The Schmooze knew we were in for an afternoon treat as soon as we heard Zach Banner, the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive tackle and newly minted “Friend Of The Jews,” uttered the words: “So there’s this awesome…bread.”
If you’re a Jew who’s ever ventured to make a comment about food on social media, you’ve probably been disillusioned by your brethren’s unfortunate tendency to humble-brag about their 2,000-stranded challah on Instagram, litigate kashrut in the Facebook comments section, and start Twitter wars over their bubbies’ recipes even when those recipes turn out to consist entirely of Sweet ‘N Low and Russian dressing.
This afternoon, skip the tsuris and experience the wonder Jews derive from food when we find it in ourselves to stop arguing about it. Devote four minutes of your time to watching Banner taste challah for the first time…ever.
So I tried challah for the first time and let me tell you… 🤯
Deadline for ordering in support of @B3Foundation is TOMORROW at 9am (yeah, I messed that up in the video). ➡️ https://t.co/cxuKjno5o6pic.twitter.com/n9CRBqI6x7— Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) July 21, 2020
But first, the Jewish backstory on this miraculous footage. After Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson posted anti-Semitic quotes to his Instagram in early July, Banner was one of just a few NFL players who spoke out in support of the Jewish community, urging fans not to “leave another minority race in the dark” and choking up when he recalled the synagogue shooting that took place in his home city. That gesture, plus the charm of watching his unscripted videos — gentle stream-of-consciousness narratives that might lull you into a nap if they didn’t constantly shock you with that rarest of phenomena, a man voluntarily admitting to learning new things from other people — gained him accolades, invitations to Shabbat dinner, and literal offers of marriage from Jewish fans.
For me, Zach Banner (@ZBNFL) has emerged as an inspiration.
Not only for standing up for the Jewish community & demonstrating the nobility of fighting for others. But for openly acknowledging his blindspots & working to learn.
An example I hope I can honour. https://t.co/9Y3caQPLXd— Randy Slepchik (@RandySlepchik) July 19, 2020
We would have forgiven Banner if, after the ninth offer to be introduced to someone’s sister, he decided to cool it with the solidarity. Instead, he continues to be interested in “educating myself on the Jewish community” — possibly because that education seems to involve a lot of food. This week, he teamed up with the Challah Back Girls, a quartet of New Jersey sisters who have been selling challah and donating the proceeds to social justice causes since early June (this video aside, their Instagram presence is probably the second most wholesome content on the Internet right now). This week, their chosen cause is Banner’s B3 Foundation, which supports underserved schools in Los Angeles, Tacoma, Wash., and Guam.
Prefacing his taste test, Banner did world Jewry some big favors by squashing common misinformation about our standby starch. After some tutoring from his manager Lauren, he said, he’d learned to pronounce the awesome bread’s name not with a hard “ch” but the correct consonant combination, which he proceeded to enunciate with a guttural fervor that would make any Hebrew school teacher proud. And thanks to “some teenage boys in my mentions,” he’d learned not to use the redundant phrase “challah bread.” (The Schmooze would like to take this time to invite all teenage boys to sit down and let Lauren handle this).
After talking up the Challah Back Girls’ plain and coffee crumb challah like he was auditioning for a post-football career at QVC, Banner tucked into two “slices a.k.a. hunks,” which he ate with the kind of disbelieving grin that is triggered only by a first encounter with a newborn of a first encounter with a carbohydrate the size of a newborn.
A warning: If you’re watching this film with your Jewish mother, you should cover her ears at minute 2:23, when Banner reassures his trainer that despite breaking his carb-free diet (yuck), he ate the challah with a “soy-free, dairy-free, gluten-free” spread. Our ancestors may not have come to this country to see their baked goods desecrated with butter substitutes, but the Schmooze has faith that Banner’s friends in the Jewish community will one day make him see the error of this choice.
Just wait until he finds out about rugelach.
Irene Katz Connelly is an editorial fellow at the Forward. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Zach Banner learns about Jewish food in real time