So what exactly is a challah fairy?
Is it related to the tooth fairy?
We think it's so much better!
That's easy. It’s Chanalee Fischer Schlisser of Pomona, New York, who went from being a stay-at-home mom, full of more energy than even toddlers could exhaust, to a baker, creating more than her family could eat, and therefore depositing the extra ones in friends’ mailboxes on Friday afternoons.
Upon retrieving the mail every Friday afternoon and the challah, her friend would call her and say "oooh....the challah fairy was here!"
Chanalee’s story started before that, and continues beyond it.
So let’s start at the beginning. (And let’s call her Chanalee; she’s a first-name sort of person.)
Chanalee was born in Boro Park, Brooklyn, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a Holocaust refugee. Her mother’s parents, Morris and Rachel Rokowsky, lived in Switzerland.
"Opely (as he was called) saved many people by helping them flee war torn adjoining countries,” Chanalee said. Switzerland remained neutral during the war.
“My grandmother was 10th-generation Swiss and the youngest of 10 children!
“In 1941, the police hinted to my grandparents that the enemy was searching for them and they should leave as quickly as possible. With four young children in tow, they left from France by boat and arrived in New York, where shortly thereafter a fifth child was born".
Mr. Rokowsky started in the raincoat business and then moved on to more profitable ventures in real estate, where he flourished. Chanalee’s father, Oscar Lehmann, was born in Amsterdam, Holland. Her great grandfather,
“Marcus Lehmann, was a famous writer in the early 19th century,” she said.
“He wrote historical fiction novels based on true stories that could be read and enjoyed by all ages and sects."
When Chanalee's father was liberated from Bergen Belsen, he was 11-1/2 years old and unbeknownst to him, he was an orphan with no parents. His two older sisters survived as well. After a brief time spent with an aunt in Letchworth England, where he celebrated his bar mitzvah, the Lehmann siblings were sent to an aunt and uncle in Boro Park.
"My father had every reason to show resentment and anger towards G-d and his religion and yet he never did. He had huge hakarat hatov (appreciation) to the family that took care of him" and he thrived in a country that was not his own.
Chanalee's parents davened at the same shtiebel, a small private shul in Brooklyn, and together they raised five amazing children.
“My parents raised us with good values,” Chanalee said.
“They didn’t have everything that everyone else had, but they gave us the best life they could. They gave us fantastic life experiences, and they taught us to be good people by their example.”
Chanalee married an Australian, the child of survivors “whose parents wanted to get as far away from Europe as they could,” They moved to Wesley Hills and had four children. Eventually they divorced; Chanalee married Mickey Schlisser, an eighth-generation Israeli on his mother’s side. His father survived Auschwitz and moved to Israel; the family left for the United States “during the Eichmann trial......It made him crazy.” The family moved to Monsey.
Let’s get back to Chanalee.
The business began in the kitchen with one Bosch and then two. When she had four machines swirling dough on the counter, she realized it was time for a commercial mixer. Her business grew entirely by word of mouth, and before she knew it, she was delivering challahs to private residences in Teaneck, Englewood, New York City and Westchester! Imagine deliveries at midnight without GPS, Mapquest, Google Maps or Waze......a nightmare!!!! And yet...business was good.
Billing was done through a piece of paper in the brown delivery bag!!
In 2003, Chanalee decided to "go commercial" and open up a real store! A tiny cafe in New City was transformed into a bakery!
She got rabbinic supervision and went nut-free, cold turkey, which allowed her to sell challot to schools. She developed a relationship with the Reuben Gittelman School in New City (which since has closed) and supplied them with weekly challot. “When I had been there for several months, the Rockland Journal News called.” They wanted our story!"
Business exploded. “It was almost Rosh HaShanah, and there was a line around the block,” Chanalee said. “And the phone was ringing off the hook. People wanted challah. Everyone wanted challah. ‘What do you mean, you can’t deliver to my garden apartment in Westchester....the article says that you deliver?’
“I had to stop taking orders, I hired people, and we worked around the clock for five days. In that tiny little kitchen with two small commercial ovens, we managed to bake 3,500 challahs. It was crazy. It was a turning point”
Four years after she opened the little bakery, Chanalee moved to a strip mall nearby and included a cafe with the bakery in back.’
She also teaches baking classes in synagogues, schools, bridal showers (that's a biggie), birthday parties, bat mitzvahs and anywhere else she is invited, she said.
Chanalee loves her café.
Talking to her is to be interrupted frequently as she talks to her customers; it is impossible to miss the zest in her voice in those conversations.
Her challah, she says, is “dense yet fluffy. It is light, it is sweet, and it consistently has the same delicious taste. “It’s not delicious one week and not so good the following week. And it stays fresh for days.
“Never refrigerate challah,” she added parenthetically. “If you need to refrigerate a challah, just put it in the freezer. Defrost for an hour and reheat for 15 minutes on almost any temperature. No one will know it was frozen!
Strange as it sounds......all basic challah has the same seven ingredients, albeit the amounts vary from one to the other. And each recipe has a slightly different taste.......my recipe comes from my sister in Switzerland and then we tweaked it for commercial mixing.
Although she does not do her own baking, Chanalee still loves to bake. She also loves to feed people and make them happy. “After I was in the little place for a few weeks, a lady walks in; she buys challah and cake” she said. “She is about to walk out, and then she turns around and walks back in and says, ‘Your cake and challah make Shabbat worth celebrating.’
“I love that,” Chanalee said. “I love making people’s Shabbat special. That’s the reason I do it.”
Chanalee’s café is located at 170 North Main Street in New City., directly across the parking lot from Stop & Shop.
The Cafe is nut free....all challot are dairy free.....we make gluten free challot as well.
Come to a class to hear the rest.....you will not be disappointed!!!