At a Jewish day school in Northampton that her children attended, Simona Pozzetto was known as “the challah lady,” despite the fact that she’d been raised Catholic in Milan, Italy. Her bread was so beloved that some children refused to eat any loaf that wasn’t Simona’s.
As it is, Simona’s is an unlikely story. But, if you press further, her story rises, like the challah braid, all the strands blending together into one big, beautiful loaf. One Friday morning, I visited Simona to learn to make challah. She kneaded and folded the dough on the kitchen counter as she talked about the bread and about her life.
In Padua, Simona received her bachelor’s degree in psychology. For her work as an organizational psychologist in Milan, she needed to learn English, and so in 1999, her employer sent her to America to the Penobscot School in Rockland, Maine, for English-language immersion. She indeed learned English, earned a master’s degree in social work at Simmons College in Boston, and met many Americans, including Ed Weisman, a native of Framingham, Massachusetts. They married in Milan in 2002 and returned to live in the United States. Ed is Jewish, and, though Simona wasn’t actively looking for a new faith, she found herself drawn to his.
“The more I read, the more it made sense to me,” she says. “I was so convinced of it that to my surprise, I converted.” Simona loved to cook and bake, and in addition to her Italian specialties, she learned to make challah, the traditional braided bread served on special occasions, including Shabbat, the seventh day of the Jewish week (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday).
Ed and Simona adopted two children from Ethiopia, a brother and sister, ages 4 and 2. Then, a year later, Simona gave birth to a baby boy. Within just seven years, Simona went from living with her parents outside Milan to living in a small town in Massachusetts with her new husband, speaking her new language, practicing her new faith, raising three multicultural children, and baking challah that’s been hailed as “like my grandmother used to make!” At first, Simona followed the recipe published on the King Arthur Flour Web site. Then she began to adapt it–and that is what has earned her bread its accolades.
As we talked, carpenters were working on the house next door. “My parents bought it,” she explained. “They’ll come in the summer and plant grapes in the backyard and have gardens.” The children will also know her world, her Italy. But, on Friday evenings, they’ll all gather around the Shabbat table, and they’ll eat Simona’s challah.