Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Grandparents can aid in Jewish youth engagement

Posted on 13 November 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
The Jewish Grandparents Network just came out with “Jewish Grandparenting Today: A Report on the findings from the National Study of Jewish Grandparents.” The sample included grandparents 55-80 years of age who self-identify as Jewish. There are a lot of interesting statistics to look at but here are a few dealing with attitudes and aspirations:
Grandparent Attitudes Toward Jewish Identity
•75% say being Jewish is an important part of my life
•70% say I feel that it is important to support Jewish charities or causes
•53% say I wish that my kids had a greater appreciation for their Jewish heritage
•51% say I consider myself a spiritual person
•30% say I consider myself a religious person
The “bottom line” is that Judaism is a strong part of the grandparent’s identity. Now how does that relate to their Jewish aspirations for their grandchildren.
•71% say it is important to me to transmit Jewish values to my grandchild
•70% say it is important to me to teach my grandchild about Jewish heritage
•64% say I want my grandchild to have a strong connection to Judaism
•63% say I want my grandchild to be interested in doing Jewish activities
•38% say it is important to me that my grandchild marries a Jewish partner
Grandparents, grandchildren and parents can learn much from this study. Of interest for us all are the questions on what constitutes Jewish identity, how do you define your identity as a Jew, and then the crucial question for all of us is how to transmit our values and heritage. It isn’t simply a desire but we each need a plan: What do you do that shows who you are and what you believe?
The final conclusion in the study is the challenge for us all today. Communities, parents, children AND grandparents must do their part.
“Communities and organizations would be best served by engaging today’s Jewish grandparents as true stakeholders with a full ‘seat at the table’ as they seek to better understand their interests and needs and to chart a path forward. When the Jewish community truly engages grandparents as partners, listen carefully, and invites them to play a lead role in designing and piloting new initiatives, they will harness a remarkable resource. The experience, talent, wisdom and passion of today’s Jewish grandparents will ultimately benefit the entire Jewish community.”
So all you grandparents out there — GET INVOLVED! Check out www.jewishgrandparents
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Saying ‘thank you’: We can’t always go it alone

Posted on 06 November 2019 by admin

Dear Families,

This is the Jewish month of Cheshvan — a month with no Jewish holidays (except, of course, Shabbat). We have also entered the month of November — and we all are looking forward to the holiday of Thanksgiving. Add to this, we have made it through tornadoes! It is certainly the month to focus on the Jewish value of “hoda’ah — gratitude.” This month let’s focus on different blessings as we remember how many blessings fill our lives.

We begin each day with “Modeh Ani”:

Modeh ani lifanecha, Melech chai v’ka-yam, Shehe-che-zar-ta bi nish-mati, b’chem-la, rabbah e-mu-na-te-cha. I give thanks unto you, O everlasting One, for You have returned my soul to me in mercy. Great is your faithfulness.”

“Modeh ani” are the first words we are to say every morning — even while still in bed. We start the day thanking God for the gift of life. The belief is that each night our soul goes to heaven to recharge. In the morning, our soul is returned to us to begin again. How wonderful to see each day as a new beginning!

The blessing begins with the phrase “I give thanks.” In Hebrew, the word for thank you is “todah,” which has the meaning “to admit.” Saying thank you is admitting that you couldn’t do it alone, that you needed help and that you are thankful/grateful for the help given. Admitting you need help is difficult for some but it is also a gift that we give to others — people want to help and denying others that chance doesn’t help us or others.

Now, let’s take thank you to the next step — thanking God. We know we can’t go it alone in the world. We need family, friends, neighbors — even strangers. Does God need our thanks? Do we need God?

I will end with these two questions — each of us can ponder the answers. I must also end with thank-yous. Every person who tells me that they have read my column — thank you! It means a lot! And this past week, for everyone who reached out with care after reading “my tornado story” — thank you! And, finally for all who have helped others struggling with their tornado loss and fear — thank you! We will rebuild together as long as we wake up each day thankful.

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In face of tornado tragedy, community shines, grows

Posted on 31 October 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
What can I write that will be especially comforting to all who were affected by the Dallas tornadoes (and we were all affected in so many ways)? Minutes after the tornado took our roof, I was outside with neighbors as we checked on each other. After comforting and helping those I could, I walked with a friend up to the J (we live a block away) and we were so amazed and relieved to see our “second home” with thankfully relatively minimal damage inside, but of course the outside was a mess!
However, we not only survived but also have grown stronger with community support! A week has gone by and we continue to assess and see and hear more stories so as the “Shabbat Lady,” I must give you two pieces of Jewish wisdom:
•Judaism teaches with stories and it is our peoples story that has kept us alive and together. During this period of cleaning and fixing and healing, take time to tell your story and, especially, to listen to others — sharing provides comfort!
•This week we read the story of Noah — very apropos! There is much to learn and here are some important messages (from an anonymous source) that can not only teach a few lessons but also give us a few laughs (and it is so important to laugh even now!).
Lessons From Noah’s Ark
Don’t miss the boat.
Build on high ground.
If you can’t fight or flee — float!!
For safety’s sake, travel in pairs.
Stay below deck during the storm.
Don’t forget that we’re all in the same boat.
Don’t listen to critics — do what has to be done.
If you have to start over, have a friend by your side.
Plan ahead … it wasn’t raining when Noah built the ark.
Take care of your animals as if they were the last ones on earth.
When things get really deep, don’t sit there and complain — shovel!!!
Remember the woodpeckers. An inside threat is often bigger than the one outside.
Speed isn’t always an advantage. The cheetahs were on board but … so were the snails.
Stay fit. When you’re 600 years old, someone might ask you to do something REALLY big.

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Halloween: the American holiday

Posted on 23 October 2019 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,

The start of the school year is filled with so many wonderful beginnings. For a Jewish school, we add all the holidays that come one upon the other without a minute to spare. We have been so busy! And now, the holidays have ended ALMOST…

Each year, I make sure to comment on a very special “American” holiday. Oct. 31 is a holiday that we do not celebrate at most Jewish schools. Halloween is not a Jewish holiday and although the religious aspects of the day have been long forgotten. Halloween is the eve of All Saints’ Day which also was called All Hallows Eve. All Saints’ Day had its origins in 837 when Pope Gregory IV ordered the Church to celebrate a day in honor of all saints. Over time, the holiday focused on witches, death, skeletons, etc. Today, however, the day is very much an American experience for most of us. The roots of the day have long been lost yet the debate among Jews continues. 

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, in his wonderful book, “Becoming a Jewish Parent “(which I highly recommend) questions and raises a number of issues but says: “In the final analysis, what we do about Halloween may not be important. How we think about it, how we talk about it, and what our kids’ reactions to the issue tell us about their identities – those are the crucial issues about which we ought to think and speak very carefully.” Rabbi Gordis questions: “If not participating is going to make our kids resent being Jewish, are we doing enough to fill their lives with positive Jewish moments, with a deep sense of identification, with supportive and loving Jewish community?” We want our children to have a positive Jewish identity and we, the adults in their lives, need to think and plan for wonderful Jewish moments to create memories and reasons to be proudly Jewish.

How you choose to handle this holiday is a family decision but I do have my yearly recommendation. On Nov. 1, RUSH to every store that sells costumes and get great ones for dress-up and especially for Purim – our time to dress up! The sales are fantastic!

Shalom…from The Shabbat Lady,

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services Jewish Community Center of Dallas

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The road to happiness is a choice to make

Posted on 16 October 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
I am sure I have shared my secret about the holidays — I bring a book to synagogue! Every year I look through what I have and check out something new and inspiring. This year I choose a book that I have wanted to read even though it isn’t new: “The Happiness Prayer” by Rabbi Evan Moffic. There is so much today about looking for happiness and we often question if that is a worthwhile endeavor — there is so much more to the meaning of life! As I perused the book, this spoke to me: The modern English word happiness comes from the Middle English, hap, as in happenstance and haphazard. The origin suggests that a happy life is a result of randomness and luck. The Hebrew word for happiness — simcha — demands intention. It comes from an intentional pursuit of joy amid community. That difference suggests that finding happiness is a choice. It is a choice available to all of us. Happiness is not a destination. It is the path itself.
That sets Jewish happiness apart! Now Rabbi Moffic shares a prayer that is said every morning as part of morning prayers. Here is Rabbi Moffic’s paraphrasing of Eilu Devarim:
Honor those who gave you life.
Be kind.
Keep learning.
Invite others into your life.
Be there when others need you.
Celebrate good times.
Support yourself and others during times of loss.
Pray with intention.
Look inside and commit.
Then each chapter touches on each of the 10 “things.” Focusing on these will make you happy if we start each day remembering them. You can find this in your prayer book or use Rabbi Moffic’s words and there is even a song by Susan Colin “Things Without End” that may work for you. My advice is to read the book and at the end, each chapter has five questions for you to think about. However, we can begin without the book (some of you don’t have to buy every book that looks good although I struggle to say no to a book). Choose one for the day or week and be intentional about it!
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center in Dallas.

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Sukkot is a great time to ‘do Jewish’ at home

Posted on 10 October 2019 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
The High Holidays are a great time because we reconnect to the synagogue. Yet, most Jewish holidays are filled with ritual and custom that happens in the home. Being part of a community is so important but we must not just “do Jewish” at the synagogue. Sukkot is the holiday that is made for our children! Yes, you can build (or buy) a sukkah and then dwell in it. The mitzvah says “dwell” and that includes eating and sleeping in the sukkah. For children, this is a very exciting holiday with great things to do. The rules are simple for a sukkah as it is supposed to be a temporary dwelling. Try this mitzvah and you will never give it up. And more importantly, by continuing to put up your sukkah once the children have moved away, you are demonstrating that “building a sukkah” (or any Jewish ritual) is not just for the kids. We all can find meaning in every ritual although perhaps new and different meanings as we grow older (and wiser).
Another part of the holiday is to invite guests into your Sukkah. We are excited when we can practice the Jewish value of “hachnasat orchim – welcoming guests” and Sukkot is the perfect time. There are other guests we are to invite as well. The tradition is to invite Ushpizin: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron and David (one on each night). Often today people talk about who else they would like to invite to their sukkah and what possible questions they might ask. Think about who, living or gone, that you would like to have as a “special guest.” It is great Sukkot conversation!
Many years ago I listened to a “piggy back” song from Uncle Moishey. It was to the tune of “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmit” and was in Hebrew. To make it easier (and memorable) for our preschoolers, we put it into English – try it:
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, Moses, Aaron and King David
These are the special guests – they’re called the ushpizin
They come to our Sukkah every night – la la la la la la la!
Time went by and it became apparent to many that we were missing some people, so try this one:
Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, Hannah, Debra and Queen Esther
These are other special guests, that we all should invite
To come to our Sukkah every night – la la la la la la la!
Now here is your chance – who do you want to invite and put in a song? Send your verses to me at and next year you will be honored with a mention in the Sukkot Shabbat Lady!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Understanding the story of Jonah

Posted on 02 October 2019 by admin

Story’s meaning can change from year to year

Dear Families,
I am always amazed at how each holiday, rabbis and Jewish educators come up with new things to talk and write about. Yet, sometimes I want to hear something again that perhaps I have heard before. Sometimes we weren’t ready for a thought or idea, but the next time it is presented, it reaches us.
That is the amazing joy of Torah study. Every time we read the same words, yet we hear them differently. We forget that, in truth, we are different; at different stages in our lives. The story of Jonah is like that. We read it every year at the afternoon service on Yom Kippur. What are the messages that we get from this story, and how can we find something new each year?
Here are a few thoughts to get you going this Yom Kippur:
• Jonah is a “reluctant prophet.” He didn’t want to do what God asked him to do. We all struggle with taking responsibility at times. Does it matter who gives you the task? Kids will say that you can’t run away from God, but adults aren’t so sure. What was the challenge given to Jonah? Why did he run away? Before you try to give answers, ask more questions. Our questions help us delve deeper. Think about each part of the story: For example, why a whale (or some say a big fish)? How did the sailors feel, and why? How was Jonah sleeping during a storm? Each question leads to more thinking.
• In an post dated September 2012, Maya Bernstein wrote these questions: Has anyone recently asked something of you that felt overwhelming and made you want to run away? What does it feel like when someone expects something of you, and you aren’t sure you can do it? These questions are suggested for children but they certainly can help adults think, as well.
• Rabbi Ed Feinstein also writes on, and covers the same issue. Unlike every other prophetic book, the book of Jonah has no particular time or place. He lives in all generations, because the temptation to separate, divide and withdraw is always present. So, each year, in the middle of Yom Kippur, at the very moment of deepest self-absorption, when the stomach groans, the head aches and the feet are tired, we revisit the prophet in the belly of the fish to learn again that for the Jew, reaching to the soul within us, and reaching to the world beyond us, are the ways we reach the God, who cares for us all.
So, this year, take the time to really read Jonah. Ask yourself, what does the story mean to you? Find the message that touches you, As you prepare for Yom Kippur.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Use positive words to describe children, and yourselves

Use positive words to describe children, and yourselves

Posted on 25 September 2019 by admin

Adapted from the works of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka; taken from Kindermusik International, Inc.

Dear Parents,
This is my favorite article that I must repeat every year, just as our holidays repeat every year.
As we move through the year, let us remember to be the best we can be and help our children develop as well. Each year at the High Holidays we read a prayer by Reb Zusya. The commentary (the small print at the bottom) shares the thoughts of Reb Zusya: “When I meet God, I will not be asked ‘Why were you not Moses?’ but rather ‘Were you the best Zusya you could be?’”
I am reminded of this each time we question why our children are not more this or more that — we compare and worry. Years ago, the cry in education was “label jars not children.” We strived not to label children and define them by that label. Today we say “Help children develop labels to identify themselves, but remember labels are not limits.”
Let us learn to use our words to help our children “see” who they are and who they can be. Use words to reframe how we see our children and how they see themselves.
To help us with this goal of discovering who our children are and how we can help them achieve their potential, I am repeating this list from previous years. It is often a matter of looking at things from just a little different perspective — a change from “half empty” to “half full.” Look through this list and start using new words to describe your child (and yourself).
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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The dos and don’ts of apologizing

Posted on 18 September 2019 by admin

There is more to ‘sorry’ than just saying it

Dear Families,

As we approach the High Holidays, I am reading more and more on how to prepare. Apologies are definitely being thought about and written about, as this is the season to say “I’m sorry,” and to mean it. offers a fascinating article by Judy Bolton-Fasman titled “The Art of the Apology: The Dos and Don’ts of Apologizing.” The information comes from an interview with journalist and author Marjorie Ingall, who is a co-founder of SorryWatch, a blog that analyzes effective and botched apologies.

One of the key issues with any apology is that you must own the actions and consequences. It is important to say the actual words, “I’m sorry,” not “I regret.” Said Ingall: “An apology needs to stand on its own feet and be unconditional, even if you think the other person owes you an apology.”

The article goes on to refer to Maimonides, who tells us to apologize three times. If the other person does not accept the apology, you have done your best. “Our tradition notes that this notion of holding on to your venom and rage after receiving an apology is like holding onto a lizard while going into the mikveh,” noted a wonderful quote from the article. I’m not sure if that was from Bolton-Fasman or Maimonides, though it sounds more Rambam-like! Meanwhile, you are not obligated to forgive, but who are you hurting by not doing so?

Often at this holiday time, we make general blanket apologies and sometimes even to a group via email. And, we all accept that apology in spirit, of course. Maimonides says, however, that you must state what you did wrong and show remorse and follow by making amends, if possible. The main object is to acknowledge, so the hurt does not happen again.

Here are a few more recommendations from the article.

• If you’re not sorry, don’t apologize because you will do it badly.

• Don’t ask forgiveness in an apology. Forgiveness is a gift for the wronged person to grant. You don’t ask for a gift.

All of these thoughts are good for us at this time of year. Yet often, we hurt others unintentionally without realizing it. This year, as we make our “New Year’s Resolutions” (though we don’t really call them that, from a Jewish perspective), let us all ask for greater awareness of our actions and especially our words. Additionally, don’t wait for this time each year to apologize for everything. Listen to your words, look to see their impact and strive to be kinder all year. And if you have reason to apologize, stand up and own the mistake.

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Start the New Year surrounded by books

Posted on 12 September 2019 by admin

Fill your homes with knowledge, then pass it on

Dear Families,
I’m Laura and I’m a biblioholic. It is as real as any addiction but most think it isn’t the worst — after all, we are the “people of the book.” Can we ever have too many books? As I thumbed through the pages of my Sunday edition of The Dallas Morning News this weekend, I came across an amazing article in the Real Estate section that caught my eye titled “Books Everywhere!” In the article, Joseph Pubillones, states, “If you are a book lover like me, the question that comes to mind when organizing books is how to display them. Books are important as a source of knowledge, but to some, books are also cherished treasures, almost like friends, and decorating with them is a serious matter.” The article was not about what books to buy, but rather, how to organize your books. Here are the suggestions from the Real Estate section:
·Bookcases — wood, metal, movable case, old china cabinet?
·Books can decorate every room — living room, office entryways, hallways, coffee tables, even the bathroom.
·A sometimes-overlooked area for books is the bedroom. As the Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges once stated, “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”
So what does this mean to us “people of the book”? If someone comes to your home do they see books? What books do you display? What books are in the rooms of your home? Do you have books at your place of work? And, even, do you have books on your phone? While the term “people of the book” refers to Torah it can loosely be interpreted as reading everything and every book. Torah teaches us how to live our lives and every book that we read that gives us ideas and thoughts on how to live a form of Torah.
One of the most deeply felt Jewish values is that of lifelong learning. We must keep studying and books are a great method. But you must share what you read and as you share what you have learned, others continue learning. The way of Jewish learning is chevruta, or learning with a partner. Nothing reinforces learning like arguing points with others. As we go into the new year, go buy a book and find a friend — create a book group to discuss your book. Learn from each other. And one more thing: Fill your home with bookcases and your bookcases with books!

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