Every Challah Knife Tells a Story
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Every Challah Knife Tells a Story

A collection of challah knives reflects the circumstances under which they were acquired.

During a Passover trip to Israel in 2001, Dr. Jay and Mindy Cinnamon and their 10-year-old daughter, Marissa, were shopping in Jerusalem for a challah knife to add to their collection.

Dr. Jay and Mindy Cinnamon

It was during the Second Intifada, and Jewish shops were suffering because of severely diminished tourism. At one Judaica store, the Cinnamons admired a beautiful sterling silver challah knife, but Marissa wanted to keep looking.

The elderly shop owner did everything in his power to make the sale, including severely reducing the price.

Jay explained that they might return, but they wanted to continue shopping. On the way out, Jay couldn’t miss the obvious sadness on the disheartened shopkeeper’s face. “How long had it been since his last sale? Maybe none all week, or even longer,” Jay thought.

Outside the store, Jay spoke to his daughter. “There are milestone events in life, and you can’t plan when these turning points will present themselves,” he told her. “We have to buy that knife.” The Cinnamons returned to the store and purchased the challah knife at full price, even though the shopkeeper had offered a big reduction. The shopkeeper beamed, and Marissa had performed an act of chesed (kindness).

“But that’s not the end of the tale,” Jay says. “The event, really, was a turning point for Marissa, and she wrote the story for her college essay!”

A gift from Mindy to Jay

First, let’s go back a few decades. Mindy Lookstein is the daughter of Audrey and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, an eminent rabbi emeritus of modern-Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Mindy attended Ramaz, a leading k-12 Orthodox Jewish school, which her grandfather founded.

Jay Cinnamon also grew up in an Orthodox family, in Hicksville, Long Island, taking the bus to the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County every day. The Cinnamons owned the first Judaica store on Long Island, which they ran from 1960 through the mid-1980s. Mindy and Jay met while working in outreach programs at Yeshiva University. In 1982, they were married at Kehilath Jeshurun and in 1994 moved to Atlanta, where Jay, a radiologist, joined the faculty at Emory University.

Jay designed this knife for Mindy.

Today, the Cinnamons are engaged and hard-working members of the vibrant Toco Hills community, maintaining membership and actively participating in several neighborhood synagogues.

At their welcoming Shabbat table, relatives and friends sit together with people the Cinnamons may have just met. The food is always delicious, the conversation is always interesting and the Jewish concept of hiddur mitzvah — “beautification of a mitzvah” — is evident in the ritual items scattered throughout their home and on their table. Hand-crafted door mezuzot, Shabbat and Yom Tov candelabras, kiddush cups, washing cups, challah covers, challah boards and challah knives are just some examples of ritual items elevated by their beauty and originality.

A gift from Mindy to Jay

Challah knife handles are excellent and enduring examples of a silversmith or fine craftsman’s handiwork. Many Jewish families have more than one challah knife; the Cinnamons, over their 40-year marriage, have collected nearly three dozen of them.

Mindy and Jay both come from Orthodox Jewish families, so it makes sense that three or four of their wedding guests chose to gift them with something the couple would use every Shabbat and Yom Tov. That’s how the challah knife collection got its unofficial start.

The Cinnamon collection ranges from classic ornate sterling silver to sleek knives in sculptural holders, some with integrated saltshakers. A wooden knife handle is painted with Israeli scenes, while other handles display the fanciful art of a gifted silversmith.

Folding travel challah knife

A folding traveling challah knife is secure in its own carrying case. A modern multi-colored knife was a gift from Mindy to her husband when their first grandchild was born, and several knives were purchased by the family to mark other special occasions. A spectacular silver knife was designed by Jay and made from part of a yad (Torah-reading pointer), with a crown at the top. “Mindy’s Hebrew name is Malka, and Malka means queen,” Jay explains. The majority of the knives, however, were presents from guests, perfect gifts for their big-hearted Shabbat dinner hosts.

While the Cinnamons are delighted with their diverse and treasured collection, Jay succinctly explains the designated role of a challah knife: “The most important thing about the Shabbat meal is what happens after the challah is cut.” The beautiful challah knife is the tool that opens the even more beautiful Shabbat meal.

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