Chatelaine: Keys, Access, and Power

When I was a kid having more keys translated into having more power. You only had access if you had the right key. As a kid at camp it always felt that other people had access and control. Having a large key ring was a status symbol.

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As many of you know I am nudnik for Dictionary.com word of the day. Recently the word was Chatelaine ( SHAD-e-leyn). Coming from French it means a set of short chains attached to a woman’s belt, used for carrying keys or other items. A Chatelaine is also a woman in charge of a large house. This word captures this image of power, control, and easy access.

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Clearly this all comes to mind this Shabbat just after Passover when it is customary to make Schlissel Challah. Shlissel is Yiddish for “key.” Many people make their challah e either in the shape of a key or with a key baked inside. The custom is popular in communities that descend or have traditions coming from Poland, Germany, and Lithuania.  The are a number of reasons given for making this particular shape or style of challah.

For me it has everything to do with the Chatelaine. There is a natural progression from slavery, to freedom, to being the hostess with the mostest. Like Chatelaine the Schlissel Challah represents access, control, and power.

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