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

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

A voter turns in a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024, outside the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
On fourth try, Arlington Heights voters overwhelmingly pass fire levy

Meanwhile, in another ballot that gave North County voters deja vu, Lakewood voters appeared to pass two levies for school funding.

Judge Whitney Rivera, who begins her appointment to Snohomish County Superior Court in May, stands in the Edmonds Municipal Court on Thursday, April 18, 2024, in Edmonds, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Judge thought her clerk ‘needed more challenge’; now, she’s her successor

Whitney Rivera will be the first judge of Pacific Islander descent to serve on the Snohomish County Superior Court bench.

In this Jan. 4, 2019 photo, workers and other officials gather outside the Sky Valley Education Center school in Monroe, Wash., before going inside to collect samples for testing. The samples were tested for PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, as well as dioxins and furans. A lawsuit filed on behalf of several families and teachers claims that officials failed to adequately respond to PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, in the school. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Judge halves $784M for women exposed to Monsanto chemicals at Monroe school

Monsanto lawyers argued “arbitrary and excessive” damages in the Sky Valley Education Center case “cannot withstand constitutional scrutiny.”

Mukilteo Police Chief Andy Illyn and the graphic he created. He is currently attending the 10-week FBI National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. (Photo provided by Andy Illyn)
Help wanted: Unicorns for ‘pure magic’ career with Mukilteo police

“There’s a whole population who would be amazing police officers” but never considered it, the police chief said.

Officers respond to a ferry traffic disturbance Tuesday after a woman in a motorhome threatened to drive off the dock, authorities said. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Police Department)
Everett woman disrupts ferry, threatens to drive motorhome into water

Police arrested the woman at the Mukilteo ferry terminal Tuesday morning after using pepper-ball rounds to get her out.

Bothell
Man gets 75 years for terrorizing exes in Bothell, Mukilteo

In 2021, Joseph Sims broke into his ex-girlfriend’s home in Bothell and assaulted her. He went on a crime spree from there.

Allan and Frances Peterson, a woodworker and artist respectively, stand in the door of the old horse stable they turned into Milkwood on Sunday, March 31, 2024, in Index, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Old horse stall in Index is mini art gallery in the boonies

Frances and Allan Peterson showcase their art. And where else you can buy a souvenir Index pillow or dish towel?

Providence Hospital in Everett at sunset Monday night on December 11, 2017. Officials Providence St. Joseph Health Ascension Health reportedly are discussing a merger that would create a chain of hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, plus clinics and medical care centers in 26 states spanning both coasts. (Kevin Clark / The Daily Herald)
Providence to pay $200M for illegal timekeeping and break practices

One of the lead plaintiffs in the “enormous” class-action lawsuit was Naomi Bennett, of Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

Dorothy Crossman rides up on her bike to turn in her ballot  on Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Voters to decide on levies for Arlington fire, Lakewood schools

On Tuesday, a fire district tries for the fourth time to pass a levy and a school district makes a change two months after failing.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.