Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Responsibility has deeper meaning in Jewish world

Posted on 20 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each month at the J we have a Jewish value that we focus on — this is for all of us from preschool to campers to adults. This month the Early Childhood Department is learning about “Achrayut/Responsibility” and it will be an important value for camp as well.
When talking with children, we talk about taking responsibility for mistakes, to make them right.  Also, being responsible for keeping hands to yourself and be careful with your words which can be hurtful. And, of course, we talk about being responsible for your belongings and for the environment.
These are hopefully skills we learn in childhood and take with us.
However, the word “achrayut” which is usually translated as responsibility has deeper meanings in the Jewish world. The word “responsibility” is about respond or answering for your decisions and actions. Achrayut comes from the Hebrew word “acher,” meaning “other”.   It is about our moral commitment to the other person, not just to answer for your actions but to make the other’s needs your own.
As we grow up we learn that if we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, no one else will, yet we also owe something to others. Hillel said it best and we are still quoting him: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”    It is the balance of being responsible for yourself and then for others that is often a challenge in daily life. Hillel also said: “In a place where there are no men, be a man.” That is often restated in many ways but try this way of reading this important Mishnah: “In a place where there aren’t people of moral courage taking responsibility, one needs to step up.” The challenge of stepping up when no one else will is something that sometimes happens because of the situation we are in. We teach responsibility and model it (the best way to teach) hoping and believing that the day will come when our children may be asked to step up and we hope they will.
Viktor Frankl once said:  “Being human means being conscious and being responsible.  By becoming responsible agents for social change we actualize not only our humanity but also our mission as Jews.”
The “big” moments don’t always happen but who we are is demonstrated in the small acts. Back during football season, a video went viral of Dak Prescott throwing away a piece of trash missing the can and getting up to retrieve it and put it in the trash can. Perhaps more than anything he did before or after really showed who he was! Let us take responsibility — cultivate the value of achrayut  in all the little ways so that when the big moment comes, there is not a question of how to act.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Finding meaning in counting

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
These days many of us are obsessed with counting whether it is calories or steps or something else. We have always counted days to different events or counting how old we are or any other “counts” we may be interested in. This brings us to the ritual of today — Counting the Omer. For those of you who have never heard of this, here is the scoop on omer counting:
There is a special period between Passover and Shavuot called “sefirah” meaning counting. The practice is observed from the night of the second seder until the eve of Shavuot. We are counting the days on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple – this connects the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that the Israelites were told that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. They were so eager about it that they began to count the days, saying, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.” The Torah text for this is Leviticus 23:15-16.
Throughout time this period has been a sad time because of many massacres in Jewish history in the distant past and now, in modern times. During this time period we observe by refraining from joyous events and other customs. The one “day off” is Lag B’Omer which is the 33rd day.
As always, I have a new book to recommend from the Central conference of American Rabbis: Omer – A Counting by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar. Rabbi Kedar says in the introduction, “time, in the Jewish consciousness, is purposeful and directed, ripe with potential and filled with meaning. Yet even as we look toward the future, counting each day forces us to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of the moment. Every day presents us with the choice to stay where we are, to revert to where we have been, or to progress toward fulfilling our destiny.” Her book give us the blessings and the words to say plus something to think about each day.
Nothing is better than a good book for learning (OK, I am biased!) but once you understand this process of “Counting the Omer,” make it easy — there’s a app for that! Go to “Omer Counter.” It will give you the blessing and remind you each day plus you can check off when you have done it.
Now if you are not into books (what a sad thing for “the people of the Book”), you can get an app to remind you when to count, what to say and a few thoughts. Sometimes you have to do a ritual to find the meaning — try it and you may find meaning for yourself and your family!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Pass along these lessons

Posted on 06 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Passover is a time for sharing stories, from the “big” one about the Exodus to the stories families share each year about the matzo balls that were too hard and Uncle Morris who drank too many cups of wine. Every story is about our journey as Jews. We add our story from generation to generation.
Last year I read this wonderful letter from a mother with the six Passover lessons she wanted to pass on to her children. It is from www.aish.com and written by Sara Debbie Gutfreund. The messages she wants her children to hear are lessons we can all take from the Passover Seder. So here they are, a bit edited and abbreviated.
1. Learn how to ask. Most great achievements in life begin with a question. Ask! Ask me about the salt water and the parsley. Ask about the Seder plate with the bitter herbs. All of this is here because I want you to ask me why.
2. Responsibility for each other. We invite all who are hungry to come and eat because we are responsible for one another. Some people are hungry for food, while others are hungry for wisdom. Whatever we have, we should share as much as we can.
3. Embrace challenges. On our table is salt water, which represents our tears. And there are bitter herbs that we will eat to remember the suffering. We speak of our challenges and remember our tears because we can see now how they transformed us. Embrace challenges. Learn from them. Remember them. They brought us to this place today.
4. Take action. Thinking and preparing for change are important steps but what matters in the end is following through with our actions. Matzo teaches us the importance of acting quickly. The world is full of great ideas that have never been realized. Matzo teaches us to move, to do, to run toward our goal.
5. Practice Jewish gratitude. Tonight we sing Dayenu. It would have been enough for us if all we did was wake up this morning, but You gave us water. And that would have been enough but in Your great kindness You gave us food, and more. This is the kind of gratitude that teaches us during the hardest of days that we have so much to be thankful for.
6. The meaning of freedom. Some people think freedom means being able to do what we want. But the Jewish definition of freedom is the ability to create a meaningful life with authentic values. Freedom is living a life of constant growth and striving to live up to our potential.
This year and all to come, take the story that has been passed to us and make it your own — add to it, learn from it and share it.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Still walking toward freedom

Posted on 30 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
We prepare for Passover in many ways, from buying food to cleaning our kitchen. The most important preparation is telling the story.
We have the story direct from the Torah and it is a great one with lots of action and wild plagues. We look to understand the why of the plagues and there is wonderful rabbinic insight. Moses is the hero of the Torah but there are also many other heroes. The women are amazing: the midwives Shifra and Puah, Yocheved (Moses’ mother), Miriam (sister), and Tziporah (wife). But the one we must hear about at our Passover Seder is the hero of the Red Sea Miracle — and it is not Moses.
The story at the sea says that Moses put his staff in the water and God split the sea — a great story but not a lot of action. So the rabbis told a new story in the Talmud. In the story, Moses puts his staff in the water and nothing happens. The people are panicked. So the hero rises — Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, steps into the water. As people shout for him to come back, he continues deeper and deeper. The moment he goes under water, the sea splits. (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 36b-37a, Mekhilta Beshallach 6)
The rabbis teach us that liberation comes to the courageous. Nachshon was able to believe and have faith — he was willing to risk because he trusted. Rabbi Adam Greenwald, in a commentary on this parashah, suggests that a good name for the Israelites would be B’nai Nachshon, children of Nachshon. We are the children of the one who walked into the sea because he believed in a better life for himself and his children.
After the sea opens and the children rush to the other side, they are free. But they still had miles and years to go before they reach the Promised Land.
At our Passover Seder, we stop the telling after we reach freedom. This year, let us talk about what happens when the journey continues and how Nachshon made it possible. The first steps were taken long, long ago and we are still walking toward freedom thanks to Nachshon.
Shalom… from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Moses’ dream lives on, even in American Seders

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Studies have proven it time and time again that sitting down to dinner together is one of the best things you can do for your kids and your family. And what better family dinner is there than the Passover Seder? (Of course, you need to eat dinner together more often than yearly for it to make a difference in your family!)
The Seder is designed to open conversation and create an enjoyable learning (and remembering) session. This is how we pass on our traditions — through study, conversation, story and food! It is not too early to begin planning your Passover conversation — the story is really more important than the food.
So as you perhaps peruse a new Haggadah or plan to create your own, I have a book recommendation: America’s Prophet: Moses and the American Story by Bruce Feiler.
The book jacket alone grabs your attention: The Pilgrims quoted his story. Franklin and Jefferson proposed he appear on the U.S. seal. Washington and Lincoln were called his incarnations. The Statue of Liberty and Superman were molded in his image. Martin Luther King, Jr., invoked him the night before he died. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama cited him as inspiration.
For four hundred years, one figure inspired more Americans than any other. His name is Moses. This is our story — the one we tell every year — yet it is a story that inspires all. Read the book and add this to your table discussion. The story of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt is a story about freedom, a story about an imperfect leader rising to the occasion, a story with lessons on remembering so that you don’t repeat the same bad ways — and it is a story about us.
Read this book and you may add a mini-Statue of Liberty or Liberty Bell to your Seder table — that would definitely start conversation!
Feiler concludes: I will tell my daughters that this is the meaning of the Moses story and why it has reverberated through the American story. America, it has been said, is a synonym for human possibility. I dream for you, girls, the privilege of that possibility. Imagine your own Promised Land, perform your own liberation, plunge into the waters, persevere through the dryness, and don’t be surprised — or saddened — if you’re stopped just short of your dream.
Because the ultimate lesson of Moses’ life is that the dream does not die with the dreamer, the journey does not end on the mountaintop, and the true destination in a narrative of hope is not this year at all. But next.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Many options for Haggadot

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
It is time to plan for Passover (yes, I know Purim is barely over)!
The rush to the stores for favorite items will begin — we start gathering Diet Coke (a real essential in my family) the minute it hits the stores. The cleaning probably won’t start for a while although so much is last-minute.
What about planning the Seder? Are you going to just bring out the same Haggadah as last year — have you been looking for the Maxwell House Haggadah at the store — or are you going to try something new?
There are so many options for Haggadot that it is a challenge to find the best one for your family. One year for our second Seder, I brought out a rather offbeat Haggadah thinking my teenagers would love it. After about 10 minutes, they insisted I put it away (or throw it away) and go back to a more traditional choice.
This Haggadah is great for young families! For those of you willing to try my family method, here is the idea: We have a simple (and inexpensive) Haggadah that everyone has. Then everyone has another Haggadah (or two) and we offer different texts and commentary throughout the Seder. And we also have a few Chumashim for us to look at the story of the Exodus.
It is a little complicated and sometimes gets lengthy but we have great discussions, lots of questions raised and lots of thinking and experiencing.
Try it!
Now this doesn’t work as well when you have lots of young children unless, of course, you plan lots of games and activities for them. Also important is to involve them in the questions and answers. The Four Questions are not the only ones for children to ask. Encourage them to come up with good ones.
Preparing for your Seder with young children requires lots of planning, but don’t forget to plan for the adults — you want it to be meaningful for the children but also for the adults. Plague bags with toys for each of the plagues are fun — but how do we teach our children that the plagues were bad? And then we must balance that with not scaring children — it is a challenge.
Begin now to plan your Seder so that the learning experience and meaningful memories happen for all ages. Then don’t forget that Passover is not over with the Seder.
Keeping Passover in the traditional way is not something every family has done but it is a wonderful learning experience for young children (even when challenging for parents). Start small — just eliminate bread and eat matzo! But even if you have always kept Passover traditionally, take the time for the discussion — now that you can have almost everything (from rolls to cereal to tacos), the question becomes “Can you keep the law but lose the spirit of the law?”
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Who is the real Purim hero?

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
We have a contest going on — Who is the real Purim hero?
Each of us look for heroes and the story of Esther is filled with possibilities. Gather some friends together and have some take parts, then talk about the many heroes and finally take a vote. We are voting at the J so you can send me your answers and we will add to the numbers!
King Ahasuerus: I am King Ahasuerus. Many people think I’m foolish because I always listen to others to make a decision. I know I wasn’t so nice to ask my Queen Vashti to come dance naked. I especially know it was wrong to listen to Haman and agree to kill all of the Jews, but in the end I listened to Queen Esther and the Jews were saved. Without me listening to everyone, we wouldn’t have such a great story.
Queen Vashti: I am Queen Vashti. I didn’t have a big part in the Purim story but I got the story going. I was the first woman in Shushan to stand up to her husband. If I hadn’t set the stage for Esther, she never would have been queen, let alone had the opportunity to save her people, the Jews. Even without all the problems of the Jewish people, I was a hero of a story for all women.
Haman: I am Haman. I know you cannot imagine that I would be a hero but without me there would be no story. And I’m really a product of my environment. My wife picked on me — no one really liked me — I just needed to feel important. Mordechai and the Jews just got in the way.
Mordechai: I am Mordechai and although I really don’t want to brag, I managed this whole story. I got Esther into the palace, I saved the king’s life, I convinced Esther that it was her great opportunity to save her people and I took care of all the details for the Jews to fight back and not be killed.
Queen Esther: I’m Queen Esther and everyone knows that I’m the real hero. I was the one who went to the king, accused Haman and then figured out how to save the Jews. So what if I was a little afraid and had to fast for three days — I came through and saved my people.
God: Wait a minute…you forgot Me! Just because I’m not mentioned in the story doesn’t mean My presence wasn’t felt or important. The Jews are My people and even when bad things happen, I am always watching out for them.

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Teaching justice, fairness no easy task for parents

Posted on 23 February 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
A challenge with children and even for us as adults is understanding and practicing justice and fairness.
From these challenging concepts we move to how to eliminate hatred and prejudice based on the teachings of Judaism. A pretty tall order!
How do we teach our children? Through our texts and by our example. Fairness is a word that is really about justice or mishpat. Judaism has the message of justice deeply implanted in the spirit of Jewish life. The Torah is filled with laws and examples of how to make a fair judgment and the importance of being fair and just.
You shall not render an unfair decision: Do not favor the poor nor show deference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus)
Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah)
Rabbi Hillel said “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.” This is a very easy way to understand how to treat others. However, being fair isn’t always easy or simple. Fair doesn’t always mean the same!
Try these conversation starters with your children:

  • Have you ever been treated unfairly? How did it make you feel?
  • Do you think it is fair that older children get to stay up later and do more things than younger children? Why or why not? Do you think it is fair that boys get to do things that girls don’t get to do? Why or why not?
  • Some families have a rule that if there is a piece of cake to share, one person gets to cut it and the other gets to choose the first piece. How is this a fair way to divide the cake? Can this system be used in other areas?

Stories work well for discussions, too: A young boy came to a woman’s house and asked if she would like to buy some of the berries he had picked from his father’s fields. The woman said, “Yes, I would, and I’ll just take your basket inside to measure out 2 quarts.” The boy sat down on the porch and the woman asked, “Don’t you want to watch me? How do you know that I won’t cheat you and take more than 2 quarts?” The young boy said, “I am not afraid, for you would get the worst of the deal.”
“How could that be?” she asked. The boy answered, “If you take more than 2 quarts that you are paying me for, I would only lose the berries. You would make yourself a liar and a thief.” Talk about the meaning of this story with your family.

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Empathy key Jewish value

Posted on 16 February 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
One of the most important Jewish values is “empathy — rachamim” and one of the best ways to teach it is by modeling.
Rachamim, the Hebrew word, is usually translated as compassion. As we acknowledge other people’s feelings, thoughts and experiences, we feel compassion for them — we identify with them and want to help them, which is also called empathy. Psychologists tell us that compassion and empathy begin to develop in the first years of life. In fact, scientists assume that we are biologically wired for these feelings. Yet, we must also teach our children to be empathetic and compassionate. Rabbi Wayne Dosick in Golden Rules writes:
“You can teach your children that a good decent, ethical person has a big, loving heart when they feel you feeling another’s pain, when they know that you are committed to alleviating human suffering.
“You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person has big, open hands when they watch you give of your resources — generously and often — and when they watch you give of the work of your hands — willingly and joyfully.
“You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person can fulfill the sacred task of celebrating the spark of the Divine in each human being and the preciousness of each human being when you teach them to imitate God who is ‘gracious, compassionate and abundant in kindness; who forgives mistakes, and promises everlasting love.’”
Family talk time
What does it mean to be kind to a friend? What does it mean to be kind to an animal?
Think of a time when someone hurt you. How did it feel?
Try to “put yourself in someone’s shoes.” What does that mean? How does it help us to understand others?
Tell about Rabbi Tanchum, of whom it is said, “When he needed only one portion of meat for himself, he would buy two; one bunch of vegetables, he would buy two — one for himself and one for the poor.” How could you do this in your family? Make a promise to think of others when grocery shopping — buy a second portion of something for the food bank.
Today as we read and hear sad stories from around the world, we question how much to share with our children, and that is an individual family matter. We also must look inside ourselves to not only feel empathy toward those who are suffering and struggling but to decide how we can act to help others.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Protect, preserve as Tu B’Shevat approaches

Posted on 09 February 2017 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
It is beginning to feel like winter (finally) and it is Tu B’Shevat — the Birthday of the Trees.
Most of us have memories of collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year and we continue to plant especially on this “birthday.” There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by God to care for our earth. Tu B’Shevat is a very special time to remember this.
The Torah tells us how the world was created but then goes on to tell us how to protect and preserve the earth. A very important Jewish law is Bal Tashchit — Do Not Destroy! The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste. Take time to talk with your children about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. (these are taken from Listen to the Trees — Jews and the Earth by Molly Cone: a wonderful resource filled with quotations and stories.)
Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask “what do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable).
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b)
It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodashim 4:12)
When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19)
Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of Bal Tashchit. (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
The whole world of humans, animals, fish, and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air, and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. (Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabbah 2)

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