Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

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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History’s sages still have wisdom for your family

Posted on 02 November 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
There is so much to learn from the past — history and the words of the wise never lose the message.
We should not discard ideas and words from our sages, yet we often struggle to understand those words. Pirke Avot, a tractate of the Talmud, is filled with messages from the sages that apply today. The opening “mishnah” (saying) is: Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. (Pirke Avot 1:1) Our challenge is to read and learn and then pass down the traditions.
Here is one of my favorite mishnayot from Pirke Avot plus questions to help you and your family dig deeper into the meaning. Any ages can have this discussion.
(Pirke Avot 4:27) Rabbi Meir says: Do not look at the jug, but at what is in it; there is a new jug filled with old wine, and an old jug that does not even contain new wine.

Questions to ask

  • Rabbi Meir was a wonderful teacher who really learned from all people. When his teacher was called a heretic, Rabbi Meir was said to have the ability to “take the fruit and discard the peel.” What does that mean? Can we really learn from all people?
  • This mishnah seems very simple but that means we need to look very carefully. What does it mean to not look at the jug but at what is inside? How do we do this all the time in our daily lives? Talk with your children about how we sometimes are fooled by the way things look on the outside. What are some examples?
  • What does it mean to have a new jug with old wine? Is that what you would expect? Why or why not? Why would a new jug have old wine in it?
  • The mishnah then says “an old jug that does ‘not even’ contain new wine.” Why such strange words? What could the old jug contain?
  • Which would you choose — the old jug or the new jug? Why?
  • Is this mishnah the same or different from this common saying: “Do not judge a book by its cover”?
  • Spend time talking with your children about different examples of this mishnah. Does this apply to people as well? How?
  • How can we apply this mishnah to our lives every day?

Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC

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How to handle Halloween

Posted on 26 October 2017 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
The beginning 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 CE 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), 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 at the Aaron Family JCC.

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Education not only for kids

Posted on 19 October 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Many years ago in Dallas, all the Jewish educators sat around a big table to discuss the needs for Jewish education in our community.
Bottom line, it was about where should the money go, but the big question is how do we impact the most people. Everyone except one group believed in more and different opportunities for children. Who was the group that disagreed and what did they want? It was the early childhood educators, who wanted the emphasis to be placed on adult Jewish education. Their rationale? If you educate the parents, the grandparents and the adults, the children will benefit.
Just this week in eJewishphilanthropy.com, Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz wrote an article titled: Adult Learning is the No. 1 Priority for the Jewish Future. Hooray! Here briefly are his three reasons and a few of his comments:
1. Adult learning is the pathway to children’s Jewish education: “One of the most frequently asked questions…is: Rabbi, how do I get my child (or grandchild) to love Judaism? My initial answer is always the same: You must love it!” Our children are watching us and even when we don’t think it is happening (like in those teenage years), they are modeling our behavior. But it must be real — don’t just learn Jewish “for the kids.” Do it for yourself because they (and you) will know the difference.
2. Judaism is about adults, not children. “A parent and child must both study Torah. When possibilities exist for only one, the adult’s personal needs take precedence to the child’s.” (Kiddushin 29b, Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 245:2) There it is — even in Talmudic times, the rabbis knew where the priorities were. Judaism requires adult thinking. Yanklowitz says: “Bringing God down to earth requires sophisticated thought and sophisticated minds. Bringing ethics into the workplace and Godliness into the home requires deep spiritual and emotional investment…Judaism will only thrive (and survive) if Jewish adults are learning Jewish wisdom and ensuring that wisdom continues to be applied in nuanced ways to each era.”
3. Adult education has the best potential for engagement: “When we talk about “adult Jewish education,” we must be clear that we’re not primarily talking about competency, fluency and literacy, but rather about relevancy,” says Yanklowitz. All learning for adults must be relevant and relate to their lives — adults vote with their feet. If the learning is meaningful, they will come!
We owe it to the future of Judaism, we owe it to our kids, and we owe it to ourselves — get involved in Jewish learning today. The Melton and Gesher programs at the J continue to show us that adults want to learn — and we know that the hardest part is getting them in the door! Once engaged in meaningful, high-quality Jewish education, adults keep coming back for more. It is as important as exercise — in fact, consider it exercise for your mind and your soul!

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Adam and Eve: the first ‘we’

Posted on 12 October 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Over the High Holidays, I look for a good book to read in preparation for my favorite holiday — Simchat Torah!
As the “Torah with Laura” teacher, I need to keep up with new (and traditional) ways of exploring the Torah. Over the days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (even occasionally during services), I read Bruce Feiler’s new book The First Love Story – Adam, Eve and Us. If all you read is the book cover, you will be hooked:
“Since antiquity, one story has stood at the center of every conversation about men and women. One couple has been the battleground for human relationships and sexual identity … history has blamed Adam and Eve — but especially Eve — for bringing sin, deceit and death into the world.”
For those of us hooked on Torah and finding the messages for our lives, this book makes you relook at this first story. Today, as we deal with horrible happenings from hurricanes to mass shootings, this story of love and connection are crucial to reevaluating what is important. It doesn’t matter how or if you believe the “realness” of the Torah stories, you can’t deny the lessons. The story of Adam and Eve begins when G-d says, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Do not go any further as the next line is often where the problems begin.
Let’s look at the message of needing others as the important lesson. Today as we spend more time without real connection to people (because our phones and computers allow us to communicate without looking in the eyes of the one we are talking to), loving and caring happens from a distance.
As the camp director, I see the pros and cons of technology for our connections to others. We are not going to get rid of those devices and to even think that is crazy — but we can put them down to have real communication. Let me share another book that you must read: Braving the Wilderness — the Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone by Brene Brown. Feiler and Brown both focus on the need for belonging and we begin our understanding of belonging first with our family and then it expands outward but only through being together. Here is a quote from Brown’s book: “We’re going to have to learn how to listen, have hard conversations, look for joy, share pain, and be more curious than defensive, all while seeking moments of togetherness.”
My hope is that you will pick up one or both of these books as we begin our cycle of Torah reading on Simchat Torah and connect more this year. Feiler says at the end: “We need Adam and Eve as our role models. And they’ve earned it. In a world dominated by I, Adam and Eve were the first we. They were the first to say we are better off as an us than either of us is as a me.”
Reach out to form more communities of belonging — together we can make a better world this year.

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This year, let’s aim for more ‘I-Thou’ moments

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the New Year! There is lots to celebrate and lots of new beginnings. Dare I admit that one of the great things about the new year is the new and returning fall TV lineup that I have become addicted to? (I will not share my list although it is fairly short.) As a Jewish educator, I do try to find “what’s Jewish about this” in most things that I watch, read and do so I am always open to finding connections.
There has been TV hype on Will and Grace, which I have not watched but may tune in based on an article from reformjudaism.org (and you can find the entire article at the website). The title is: “What Does Martin Buber Have to Do With Will & Grace?” by Rabbi Dennis S. Ross. Here are a few quotes from the article:
According to David Kohan, the show’s executive producer, the title “is very Jewish. There’s a theologian named Martin Buber who talked about the will to go after and the grace to receive something. It always seemed like two complementary ideas. They happened to be good names, as well.”
Martin Buber (1878-1965), German-born Jewish scholar, teacher, writer, activist and more, is best known for his classic 1923 work, I and Thou, which outlines three fundamentals: I-Thou, I-It and Eternal Thou.
According to Buber, “The Thou meets me through grace — it is not found by seeking.” In other words, I-Thou comes by “grace,” not by “will.” All you can do is be open to entering. Buber adds, I-Thou is a “grace, for which one must always be ready and one never gains as assured possession.”
The difference between having I-Thou and having I-It in any moment is beyond your control; you can only be curious, flexible, willing to care, and showing the desire to carry forward with the next person. And once I-Thou ends, as it inevitably must, it is over.
There is more in the article and definitely more in learning and understanding Buber. I suggest reading Buber (often a challenging but important read) and possibly watching the show to see if you can find the Buber connection and perhaps other Jewish connections. At the very least, I hope this sparks interesting conversations!
In this new year, we should all strive for more I-Thou moments and be open to the possibilities.

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Think before we eat, act

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
So many wonderful holidays and so many things to eat! Even on Yom Kippur, we think about what to eat before Kol Nidre and then plan for a delicious “Break the Fast.” Judaism is filled with holidays and specific things to eat or days when we don’t eat.
Eating is a Jewish thing although I tell many that I am certainly not a “Gastronomic Jew” (I don’t define my Jewishness by what I eat). However, as a Jew we don’t just eat — we must think about what we are eating (kosher or not) and say a blessing before we eat (being thankful for what we have).
In the many offerings from myjewishlearning.com before Rosh Hashanah, here is a list of food and related meanings from the Talmud:

  • After eating leek or cabbage, say “May it be Your will that our enemies be cut off.”
  • After eating beets, say “May it be Your will that our adversaries be removed.”
  • After eating dates, say ”May it be Your will that our enemies be finished.”
  • After eating pomegranate, say “May it be Your will that our merits increase as the seeds of a pomegranate.”
  • After eating the head of a sheep or fish, say “May it be Your will that we be as the head and not as the tail.”

The writer then went on to suggest that we make up our own “May it be Your will…” and gave as an example to eat a raisin and celery and ask God for a “raise in salary.” All joking aside, stopping and thinking before we eat has much value both for our physical health and our spiritual health. Saying blessings before eating, makes you stop and think which of the many blessings is appropriate and then recognize how lucky we are, not only to have something to eat, but to have choices. Gratitude is healthy!
Keeping kosher also makes you stop and think even if you think, “My grandmother would be rolling over in her grave if she knew what I was eating.”
As we begin this New Year, let us think before we eat and more importantly, think before we act. We ask for forgiveness before Yom Kippur and if I have written anything that has upset or offended you, please forgive me. And, if I have written anything that has made you stop and think or question or struggle, I hope I can continue in the year to come.

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Empathy, action go hand in hand during disasters

Posted on 20 September 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 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 G-d, 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, hear and watch the sad and frightening stories of hurricanes, we question how much to share with our children and that is an individual family matter. Yet, we must look inside ourselves not only to feel empathy toward those who are suffering and struggling but to decide how we can act to help others. This is part of the healing for those in need and for growing for each of us as we reach out to help.

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Look deeper into yourself as new year approaches

Posted on 14 September 2017 by admin

Dear families,
Rosh Hashanah, the 10 days of teshuvah (repentance) and Yom Kippur — what are we supposed to be doing beyond buying new clothes, planning the holiday menus and buying our synagogue tickets?
We all know that this is a time to reflect, to look deeper at our lives and plan for change. What a challenge and an opportunity!
Each day I get so many posts to read and podcasts to listen to and sometimes it is overwhelming deciding what to attend to. Two items have stuck with me this past week and here they are:
I get a daily post from Seth Godin — mainly business thoughts but it really is about life. This one stuck with me: “I got it!” The secret of the fly ball is that you don’t shout, “You’ve got it.” It’s not up to us to assign who will catch it. If you can catch it, you call it. The thing about responsibility is that it’s most effectively taken, not given. The Jewish value achrayut, responsibility, is so important in our lives and at this time of the year, we all need to “take responsibility” in all we do, from stepping up to help with hurricane victims to small things like picking up the carelessly thrown piece of trash. As you ponder what changes to make in your life this year, think responsibility — what will I step up and take charge of? Promise not to wait — as Godin says, “If you can catch it, you call it!”
The second came from JCCA, our “mothership” of the J. Our early childhood department is so fortunate to be involved in a program called Sheva — a framework of guiding principles and Jewish values. We listened to posts about Rosh Hashanah and this one resonated with me.
Cantor Ellen Dreskin related a common greeting we often hear: “You look great — you haven’t changed a bit.” I have been known to respond with a joke, “Did I look this bad 30 years ago?” But Dreskin turned it around for me — hopefully I haven’t changed too much on the outside (getting old is part of life) but just as hopefully I can say I have changed on the inside. Are those changes noticed by others? Does that matter? This is the opportunity that the High Holidays present — we must look at ourselves and decide what we will change going forward this year.
Great quote from Aesop in his Fables (no, he is not a rabbi): “When all is said and done, more is said than done.” Reflect, decide and DO! Take responsibility for the change in your life.
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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