Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Biblioholics, diversify portfolio with some videos

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As my regular readers know, I am a biblioholic — books are my thing to the point that Amazon is on speed dial!
I have recommended countless books and I have many more but lately, I have suggested websites that offer amazing Jewish learning and you can find almost anything you need to know plus many interpretations of the particular question.
Jewish tradition believes in repetition — do the rituals again and again often, until they become a part of your life; read the Torah regularly and discover new ideas each time you read; be open to learning from all people and methods (from Pirke Avot: Who is wise? The one who learns from all people). All of the learning and experiencing is not just about growing as a Jew but growing as a person — the lessons enhance every part of your life.
Now I must recommend a pretty new website: bimbam.com. It is not one of my usual favorites of sites with lots of reading but a site filled with videos — YES, VIDEOS! And they are short, answer so many questions about Judaism and fun to watch. For some of us, this will work beyond the books and the reading so try it. Just this past week (you can get updates and have more to watch than funny cat videos because here you will learn) the topics were on halacha (Jewish law), bar/bat mitzvah and kosher. The less-than-five-minute video on “Keeping Kosher” was amazing! And not only was it filled with the what and how but there was a short segment on how to be a thoughtful guest in a kosher home. Wow! Got everything you need to know in less than five minutes.
Just imagine, if Rabbi Hillel could step into a time machine and transport to the present day, when asked to tell all about Judaism while standing on one foot, he could have simply said to go to this website! Of course, Hillel’s answer of, “Do not do to others what you do not what them to do to you” was followed by his admonition to “go and study.”
I guarantee that if you watch one video, you won’t stop there! So my advice this week is to go directly to bimbam.com and start learning. It is fun and easy and has really good stuff! A semi-disclaimer: Some people think that when a book or a video or a movie or a website is “for children” it means it is just for kids, but remember that we all are learning and perhaps a short video will lead you to more learning.
That is the hope!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Look beyond your immediate concern for teaching, learning

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It is a new year and we can either look at the positives or dwell on the negatives.
Sometimes we see our own small world and evaluate everything based on how it affects us. However, it is so important that we look beyond ourselves and see our friends, neighbors and those we don’t even know. We try to keep our children (and ourselves) from scary things in the news but often the news gives us opportunities for teaching and learning valuable lessons. An important Jewish value to remember and teach as we begin the year is rachamim, the Hebrew word 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 says:
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.”
Some of the questions we should ask our children are: What does it mean to be kind to a friend? 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? How can we show compassion to strangers?
This is an opportunity to talk not just about how we feel but what we can do. We must show our children that we must act — we all can do something and this is an opportunity to teach tzedakah at work.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Learn truth about Jewish pets

Posted on 27 December 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
There are so many questions about Judaism that begin with, “What do Jews believe about…?” Or “Don’t all Jews believe…?”
The easiest answer is the old joke that you ask two Jews a question and you get three answers or often four or five or more. We have a wonderful religion that not only allows us to question, but also actually demands us to think and question and even struggle and argue with God. Remember there is a hierarchy in decisions: Torah law first, Rabbinic law second and custom third. However, as we all know, often custom takes precedence. We do what our community and our family does.
Now when you want an answer, your best bet is to go to a rabbi but remember that it isn’t like finding a second opinion from a doctor if you don’t like the answer. When you get an answer from your rabbi, believe him! Today many of us choose to go to the Internet (good idea?). Well, again, you may have to figure out who is speaking and where are they coming from in terms of belief and understanding. However, you can find answers.
All of this leads me to the topic I found enlightening this week — from myjewishlearning.com, there was a great lesson on “Judaism and Pets: Questions and Answers.” There is a commonly held misperception that Jews and pets (especially dogs) don’t go together. For all of us dog lovers, don’t worry — there is no Jewish prohibition against owning pets!
Rather than give away the answers and in hopes to drive you to myjewishlearning.com which is a great website (there are lots of others that I have recommended over the years — I suggest reading many even on a daily basis to give you different thoughts and ideas), here are the some of the questions posed so find out the answers:
Is it true that Orthodox Jews don’t have pets?
Can Jews own pets and still comply with traditional Jewish laws?
Can I spay or neuter my pet?
Can one take care of their pet on Shabbat?
Can you feed your pet nonkosher food?
Are there any Jewish rituals for mourning a pet?
Do pets have souls?
Can I euthanize my pet?
All valid questions for those of us who have pets and love them dearly — find the answers. And here is another website to check out for animal lovers — jewishinitiativeforanimals.org.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Moving from dream to reality

Posted on 21 December 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
As a teacher, you plan a lesson or story and “think” you know where the children (or adults) will go with it.
Telling about Jacob’s dream about the ladder and the angels, I was sure we would talk about angels but the kids wanted to talk about dreams! So we talked about dreams and whether they are real and what we can learn from them. This led me (and the class) back to the Torah, which led me to a bit more research helped by a d’var Torah by Rabbi Stephen S. Pearce, senior rabbi emeritus of Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco.
You can always fact check me and let me know where I went wrong, but there are only 10 dreams recorded in the Torah and they all are in the Book of Genesis. Here they are but you have to go to the book for the details:

  • Genesis 20:3-7
  • Genesis 28:12-15
  • Genesis 31:10- 13
  • Genesis 31:22-24
  • 5 & 6: Genesis 37:5-11
  • 7 & 8: Genesis 40:7-19
  • 9 & 10: Genesis 41:1-7

Each of us has recounted dreams to others asking for help to understand the meaning. It would be great if we saw what happened next as in the Book of Genesis. However, there are also those dreams that are hopes and wishes for things to happen. The Jewish New Year is past and the secular New Year is almost here. I would guess that most of us will celebrate in some fashion and we will think about making those resolutions that are joked about.
However, is a New Year’s resolution a dream … a hope … a wish? Or is it a promise … a commitment? How can we make those resolutions, dreams, wishes and commitments come true?
Hanukkah may be over but the lessons from the holiday continue. Rabbi Pearce writes in his d’var Torah: “This season of Hanukkah provides an opportunity to take a page from the Book of Genesis and recognize that there may be more than luck to having dreams turn out as anticipated … It takes awareness that personal intervention rather than passive waiting for an outcome may, at times, turn dreams into reality. The Maccabees … took up the challenge of forcefully turning their dreams into reality.”
And let us remember Theodor Herzl’s words: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Every parent needs to have Santa Claus conversation

Posted on 14 December 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
You would think after so many years there would be nothing more to learn about Hanukkah, but there is always more learning and thinking and important messages about this holiday that is really not a very important one!
Yet, Lauren Ben Shoshan’s message from myjewishlearning.org is so important for families today. She starts by telling us that she is about to make a controversial statement — hmmm. Yes, it is a difficult conversation that many of us are struggling with the how and when today. Remember that it is our job to have the challenging conversations and at this time, this is a great way to begin talking about difficult “stuff” with our kids.
Here is part of her article:
“We should talk to young Jewish children about Santa — in their first year of kindergarten, if not before. Every parent needs to have a ‘Santa Claus conversation.’
“It begins like this: ‘Santa is not real.’ And then talk about secrets.
“There are some secrets that make you feel good. Planning a surprise party for a friend, covertly making a macaroni necklace for grandma, or finding a special corner in the house where you can sneak away to do puzzles by yourself are all good secrets. These kinds of secrets sit well in your body; they don’t make your kishkes churn or weigh down your keppie. These kinds of secrets make you feel excited and happy. Santa is one of these secrets. We don’t tell our non-Jewish friends about Santa; he is their parents’ secret with them. We do not want to ruin that secret.
“But there are other kinds of secrets.
“There are secrets that do not sit well in your body; they do not make you smile when you think about them. These kinds of secrets feel this way because they need to come out. When someone tells you about these secrets or when someone — anyone — asks you to keep a secret that makes you feel bad, that bad feeling is a signal. Like coughing is a sign that you have yucky stuff in your lungs that needs to come out; like sneezing is an indication that you have something that isn’t good for you up your nose. When a person asks you to keep a ‘bad feeling’ secret, it is a signal that you need to tell an adult you trust about that secret; indeed, tell every reliable grown-up until someone believes you.
“As woman after man after woman builds up the courage to bring their most difficult secrets to light, from a social media #metoo post to legal action, it is natural for parents to wonder how they can shield their children from such experiences. If we are unable to do so in our uncertain world, we want our children to know that some secrets do not need to be hidden; rather the divine spark within us agitates to bring these kinds of secrets into the sunshine. When that happens, we, their trusted adults, are here to listen.
“For us, the conversation can start with Santa.”
Judaism teaches us to talk and question and stand up for what is right. And Hanukkah is the holiday that tells us to stand up and stand together.
Have a happy and meaningful Hanukkah!

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When to tell kids that ‘other’ side of the Hanukkah story

Posted on 07 December 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Hanukkah is almost here and as important as it is to buy gifts and get new recipes for latkes, we must tell the story.
To tell the story, we must know it, and for Hanukkah as with many other stories, there is the myth and perhaps what we might call “the other side of the story.” I am a Jewish educator and I love everything about being Jewish and teaching Jewish except for Hanukkah. This is a challenging holiday! What is the story we tell our children and when do we tell them “the real story”? Here are two very short versions — and believe me, you can find many more versions and interpretations:

The Hanukkah story (the simple version)

A very long time ago, the King of Syria, Antiochus, took charge of Israel. He wanted everyone to be like him, so he told the Jewish people that they could no longer do Jewish things. No more studying Torah, no more celebrating Shabbat, no more praying to God. Antiochus and his army came in and ruined the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. This made Judah Maccabee and his family and friends very angry. They fought back against mean Antiochus and his army. It took a long time, but with some clever moves and help from God, Judah Maccabee’s little army defeated Antiochus’ large army. Judah and the Maccabees went straight away to the Temple to start cleaning it up. When it was all clean, they wanted to light the Ner Tamid, the Eternal Light, to rededicate the Temple.
They could only find one small bottle of holy oil, enough to last one day. It would take many days to make more holy oil. They poured the little bottle of oil in the Ner Tamid and a miracle happened! The oil burned for eight days, which was enough time to make more oil and keep the light burning. They decided to celebrate the miracle that had happened every year, so they declared a holiday — Hanukkah!

The real story for grownups (very short)

The story above is what we tell children — the Maccabees are heroes. They were heroes but in a different way. Judah and the Maccabees were part of the Hashmon Dynasty, a priestly family who were out of power. They were angry at the priests in power because they were trying to live Greek lives — become assimilated Jews. The Maccabees were actually fundamentalists and wanted all Jews to practice Judaism in the “proper” way. The warring began as Jew against Jew. To control things, the Syrians and Antiochus tried to impose a neutral religion on Palestine. They forbade circumcision, Shabbat and Torah study and imposed idol worship. It started as one thing but then truly became a fight for religious freedom. The story of the Maccabees is in the book called the Apocrypha, not a Jewish book. The rabbis wanted to eliminate the story of Hanukkah but all they could do was keep it out of the Jewish books. The Talmud contains a very short passage about the Temple and the holy oil — the story of the miracle.
No matter which story you use (or have heard), the question comes down to — what does this mean to us today? What are the messages that we take from them both for our children and for ourselves as we hear the possibly more disturbing side of the story?
Is it better to just know the children’s version? For our children and grandchildren, let us keep alive all the wonderful parts of the story. However, this year take some time to Google the real story of Hanukkah and challenge yourselves to find the message that works for you. Sorry — I give you no answers — just more questions.
Laura Seymour is the director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Take time to be thankful

Posted on 30 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Thanksgiving is over and we are getting ready for Hanukkah. At the J, our “Jewish Value of the Month” is “Hoda’ah — Appreciation or Gratitude.” Being thankful is a life-affirming quality.
A new poll has found that Americans think their own gratitude is increasing, while everyone else’s is going down (survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation). What does that say about us? Here are some of the findings:

  • How important is gratitude? More than 90 percent agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives and are more likely to have friends.
  • When do we feel grateful? Given a list of categories, people were most grateful for their immediate families, followed closely by freedom.
  • How do we say “thanks”? Less than 50 percent said they would be “very likely” to thank salespeople that helped them, as well as the postman, the cleaning staff, etc.
  • Who is grateful? Women were more grateful than men; 18- to 24-year-olds express gratitude less often than any other age group; people were least likely to express gratitude in workplaces…despite wishing to be thanked more often themselves at work.

Lots of interesting facts and thoughts for us to work on in our daily lives! Judaism has a way to express thanks — saying blessings! The rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings every day; however, the only Torah-based blessing is the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. It is written in Deuteronomy 8:10, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Adonai your God for the good land which God has given you.” There are four blessings in the traditional Birkat Hamazon:

  • Birkat Hazan: praising God for sustaining life and providing food for all creatures.
  • Birkat Haaretz: thanking God for being compassionate and nourishing the Jewish people, both with food and with Torah.
  • Birkat Yerushalayim: begging God to be merciful and continue to support the Jewish people and to rebuild Jerusalem.
  • Birkat Hatov v’Hameitiv: This blessing ends by voicing the hope that “God will never deny us anything good.”

It is an interesting idea that blessing after you eat is commanded. Perhaps that is when we are feeling most thankful. Yet, saying blessings before makes us stop and think about how fortunate we are and to take a moment to appreciate it before moving on. Take time during the holiday season to be thankful every moment of every day!

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Reasons for gratefulness

Posted on 22 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Hopefully, you will get this in your Thanksgiving Texas Jewish Post and you will take time to find it. If not, cut it out and save it for next year or use the ideas on a daily basis to have a life full of gratitude.
This morning I read a favorite organization post (I get lots from all forms of Judaism and more, which is a great way to find the messages that resonate with you!). From ReformJudaism.org, the article titled A Look Into the Future at Gratitude by Rabbi Steven Stark Lowenstein was sections of a speech from a 2006 Thanksgiving service by actor and director Harold Ramis. Here are bits from the speech:
When Rabbi Lowenstein asked me to speak here tonight, I wondered what could I say to you that you couldn’t read in six or eight badly rhymed lines on a Hallmark card. And I decided that rather than elaborate on the things I’m already grateful for, I would try to articulate some of the things that I’d like to be grateful for — maybe not this year, or the next, but sometime soon. So, here’s my random list in no particular order:
I’d like to be grateful for an end to violence and a lasting peace in the Middle East that not only recognizes Israel’s right to exist, but acknowledges its miraculous social, agricultural and technological achievements …
I’d like to be grateful for the eradication of AIDS and HIV, for a medical Marshall Plan that makes education, medication, and treatment available to people all over the developing world.
And I’d like to be grateful for a system of public education that provides for all children what my kids have in our incredible school district.
And one last thing: I’d like to be grateful for a spirit of activism and personal responsibility that makes us all realize that positive change on a global scale starts with the things every one of us can do in our own families and communities.
As the Buddhists say, we owe infinite gratitude to the past, infinite service to the present, and infinite responsibility to the future.
Now, this Thanksgiving or next or whenever you are thinking of all that you are thankful for, add hopes for tomorrow…and then together make a plan to work toward at least some of those plans. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Chance to be judge, jury

Posted on 16 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
At the preschool this week, we have been talking about a wonderful Jewish value but sometimes hard to explain to young children — hoda’ah, appreciation and gratitude, being thankful. One of the things the children were thankful for was their pets and, as we do with young children, we go with their interests.
However, my “job” is to put a Jewish lens on everything. So, I told them that caring for animals is a mitzvah, which led into how we care. I took this idea from Joel Lurie Grishaver and Nachum Amsel’s You Be the Judge and You Be the Judge 2: Collections of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers, Torah Aura Productions (www.torahaura.com). Would it be possible for young children to become a bet din, a Jewish court of law? Here is your chance to be the court and the judge.
The Case: Does Shabbat Have to Go to the Dogs? This first case is a common one in many families. Feeding the family pets is a chore that is often the responsibility of the kids in the family. In this situation, Josh has forgotten to feed the dog and the family is sitting down to dinner — Shabbat dinner. The dog is barking. Grandma says to feed the dog after the blessings and dinner. Cousin David says that the dog should be fed before the blessings and before the family eats.
You Be the Judge: Should the dog be fed before the family eats or after? Make your case.
The Sages Decide: There is a mitzvah called tzar baalei chaim which forbids being cruel to animals, and not feeding is being cruel. In the Torah, we read about Rebecca, who was kind to the camels, and then Moses brought water from the rock for the people and the animals.
Maimonides says, “The sages made it a practice to feed their animals before they tasted anything themselves.” Rashi, in the Talmud, says, “One may even delay ha-motzi in order to feed animals.” Many rabbis have agreed that pets are our responsibility, which includes feeding them as they cannot get their own food.
So, did your decision agree with the rabbis? Caring for animals is important and must come even before we take care of ourselves — it is a mitzvah and our responsibility!
Of course, since my lesson was about gratitude and showing appreciation, I brought it back around to being thankful for our pets, and one voice said, “I’m thankful my mom feeds our dog!”

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What name do you prefer?

Posted on 09 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I love names! Actually I love stories about names and understanding all the meanings we attach to our names and our name changes and even our struggle with remembering names! What makes a “popular” name?
What to do with a name that everyone makes fun of? Why is it important to call someone by their name? It really all starts back in the Torah when Adam is named and then Adam gets to name all the animals. The power of being the “namer” is also important. There is a new book from the PJ Library titled Adam’s Animals by Barry L. Schwartz. It is a wonderful book with great pictures of animals and it is done alphabetically, which is fun! However, the story ends differently than the Torah rendition — when Adam meets the woman, he asks, “Should I name you?” and she responds that she already has a name. Yet in the Torah, it says “the man named his wife Eve, because she was the mother of all living.” So was the author just not up on his Torah or is he making a statement? And we are back to names and interpretations and power and change and…
The Torah is filled with names and people without names — what’s that all about? Who are Irad and Lamech and Zillah (hint: Genesis 4:17-19) and why do they have names when poor Noah’s wife will forever be Noah’s wife or names she is given in Midrash? Later in the book Abram and Sarai get their names changed; Isaac is named because Sarah laughed when she heard she would have a child; the book of Exodus in Hebrew is Shemot — Names; we know of Miriam and Aaron, Moses’ siblings but his parents are called “a certain man” and a “Levite woman.” So many great stories!
This brings us to our own names — all of us who are parents know the challenge and fun of choosing names for our children. We must tell them the stories that go with the choices because your name is linked to who you are. Jewish tradition teaches that each of us has three names: the one we are given at birth, the one we are called, and our real name.
The challenge is to discover our real name. So what is our “real name”? It is the name we make for ourselves by our deeds and how we live our lives.
One more thought to ponder as you think of names and meanings: The sages tell us that there are 70 names of God and each of us also has many names (probably not 70). I tell my classes my many names that I am called (although I don’t share all!): Laura, Mrs. Seymour, Mom, Grandma, Torah Laura, Carpool Lady and more. We believe there is only one God and I am definitely only one person — so what do the names represent? What changes — the one being called or the caller?
What do you want to be called?

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