Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Concepts of justice, fairness tough for children to learn

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each year as we prepare for camp, we think about the many issues that children face and how to guide them in the right direction. One of the things that we hear from children is, “It’s not fair.”
They spend a lot of time learning to understand the concept of fairness and justice. We want to guide them with our heroes from the past and present.
Tzedek is the mitzvah of doing justice. The words tzedek and tzedakah appear almost 300 times in the Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that justice and compassion are two of the most important qualities for people to survive and live together.
Leviticus 19, also called the Holiness Code, says that being holy is being just. Elie Wiesel told this story: A man who saw injustice in his city protested against it every day. One day someone asked why he continued to protest since no one was paying attention. The man answered, “In the beginning I thought I would change people, but now I continue so people will not change me.”
There is much talk in the news about the Supreme Court Justices. There have been many famous Jewish Justices, and we can learn from their examples. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated with honors from Columbia Law School, not one law firm in New York would hire her because she was a woman. She became a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights, and she argued six landmark cases on behalf of women before the Supreme Court. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court. Upon accepting the nomination, she spoke of her background. “I am very sensitized to discrimination. I grew up at the time of World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child…seeing a sign in front of a restaurant: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’ I have a last thank-you to my mother. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most recent Jewish Justices and the first Jewish woman Justice; however, many great American Jews have served the United States as lawyers and judges. Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice from 1916-1939.
He was nicknamed “The People’s Attorney” because he was an advocate of social and economic reforms. He was also a leading Zionist, and Brandeis University is named after him. Benjamin Cardozo served on the Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938. The school of law at Yeshiva University is named after him. Felix Frankfurter served from 1939 to 1962 and he helped create the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas served in the 1960s and Stephen Breyer was named to the Court in 1994.

Conversation starters

  • 1. Sometimes children say that something isn’t fair — something a parent, teacher or coach decides. What does it mean to be fair? Think of some examples and then think of a way to decide what is fair. For example, when sharing a piece of cake, one person gets to cut and the other gets to choose first.
  • 2. Why is it so hard to be a judge? What does it mean to be “impartial”? What would make it difficult to judge someone? Can we judge ourselves? Why or why not?
  • 3. Making sure there is justice in the world is not the same as making sure there are judges. What is justice all about? Some people say that life isn’t always fair — is that fair?

Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Don’t ignore Shavuot’s value to individuals

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Let’s talk about counting — specifically about counting the Omer. Some people don’t know what I’m talking about, some think it is meaningless today, and some, like me, have an app on their phone. It reminds me, gives me the blessing and even gives me some things to think about each night. At this reading, we are getting to the end of this period — Shavuot is coming.
So what is it? The special period between Passover and Shavuot is called sefirah, meaning “counting,” from the practice of counting the Omer, which is observed from the night of the second Seder of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. The counting of seven weeks on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple, until Shavuot, serves to connect the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt with the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that it was announced to the Israelites in Egypt that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. As soon as they were liberated, they were so eager for the arrival of the promised day that they began to count the days, saying each time, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
Does it matter today? The Omer continued even after the development of a standard calendar eliminated its initial necessity: to let the people know exactly when to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It remained an opportunity to help us move out of enslaving patterns of thought and behavior. For the ancient Israelites, each day was a step away from the defilement of Egypt and a step toward spiritual purity. Like the Israelites who began to get ready for their encounter at Mount Sinai as soon as they crossed the Reed (or Red) Sea, we use the seven weeks beginning on Passover to similarly prepare ourselves for the arrival of Shavuot. During this time, we are supposed to evaluate our behavior and work to improve ourselves.
We all count days leading to something special — maybe good (can’t wait for my vacation), maybe bad (10 days until I have jury duty). But I count something that each of you should be counting. As many of you know, I’m a camp director and I’m counting how many days until camp. I’m also counting how many young lives we will impact at camp. Camp changes lives and through your commitment to camp scholarships, you are part of those lives touched. How many can we count? Here is the story I remind my staff (who are the leaders of tomorrow that we are also impacting each summer): The story is of a little boy on the beach with hundreds of starfish on the sand.
Starfish cannot live outside the water so the little boy was picking up one at a time and throwing it back in the ocean.
A man comes by and sees what the boy is doing. He says, “There are too many. You can’t make a difference.” The little boy picks up one and throws it back — “Made a difference to that one.” That’s what we do — make a difference to one at a time.
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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Image of God tells us how we should live our lives

Posted on 11 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I’m getting ready for camp and this important message is a favorite song that we sing!
In Pirke Avot 3:18, Rabbi Akiva says, “Beloved is man for he is created in the image of God.” This is both a gift and a responsibility. For many, these are the most important words in the Torah. “B’tzelem Elohim — We are created in the image of God” and that tells us how we should live:
What does this tell us about how to treat yourself?
If every person is b’tzelem Elohim, then what does that say about how we look at every person?
Does this mean we are all the same? What about people who are different from us? Are they b’tzelem Elohim?
There are so many ways to “interpret” text, and music and lyrics are interpretations of thoughts and feelings and even of Jewish texts. The world of “Jewish rock music” is expanding every day and the music speaks to us and teaches us. This important message of b’tzelem Elohim comes alive with this song.
Download it today!

B’Tzelem Elohim

(e18hteen — Dan Nichols, Mason Cooper & Michael Moskowitz)

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. (2)
We all got a life to live, we all got a gift to give.
Just open your heart and let it out.
We all got a peace to bring, We all got a song to sing.
Just open your heart and let it out.

CHORUS

When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem Elohim.
When we share our hopes and our dreams
Each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim

We all got a tale to tell. We all want to speak it well.
Just open your heart and let it out.
We all got a mountain to climb. We all got a truth to find.
Just open your heart and let it out.

CHORUS

B’reisheet bara Elohim, all our hopes, all our dream
B’reisheet bara Elohim, each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim

Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is the director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Reciprocal responsibility

Posted on 04 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
One of the most important values that we must all practice is responsibility.
Responsibility — achrayut — is so important for it is really all about community and being a part of something bigger than just yourself. We are all interdependent in this world and that connection makes us strong.
This month as we commemorate Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, we are reminded of our responsibility to others. Shortly after World War II — not long after his release from a Nazi concentration camp — German Protestant theologian and Pastor Martin Niemoller said, “In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak up.”
Each of us must speak out for the others — we are responsible for one another: Am I my brother’s keeper? YES!
Achrayut is also about taking responsibility for your own actions and choices. Responsibility is about keeping our promises, being honest and fair, and admitting our mistakes and showing our willingness to make things right.
Those who think they can lie without hurting others are wrong. But those who think that others can survive without them are even more in error.
— Hasidic folk saying
In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.
— Ann Landers (advice columnist)

Family talk time

What does it mean to be responsible? What thing are you responsible for: at home, with your friends, at school or at camp?
Think of a time when you have been blamed for something someone else did. Why didn’t that person take responsibility for their actions?
When you are on a team, you are responsible to that team. What happens if you cannot go to a game? Should you choose to go to a party instead of the game?

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Everything, including spiders, has place in world

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
This week I told the story of King David and the spider and the one about King Solomon and the bee. Both stories are about how an insect saved a king.
The Tanach is filled with stories and commandments of how we are supposed to treat the land and all that live on that land. From the very first chapters in Genesis, we are told to “rule” and “master” and “to till and tend.” In some ways today, we have taken the “rule and master” as license to do whatever we wish and our land is paying the price.
How can we get back to the real idea that God has given us a gift and we must take care of that gift?
We must remember a very important Jewish value: we are shomrim adamah — guardians of the earth — and this lesson must start young. What we are learning today is not only that the earth needs caring for but also that caring for the earth helps every one of us in so many ways. I often recommend books but here is a website: www.childrenandnature.org. We need to experience the land to connect to it and value it and care for it and through our experiences we will grow. Look at these texts from our tradition and talk about them with your friends and families:
You must not sit down to your own meal before you have fed your pets and barnyard animals. — Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a based on Deuteronomy 11:15
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
Every kind of fish, bird, and animal contributes something to the world you live in — even the ones you may consider to be unnecessary, such as fleas, gnats and flies. — Midrash Genesis Rabbah 10:7
The stories of King David and King Solomon remind us that everything has a place and a purpose even if we don’t see it at first. So before you step on that spider, think of King Solomon and maybe just send it out into the world.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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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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