Longest Serving MA Female Rabbi Also Wears Chef and Writer’s Hats

Published January 20, 2015, issue of January 15, 2015.
Rabbi Abramson with her new book, “Challah, A Chewish Guide to the Torah.”
Rabbi Abramson with her new book, “Challah, A Chewish Guide to the Torah.”

In the first line of her new book, Rabbi Susan Abramson of Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington admits she has never been a cook, but that shouldn’t deter the reader.

She has, in fact, cooked up tasty tidbits about the Torah in “Challah, A Chewish Guide to the Torah,” a book written for all ages which also opens the door to family activities.

Abramson, who is the longest-serving female rabbi in Massachusetts, said that not only is the book a guide to baking challah and learning about the Torah, but it is also “a discussion starter and an activity for the family to do together.”

The book, which took nearly three years to create, includes a basic challah recipe; a brief history of challah; excerpts from the weekly Torah portion or chapter; directions, with photos, of how to create each challah to reflect that Torah portion and related discussion points.

The text reflects Abramson’s sense of humor and love of puns. For example, the discussion points are headed, “Food for Thought.” She tells you what “you knead to know.” Other topics include “A Lot to Chew on,” “The Yeast We Can Do,” and “Doughn’t Dessert Me.”

Each Torah portion in ‘Chewish’ includes photos of the rabbi’s challahs, which she tested and baked, and colorful text designed to attract the reader. In fact, Abramson said she researched the use of color and how it can enhance each page of her book. The layout of the book took a lot of time, she said, and was like putting together a puzzle. She spent many months fine-tuning each challah recipe and how it would represent a Torah portion. “It took a lot of trial and error,” she said.

While the dough was rising, Abramson would work on her weekly sermons.

After the challah designs were finalized, she wrote the Torah summaries, almost always during vacations; in fact, she said, “I get my best ideas when I am out walking.” The next step in the book process was writing the Food for Thought entries.

Abramson is also the author of the Rabbi Rocketpower series for children.

Although she was officially an English major at Brandeis University, she became interested in Judaic studies and took only those courses throughout her four years there. She admitted, though, that Torah classes were her weak point at Brandeis, and so, writing the Challah book with the Torah portions “finally shows I know the Torah.”

Abramson finds writing therapeutic. “I put my heart and soul into it, and I like seeing something tangible after all the work,” she said.

Abramson’s books are available on Amazon, at the Israel Book Shop in Brookline, or by calling 781-272-2351.

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