Chaya Paltiel, 5, watches as her dad, Rabbi Berel Paltiel, slices a piece of challah during a celebration of the Jewish Festival of Sukkot hosted by Iris Shamas at her home in Lynnwood on Oct. 23. Shamas and her husband, Richard, host regular gatherings with their friends to celebrate Jewish holidays and traditions. (Daniella Beccaria / For The Herald)

Chaya Paltiel, 5, watches as her dad, Rabbi Berel Paltiel, slices a piece of challah during a celebration of the Jewish Festival of Sukkot hosted by Iris Shamas at her home in Lynnwood on Oct. 23. Shamas and her husband, Richard, host regular gatherings with their friends to celebrate Jewish holidays and traditions. (Daniella Beccaria / For The Herald)

Many meanings are woven into traditional Jewish bread

LYNNWOOD — Every ingredient has meaning.

Iris Shamas, 52, makes challah, a traditional Jewish braided bread, nearly every week at her home in the Meadowdale neighborhood. She says special prayers during the baking, which is done in advance of Shabbat, the day of rest.

Shamas was born in Israel and later lived in Arizona. She and her family moved to Lynnwood about a year ago when her husband got a job with Boeing. Their house is within walking distance of the Chabad Jewish Center of Snohomish County.

At the synagogue in Arizona about six years ago, Shamas learned about the deeper meanings behind making challah. She was intrigued and did more research. She found many interpretations and adopted a set of them into her routine.

The flour, which gets divided up, is a reminder to separate the good and the bad, and to shed negative traits. Sugar is sweet, so you “make a request to God to give you a sweet life, to have a sweet eye, which means you basically do good deeds with good intentions and good feelings,” she said.

You shouldn’t have too much salt in your diet, so with the salt, she asks God to help her set limits in life. Yeast is for protection. Oil represents health. While adding the oil, she also thinks of the ways people step up for others during hardship. Water is a connection with the strength found in faith and the texts of the Torah, in each other and in unity, she said.

Her challah is egg-less, because of an allergy in the family, but for other bakers, the eggs may be a reminder to be humble for each new week and new beginning. Others associate eggs with fertility.

The challah is served at the start of dinner Friday, after a brief service and a blessing for the wine.

Over the years, people started asking for her recipe. They wanted more than printed instructions, though. They wanted to learn the ritual and prayers, too. Her first class for women, who make the challah in many households, was held at the synagogue earlier this fall. It was called “Loaves of Love — Challah Bake with our very own expert Challah baker.” Sharing challah brings more love and light into the world, the invitation said.

Shamas would like to teach another class, maybe after Passover next year. Challah is not eaten during Passover. In some parts of the world, the first challah afterward is made in the shape of a key, or with a key hidden inside, Shamas said. From Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, through the traditional harvest festival of Sukkot, which this year fell in October, Shamas served a round challah, which represents the beginning and the end of a year.

Round challahs also are baked for births, weddings and deaths.

“It’s the representation of the round life, the cycle of life,” she said.

Some people add poppy seeds, herbs, or cinnamon and sugar. Holidays might bring into the mix chocolate chips, raisins or honey. Just like the ingredients and the prayers, the details vary for every family and their traditions and tastes.

“In Judaism, there is always many meanings for the same thing,” Shamas said. “There are so many interpretations for everything. That is why you can never learn enough.”

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @rikkiking.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Mariner High School. (Mariner High School)
Police: Teen arrested for threats against 3 Mukilteo schools

After a social media post, the 14-year-old is being investigated for allegedly threatening to shoot and bomb.

Previous Smith Ave campers have relocated to across the  'no-sit, no-lie' ordinance boundary and set up on Hewitt at the US 2 entrance in Everett. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
Snohomish County proposes 0.1% sales tax for affordable housing

The tax could be approved without a public vote. It would allow for a dramatic increase in new housing for low-income people.

A rainbow appears in front of Andy Huestis and his girlfriend Alisha Garvin as they and other families gather to remember the victims on the third anniversary of the Oso mudslide on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 in Oso, Wa. Huestis' sister, Christina Jefferds, and her baby granddaughter, Sanoah Violet Huestis, were among the 43 people killed in the mudslide.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
Funding secured: Mudslide memorial will be a place to remember

Since 2014, families have mourned at a roadside shrine near Oso, but “we knew we needed something bigger.”

With omicron likely to appear here, officials urge boosters

Washington’s state epidemiologist said it could be weeks before we know more about the new coronavirus variant.

A traveler points to Bedal Campground on a map posted along the Mountain Loop Highway in June. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Mountain Loop Highway to close for the winter

The 14-mile stretch of gravel road will shut down starting Friday. Snow has hit higher elevations.

Everett man hospitalized after crashing into wall off I-5

He reportedly drove onto a bus-only ramp near the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and hit a cement wall.

A banner outside the door of Goodies in Mountlake Terrace says, “$795,000 Hit 5 ticket sold here.” (Andrea Brown / The Herald) 20211201
Who has the $795,000 Hit 5 ticket sold in Mountlake Terrace?

The winner has until Dec. 8 to claim the prize from a lottery ticket sold June 11 at Goodies Food.

Bradley Woolard (U.S. Attorney's Office)
Arlington-area man who led fentanyl ring gets 20 years

When Bradley Woolard’s home was raided in 2018, authorities found more than 12,000 fentanyl pills.

FILE - A person walks near the Legislative Building, Wednesday, April 21, 2021, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash. Washington's redistricting commission failed to meet its deadline and on Tuesday, Nov. 16, kicked the job of creating new political maps to the state Supreme Court. The bipartisan commission had a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Monday to approve new boundaries for congressional and legislative districts following the 2020 census. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
State Supreme Court declines to draw new redistricting plan

All nine justices said the commission “substantially complied” with statutory deadlines.

Most Read