How my Shabbat challah became the bread of affliction

When I meet Stuart on Friday for our first date, I tell him that I have something to confess.

“I write a column for j.”

“You do?” he asks.

“What’s it about?”

“Uh, mostly the local Jewish singles scene.”

“Oh,” he says, pausing. “So, are you telling me that I’m material?”

“Well, maybe …”

He smiles. “Do you have a tape recorder in your purse?”

I’m relieved that Stuart seems amused.

One of my closest girlfriends introduced me to 45-year-old Stuart after she’d gone out with him a few times and decided they weren’t a match.

“There’s nothing wrong with recycling a man, is there?” she joked.

A week later, Stuart called and asked if I’d like to celebrate Shabbat with him.

We’d planned to attend an organized service, but due to limited schedules around the East Bay, it was just going to be the two of us at the Rose Garden in Berkeley. How romantic!

I have to admit that this was all new to me: I was used to celebrating Shabbat from time to time with a group of people — at my daughter’s preschool or friends’ homes — but not intimately like this.

For Stuart, on the other hand, the idea of a one-on-one Shabbat with the creek trickling below, was a fantastic first date.

There was the bell! I grabbed the loaf of challah I’d picked up that afternoon and raced down the stairs.

Why was I so nervous?

Clearly, Stuart was looking for a nice Jewish girl, and I wasn’t sure if I fit the profile. Sure, I’d had my bat mitzvah, spent a summer in Israel and was sending my daughter to a Jewish preschool.

But I was feeling a little in over my head here.

On our date, Stuart lit the wicks in his cute little traveling candle set.

All I knew about him was that he’d recently moved here from back East and broken up with his girlfriend.

When he said my name, he pronounced it in Hebrew, which I found cute and annoying at the same time.

He’d even brought a real Kiddush cup, and knew the long version of the prayer over the wine. “Impressive,” I said.

Now it was time for the challah, and this is where my evening suddenly turned miserable.

That afternoon, rushing to pick my daughter up at the Berkeley Richmond JCC as usual, I’d passed a new bakery nearby, and suddenly remembered, challah! I’d told Stuart that I’d bring challah tonight.

I’d felt grateful when I saw the shiny loaves in a row, and mentally patted myself on the back.

But biting into it just then, next to Stuart, the bread was dry and stale. It was awful.

“Where’d you get this?” Stuart asked, gulping a big sip of wine.

Embarrassed, I told him where.

“The French bakery?” He laughed. “The French don’t know how to make challah.”

What had seemed oh-so-gourmet that afternoon suddenly seemed false.

It’s over, I thought. He’ll never go out with me again.

“I’m so sorry,” I said.

I could barely look at him next to me, with his fancy Shabbat gear. I’d had one simple task — to pick up a challah— and I’d failed.

C’mon, Rachel, how hard was it to find a decent challah around here? Surely, this was over before the sun had set.

But guess what?

Two days later, there was a message on my machine from Stuart: “It was really nice going out with you. I hope you might have time to get together again this week.”

Next Friday, maybe I’ll impress him with a fresh challah from Semifreddi’s.