Your Summer Must-Read: From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture
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Here’s my recommendation for your must-read book this summer: Shari Wallack’s extraordinary memoir, From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time. Here’s why…

This book is an exceptional glimpse into pandemic travel, reconnecting, friendships, food, mental health, growing into fearlessness, the importance of travel and always expanding your worldview, and self growth. It’s one of the best travel books (and memoirs) I’ve ever read, and is funny, to boot!

Your Summer Must-Read: From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time

Born in the Bronx and raised on Long Island, Shari Wallack started her professional career working for Club Med in New York City, and relocated to Fort Lauderdale, FL, in 1993 to work as an incentive sales executive for multiple cruise lines. The sale of Celebrity Cruise Line to Royal Caribbean International in 1997 led Shari to become an "accidental entrepreneur." She later founded Buy the Sea, which has become the largest and most decorated cruise and all-inclusive brokerage company in the industry. Her extensive network in the United States enabled her to take the journey that led to this inspirational book. Shari challenges everyone to do the right thing, put people before profits, never take away anyone's dignity, and find humor in almost any situation.

Wallack travels to see old friends, baking and cooking at every home. She joyfully relates each stop with friends, but also writes of what she learned and experienced. She notes, “The more gratitude that radiated from me during the past three months, the happier I became. And nothing in the world had changed.”

Author Shari Wallack making challah. From Your Summer Must-Read: From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time

What can readers take from reading From Hell to Challah? Why taking your mental health seriously is critical, how friendships can be nurtured and enjoyed, why life is so much more than work, that food IS love, and that a sense of humor will get you everywhere.

For all these reasons, and more—including Wallack’s incredible writing and storytelling—I highly, highly recommend this book.

We were lucky enough to chat with Shari, to learn more about the book, her backstory, and what’s next. Here’s what she had to say…

Please tell us a little bit about your new book, From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time...
This book can takes readers on my unusual voyage of self-discovery and healing. With my iPhone filled with personal and professional contacts and a carry-on bag packed with a weekend's worth of clothes, I unexpectedly end up on a three-month journey across the country couch surfing, baking challah bread, and cooking Jewish food creations with anyone who would let me.

Filled with photos and recipes, From Hell to Challah is a unique combination of food, travel and self-help memoir full of inspiration, passion, and courage. 

Your Summer Must-Read: From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time

You lived, cooked, and ate with friends, and readers are lucky enough to see that camaraderie, through your book. What were some of your favorite parts of your journey? 
I loved the entire journey, but I do have some favorites. I never realized the extent of the extraordinary beauty in my own country. Going to visit the national parks—Yellowstone, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Grand Tetons—illustrated that I don't need to fly across the globe to experience such magnificence. I absolutely loved glamping in the mountains. I found peace that I have never had before, and I cannot wait to go back! I also loved spending time with my childhood friend, Michele. Our adventures in Arizona were funny, uplifting, and brave. She kept me sane and made me feel total joy. We laughed until we cried and I enjoyed every second.

One of the things I love most about your book is the backstory to each experience, and how cooking with love bridges differences. How can travelers best and most respectfully interact with both old and new friends while on their journeys? 
That is a GREAT question. I am someone who collects people, rather than things. I acquire new friends on a regular basis, while cherishing my past (yet still very current) relationships. I don't think it is appropriate to lose touch for decades and then suddenly call on someone for a place to sleep. However, at least in my case, my friends, clients, and colleagues were so open to hosting me when I asked because they are all still currently in my life. The key to being a great house guest is to make yourself useful. Offer to shop and pay for the food, cook, clean up, do the laundry, run errands, walk the dog, play with the kids, etc.. You are a guest, but having the host wait on you hand and foot gets old VERY quickly. I found that cooking and sharing my recipes made me very popular and definitely welcome back. 

My favorite cooking story is the one where I stay with my friend Krista, who has a huge Mormon family. She told me there would be a small gathering at her house one afternoon. For me—that is five people. For her—that was FORTY people...in a pandemic. So I got to work and made a huge batch of my mom's secret (no longer a secret) Bolognese sauce, multiple loaves of bread, a birthday cake, and assorted other goodies. Everyone loved trying the various Jewish (not so Jewish) dishes, and I made friends with the entire family. I plan to go out there in July to celebrate the book launch with them.

Pre-COVID, the entire world was there to explore. And, travel was your professional career! How did the three-month journey you describe in this memoir feel, in this new, changed travel landscape? 
Fortunately, I don't overthink things. Most people thought I was nuts to go on a ninety-five day journey in the middle of this pandemic. I figured, "What's the worst that could happen?" Of course, there was the risk of me contracting COVID, but I didn't think too much about it. Traveling was sort of a life/death decision for me. I HAD to go or I would have crawled back into bed and not gotten out! I was safe and careful on my journey. Things were somewhat lax in the "red" states I traveled to, and many attractions were wide open for visitors. So although there were masks and social distancing, it didn't feel all that weird to me. Yes, travel was my professional career that was completely put on hold. No cruises, no international travel, no trade shows or networking events...so I simply created my own map and purpose. I am ever so grateful that I did, and that so many of my friends welcomed me with open arms.

Author Shari Wallack standing on a rock, with arms spread wide. From Your Summer Must-Read: From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time

What is it like, to be home again after such a life-changing journey?
I was hesitant to come home because I knew there were people there who weren't thrilled that I left in the first place. But by the time I had made the decision to return, I was really ready. I was changed in ways that I knew would be ever-lasting. I decided that no matter what happened to my business, I would personally be just fine. It was very hard to get to the point where I realized that my company is NOT who I am. My identity was so completely tied to the business before COVID. Those three months on the road showed me that I am so much more than that. And now that business has somewhat returned, I am careful not to live, eat, and breathe incentive travel. I continue to work with the clients who make it fun, profitable, and worthwhile. Fortunately I have many of those, and I appreciate them more than you can imagine.

How can readers find your book, and work?
They can go to www.fromhelltochallah.com, connect with me on Facebook and Instagram and buy the book at bookstores nationwide and online retailers such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble. If they are interested in my full time gig, they can find me at buysea.net

What's up next for you?
Well, in November 2020, I bought a conversion van that I am having made into a camper. I want to live like a nomad for a few weeks here and there. It's fun to channel my inner girl scout! I am actively booking new incentive business for Buy the Sea, and will travel on several ships and visit my all-inclusive resort partners when time permits. My first post-pandemic cruise on the Silver Moon (Silversea) is in August to the Greek Islands, and I cannot wait! I look forward to going back to Tahiti in 2022, too! I am spending time at my home in Plantation, Florida and my new pad near Central Park in New York City. You can never take New York out of the girl! I have some speaking engagements booked and hope for more. I suppose I have to stop wearing pajamas all day long! That is okay with me.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Absolutely! I want the stigma of mental challenges to disappear. We all have stuff. Have some empathy and be kind. Never take away anyone's dignity. Try to be kind to everyone you meet. It will serve you well. And most importantly, dig deep and find your passion and your hidden talents. Don't wait for another world crisis to discover just how cool and capable you really are. Your day job is what pays you. Make sure you find the things that really fulfill you. It will make a difference today, and will be especially helpful when you finally retire. Challah-lujah!

 

inspirational quote with a photo of a road leading to a sunset behind a mountain. From Your Summer Must-Read: From Hell to Challah: Rising from Fragile to Fearless, One Grain at a Time

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Shari Wallack, used with permission, except word photo, created by Wandering Educators