourselves—to our bodies, to our bones, to our breath.