Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Moses’ dream lives on, even in American Seders

Posted on 23 March 2017 by admin

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

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Many options for Haggadot

Posted on 16 March 2017 by admin

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

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Who is the real Purim hero?

Posted on 09 March 2017 by admin

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

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Teaching justice, fairness no easy task for parents

Posted on 23 February 2017 by admin

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

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

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

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Empathy key Jewish value

Posted on 16 February 2017 by admin

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

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Protect, preserve as Tu B’Shevat approaches

Posted on 09 February 2017 by admin

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

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‘Old school’ advice: Hope, doom, abstention don’t unify

Posted on 02 February 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I admit it — I’m old school! We still get the Dallas Morning News delivered to our house and, of course, we get the Texas Jewish Post. (I also read lots of things online so I’m not totally old school.)
Last week Jacquielynn Floyd wrote in her metro column about our new president. Whether I agree or disagree is not important — what is important is that her advice could also be given to us Jews about Judaism. Floyd wrote that there seem to be a few “general camps of response” that she called “the best-hopers,” “the doom-shouters” and “the tune-outers.” Let’s forget politics and think of how these apply to being Jewish and the future of Judaism.
“The best-hopers” — There are those Jews who say that Judaism has always been on the way out and that assimilation may be bad and intermarriage is rampant, but they believe that Judaism and Jews will survive forever. They point to statistics about Jewish practice and say that more Jews are coming back to rituals, even if they are changing the rituals for the times.
“The doom-shouters” — There are those who say that things are the worst they have ever been with more intermarriage than Judaism can survive and this time is certainly to be the end. They point to statistics that show that if it weren’t for the Orthodox, there would be fewer and fewer Jews every decade and the rituals that are practiced are so far from “real” Judaism that the day will come when it isn’t even recognized.
“The opt-outers” — There are those who say that they know they are Jewish — you don’t have to belong, you don’t have to support, you certainly don’t need to practice — just knowing is enough.
All of these groups have something in common — they are all talking about being Jewish at least! However, none of the groups has an answer — each one is simply telling the story to themselves that resonates for them. What could each group be doing?
Hope is good but Judaism is an action-based religion — our rituals connect us to belief and action. Hope for the best, yes, but demonstrate your belief through action. Judaism requires us to stand up and act.
The bad news and the sad history of Judaism leads us to seeing more of the same, but we must change that mindset. Never forget but don’t live in it. Judaism and Jews have survived and will continue.
Walking away is never an answer that works for the community and for the individual. We need community and we must work for it — doing can lead to believing.
Many of those questioning our country’s politics say that we only have to last for four years — not a good answer for politics and for Judaism. We’ve lasted for thousands of years and, with commitment, we are headed for thousands more. Let’s not divide into camps against one another but work together!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Children, blessings can flow up family tree, too

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Every Shabbat, parents bless their children, but what about blessing our parents?
This comes from The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: Clal’s Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings. The website ritualwell.org expands on this (as well as gives many new blessings and rituals and new takes on “old” rituals). The opening comment reminds us that our relationships change: “As a child, my parents could do no wrong. As an adolescent, my parents could do no right. Now, as a parent myself, I finally understand why a primary metaphor for the complicated and changing relationship between God and humans is that of parent and child.”
Relationships are hard and blessings are ways to stop and reflect. Even when we repeat the “standard” blessing over our children each Shabbat, we sometimes have conflicting feelings for our kids. We put those aside, take a deep breath and reflect on how precious our children are. That being said, sometimes our relationships with our parents can be conflicted and challenging. It is often hard to “honor your mother and your father” — it does not say “love.” The Torah has a way of making us stop and think!
So here is a traditional blessing for our parents with a meditation and ritual from the book and website:
Harakhaman hu y’varekh et avi mori v’et imi morati. Merciful One, bless my father, my teacher; and my mother, my teacher. (Take a few moments to really think about this blessing — why does it say “my teacher?” How is a parent a teacher? Why and how should we bless our teachers?)
Meditation: Thank you for the traits you have modeled, for showing me that love can overcome obstacles, for sharing celebration and pain, for teaching me about fragility and strength.
Ritual: If you are a child, call your parents with a blessing as your message. If you are a parent, experience accepting the blessings your children give you, however they are expressed.
Now you have a new ritual and blessing to add. Remember, we can always add new blessings, new thank-yous. We can put them in the Jewish model using the traditional six-word beginning: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam… In this way we are giving our thank-you to God for whatever we are feeling thankful for.
Try it and feel free to start with the Hebrew and end with your own words about anything you are feeling grateful for. Recent studies have shown how important gratitude is in our lives and for many of us, adding a Jewish twist to our thanks connects us to our heritage. If you say the blessing out loud, it gives those around you a chance to add “Amen,” which basically means “I agree with you.”
Young children can learn to respond and then to add their own blessings.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Passionate connection to Torah keeps us united

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
So often I am asked for a list of books for a personal Jewish library. Once I start the list, it seems like there is no end because when you ask a bibliophile, there are always more books that you must have. However, first on the list is a Tanakh, the Jewish Bible; included in that suggestion would be one with some commentary, or buy additional commentary to go along with the Tanakh. (Of course, I would not settle for one commentary, but that is another story.) The next “must have” is a volume of Pirke Avot and there are so many to choose from. The study of Pirke Avot is a lifelong endeavor but can be started at a very early age. I have shared with you the experiences of teaching this to preschoolers and they are amazing in their understanding of these important Jewish texts.
Let’s look now at the very first mishnah in Pirke Avot:
Moses received the Torah from (God Who revealed Himself at Mount) 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. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; develop many disciples; and make a (protective) fence for the Torah.
There are two parts of this mishnah — the who and then the what they said. I am often asked, “Can’t we skip all the people? What does it really matter who said it?”
The answer is simple: Yes, it matters! And it matters for so many different reasons! We all want to check our sources and decide if we value the authority that says something. We give more weight to something said by someone that demonstrates depth of knowledge or experience and someone that we respect. Today as we listen to political candidates, we are hopefully deciding on what they are saying and our trust in their ability to stand behind what they say.
This mishnah starts with Moses receiving the Torah from God and then transmitting it to Joshua. Receiving is passive but then Moses became the transmitter — giving. Our job today is to continue receiving and transmitting just as it was described from Moses to the Men of the Great Assembly. Judaism has continued because we have taken on this responsibility of passing on the tradition.
The passion for learning is definitely a Jewish value but so is the passion for teaching. The passion to connect to Torah has kept us throughout our history. Let us continue to learn and to teach.
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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How to use ‘carpool Judaism’ to teach our next generation

Posted on 12 January 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
A number of years ago, I taught a class called “Carpool Judaism.” The idea behind the class was that driving in the car is the perfect time for conversations with your children — they are held captive. Today more than ever, as we spend more and more time in the car, we can use the time to learn together.
First, make this easy and fun so start with questions: Take a stack of 3-by-5 cards and write questions on them and then take turns picking one for the drive (and it doesn’t have to be every ride). Here are a few possible questions:

  • What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?
  • What is the best mitzvah anyone has ever done for you? What is the best mitzvah you have done for others?
  • What do you like the best about being Jewish?
  • What do you think were the biggest problems Noah had on the ark?
  • Who is your favorite Jewish hero and why?
  • What does it mean to you to be a mensch?

Second, get Jewish CDs for the car. There are many that are not only fun to sing but are filled with great lessons and values about Judaism. Here are a few of my favorites that I still sing in the car (you can find these artists at jewishmusic.com):
Debbie Friedman
Shlock Rock
Peter and Ellen Allard
Rabbi Joe Black
Andi Joseph
The best part about music is that it is fun, but also talk about what the words mean (even if they don’t ask). And remember, when the Torah said to “teach the words as you go on your way” they may not have been talking about the car, but that is our life today. Learn together in every way possible! And you can do all of these things even if you don’t have children — fill your time in the car with learning!
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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