Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Shema and mezuzah basics

Posted on 22 January 2020 by admin

Dear Families,
This week my lesson at the J was about the
“Shema” and the “mezuzah.” The Shema is one of the first prayers we teach our children because it is said first in the morning and then right before bed. It is a wonderful part of many bedtime rituals that families have. The Shema is not a prayer to God but is a statement about God, about us, and about the connections binding us with God and with each other. It says that there is one God for all of us.
The custom is to cover your eyes when saying the Shema so that you can really think about what you are saying. At the J Early Childhood Center, many classes make it part of their day in different ways.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, Adonai is Our God, Adonai is One.
The Shema is inside of the mezuzah, which we also talked about this week. We talked about the Shema inside the mezuzah, and our children created their own mezuzah. (We did not include the parchment, just an English translation and advice to purchase your own kosher scroll.) Here are some of the details to remember:
·A rabbi does not need to put up your mezuzah — here is the prayer: Baruch Atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboah mezuzah. Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy with mitzvot and instructed us to affix the mezuzah.
·Face the door from the outside. Touch the right doorpost — that is where to place the mezuzah about 2/3 of the way up with the top of the mezuzah tilted in.
·A mezuzah may be placed on every doorpost in the house except for the bathrooms and the closets.
·The parchment includes the Shema and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-31.
·Become a mezuzah kisser — first touch your hand to the mezuzah, then bring your hand to your lips and kiss it.
·Mezuzah literally means “doorpost” but is normally taken to refer to the case which holds the parchment. On the outside of every mezuzah is a single Hebrew word — one of God’s names: Shaddai. The rabbis turn this into an anagram: Shomer Delatot Yisrael, Guardian of Israel’s Doors. When we put up a mezuzah and reconnect with it every time we enter, a sort of nonverbal prayer for protection is pointed in God’s direction.
A final story is a legend on the rabbinic “argument” on whether to hang the mezuzah vertically or horizontally. The story tells of the typical argument back and forth, ending with a compromise to hang it at an angle. The important message for all times is that sometimes we need to compromise and that each time you enter your home (or school or business), the mezuzah is reminding us that we need to meet each other in peace!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Fitting into Judaism’s continuous chain

Posted on 20 January 2020 by admin

Dear Families,
I have another new book to recommend although I haven’t finished it, which may be a good recommendation or not! Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter for Michelle Obama, wrote a book titled “Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life — in Judaism (After FINALLY Choosing to Look There).” She has described herself as the quintessential lapsed Jew and after beginning her journey back, she is amazed at what was there all the time!
It is something many of us have struggled with as being “forced” to go to Hebrew school and attend services did not leave a good taste in many Jews’ discerning palate. To be honest, although I admit my Jewish learning consisted of an amazing time for many, many years at Jewish camp, I never strayed but I never learned enough until I got older and have learned more and more as I continue to teach (learning to teach something is a very good way to really learn something).
Although I haven’t made it through the book yet, the introduction is worth buying the book! Let me share the story she shared from Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. He invites us into a library filled with books with many values you could choose to embrace and many lifestyle options. You can take any book, read it, and then choose more on that topic or put it back and pick another. But what if you find a book with your family’s name on it? Here is what he says:
“Intrigued, you open it and see many pages written by different hands in many languages. You start reading it, and gradually you begin to understand what it is. It is the story each generation of your ancestors has told for the sake of the next, so that everyone born into this family can learn where they came from, what happened to them. What they lived for and why. As you turn the page, you reach the last, which carries no entry but a heading. It bears your name.”
Wow! That’s Judaism! And your name will always be there waiting for you to write the next pages. Our Jewish journey is each of our story and how we fit into the continuing chain. Each time I am reminded of our Jewish story, I remember the marketing campaign many years ago of Chase Manhattan. They said to all: “You’ve got a friend at Chase Manhattan!” Sounds great! But then Bank Leumi, the bank of Israel, next door created their own marketing campaign: “You may have a friend at Chase Manhattan but at Bank Leumi, we’re mishpacha — we’re family!” That’s what makes Judaism so special and so unique. You may define your practice in myriad ways from being a gastronomic Jew (it’s all about the food) to being a cardiac Jew (I don’t do anything but I feel Jewish in my heart) to being observant of the commandments. You are part of the family!
I will update you as I move through the book, but it is filled with lots of information and written in a way that we can understand. Enjoy!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Stick with your healthy resolutions

Posted on 08 January 2020 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the New Year and by the time you read this, many people will have already broken their resolutions. Studies from Forbes (2013) say that nearly half of Americans make resolutions and only 8% actually keep them. A reason given is that people tend to set overly ambitious goals. At the J, we see a big push of people coming to exercise but it does drop off. Keeping up with exercising is a real commitment. Many people believe they have “more important” things to do than to keep up with healthy ways of living however, even in ancient times, our sages had something to say about taking care of our bodies — it is indeed a Jewish value of great importance. Here are some thoughts and background from our ancient rabbis (from
“Because our bodies are receptacles of our souls, and vessels of God’s light, we must keep them healthy and consider carefully what we put into them. Traditional Jewish thought suggests that we must keep our bodies well for the sake of spiritual pursuits and in order to fulfill mitzvot, commandments. Today however, a focus on fitness is often seen as vain or improperly secular.
“It is interesting to see how far back in our tradition concerns with our physical selves and the balancing of Torah and physical activity can be found. Already in the Talmud (Shabbat 82a), Rav Huna urges his son Rabbah to study with Rav Hisda. Rabbah resists, saying that Rav Hisda focuses only on secular matters: anatomy and hygiene. Rav Huna admonishes his son, saying, ‘He speaks of health matters, and you call that secular!’
“Indeed, one finds a reluctance to focus on exercise, in part because time is so limited and time spent on sport is time not spent on Torah study or chessed (good deeds). Although many of us are familiar with Maimonides’ long discussions in the Mishneh Torah about the importance of exercise and healthy, measured eating, we rarely take the details of his many recommendations to heart.”
I am not convinced that today’s Jews are not exercising due to their worry about it being too secular of a pursuit. We have heard the message before every time we fly: “Put your oxygen mask on first and then help children and others.” If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others and if we don’t take care of our physical self, how can we possibly work to grow in other areas? Many of the J regulars know that I spend my time at the J Fitness Floor walking the track and during that time I am always reading on my phone — not social media but books! I feel that I am doing two things for my body and my mind at the same time! Try it — join me on the track but please don’t talk to me as I might lose my place in my book! Good luck with your resolutions and don’t be part of the 8% who drop off no matter what you are trying to achieve. Happy New Year!

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Turn your new year’s dream into a reality

Posted on 02 January 2020 by admin

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

  1. Genesis 20:3-7
  2. Genesis 28:12-15
  3. Genesis 31:10- 13
  4. Genesis 31:22-24
    5 & 6. Genesis 37:5-11
    7 & 8. Genesis 40:7-19
    9 & 10. Genesis 41:1-7
    Each of us has recounted dreams to others asking for help to understand the meaning. It would be great if we saw what happened next as in the Book of Genesis. However, there are also those dreams that are hopes and wishes for things to happen. The Jewish New Year has passed and the secular New Year will be over by the time you read this. I would guess that most of us celebrated in some fashion and we will think about those resolutions that are joked about. However, is a new year’s resolution a dream…a hope…a wish? Or is it a promise…a commitment? How can we make those resolutions/dreams/wishes/commitments come true?
    Hopefully by the time you read this, you will have not forgotten Hanukkah or your new year’s resolutions. Rabbi Pearce writes in his d’var Torah: “This season of Hanukkah provides an opportunity to take a page from the Book of Genesis and recognize that there may be more than luck to having dreams turn out as anticipated…It takes awareness that personal intervention rather than passive waiting for an outcome may, at times, turn dreams into reality. The Maccabees…took up the challenge of forcefully turning their dreams into reality.” And let us remember Theodor Herzl’s words: “If you will it, it is no dream.”
    Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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Navigating the season: embrace your Judaism

Posted on 18 December 2019 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
Yes, it is time to start thinking about Hanukkah and this year because of our strange calendar, Hanukkah and Christmas fall at the same time. There are positives and negatives about this — for many “The December Dilemma” is rearing its head. The dilemma has to do with Christmas and Hanukkah. How do we handle our children’s questions and desires (while remembering our own)? This “problem” is actually a continuum — we all fit somewhere on a line from “this is serious” to “this isn’t even an issue.” Now as we get ready for the holiday, it is time to plan so here are a variety of thoughts and ideas — all taken from others wiser than I am!

  1. Visit Christmas: Enjoy visiting your non-Jewish friends and celebrating holidays with them (be sure to include them in your holiday events as well). Help your children understand by explaining, “When we go to play at Bobby’s house, we enjoy his toys but when we leave, we do not take the toys home. Those are Bobby’s toys. When we help decorate Bobby’s Christmas tree, we have a good time, but we don’t bring it home. We do not celebrate Christmas. Let’s invite Bobby and his family for Shabbat (or Passover or Hanukkah).”
  2. Don’t compete — create meaning: We do not need to set up Hanukkah as a competition or compensation for Christmas. Create meaningful traditions for all of your holidays. There’s more to Christmas and Hanukkah than just the gifts. Judaism celebrates weekly — make a big deal out of Shabbat!
  3. Talk with friends: The discussion is more important than the solutions! There are no right or wrong answers on how to deal with Santa Claus, lights, songs, etc.
  4. From “40 Ways to Save the Jewish People”: Educator and author Joel Lurie Grishaver tells the story of a college daughter’s talk to her mother, “Mom, I actually figured out that Hanukkah was one of the major reasons I never got involved with drugs or excessive drinking or promiscuous sex. From having to celebrate Hanukkah when everyone else was doing Christmas, I learned that I could be different — and that was OK!”
  5. Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday to create new traditions. Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, with her family, added new rituals and here are her…Favorite Hanukkah Happenings:
    ·Art Night: cover the tables so the children can paint murals, make figures out of clay, make a new hanukkiah for the season, and more.
    ·Music Night: Invite friends who like to play instruments and sing and have a songfest with a little karaoke (and maybe a talent show).
    ·Tzedakah Night: Do something for others — buy a gift to donate, go to a home for the elderly, collect food and deliver to a shelter…
    ·Book Night: The gift for the night is a book for each person followed by reading and storytelling.
    ·Grandparents Night: A time for a big family night or if you live far from family, this is the night to call everyone on the phone.
    ·Movie Night: Watch a movie together — pick one that can be a family favorite for years to come (and, of course, make popcorn).
    ·Big Ticket Night: The gift for the night is tickets to a cultural event that everyone in the family can attend.
    ·Homemade Presents Night: Definitely the favorite — make presents for each member of the family or draw lots to make one for a special person.
    Hanukkah is a holiday with many wonderful rituals, and families continue to create new traditions to teach the special messages which are part of the historical event — a wonderful opportunity. What are the messages we want our children to understand? Despite pressure to conform, Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow down to idols. Being a Maccabee, whether long ago or today, means fighting for the right to be different and being proud of those differences. We also teach our children that being small does not mean being insignificant. The Jewish people have always been small in number, but we have always been strong in spirit. We know that each of us can make a difference in the world! And this is the legacy of the Maccabees and the celebration of Hanukkah. So let us teach our children how to appreciate their differences first, by teaching and modeling Jewish life and all the beauty of it, and second, by learning about others and then going home to what we know and love.

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Celebrate both secular and Jewish birthdays

Posted on 11 December 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Holidays are special for everyone but birthdays are uniquely special — even when we share a birthday with someone we know it is “our day!” We are lucky to have two birthdays — one based on the calendar that the world uses and the second is our Hebrew birthday which is determined by the Jewish calendar. All you need is a special book or app to check using your date and year of your birth. And, you must also know whether you were born in the evening or morning because someone born in the evening of one day will have a different Hebrew birthday.
According to the sages, the day a person was born offers that individual the mystical benefits and powers of what is known in Kabbalah as “ascending fortune” each year on that day, and it is the practice of some to seek blessings from those celebrating birthdays.
The first birthday was Adam; although he wasn’t really “born,” yet we celebrate the birthdays of Adam and Eve each year on Rosh Hashanah. The Jewish New Year is not celebrated on the day the world was created but six days later, when Adam and Eve were created.
The next birthday celebration was for Isaac: “And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned” (Genesis 21:8). The Midrash says this was actually his 13th birthday, the day when he was “weaned” from childhood and became a Jewish adult. According to tradition, Isaac was born on Passover and so the great feast may have included matzo!
Also, in Genesis, Pharaoh hosted a birthday party for all of his ministers and he remembered the butler and baker who brought Joseph to Pharaoh. Birthdays are the beginning of big things.
Another birthday story
A common Jewish birthday wish is, “May you live until 120!” This is to celebrate Moses who lived until 120 exactly — he was born and died on the same date, the 7th of Adar. Malkie Janowski of points out the proof from the Talmud: “In Deuteronomy 34:8 we read that the Jews mourned for 30 days following Moses’ death in the Plains of Moab. This area borders Israel, just east of the Jordan River. The book of Joshua begins with God’s command to bring the Jewish people across the Jordan River. God specifies that they are to cross in three days’ time. This instruction was given immediately after Moses died, meaning at the earliest possible opportunity after his death. This would have been following the 30 days of mourning. In Joshua 4:19 we are told that the Jews crossed the river on the 10th of Nissan. If we subtract the three days between the command and actual crossing, plus the 30 days of mourning, we find the date of Moses’ passing is the seventh of Adar.” Amazing, right? Now how do we know that Moses was born on the 7th of Adar?? Well, on the day of his death (Deuteronomy 31:2) Moses said, “Today I am one hundred and twenty years old.” All of this is proof enough for me; how about you?
Birthdays are important — they are special to us, our special day. Rabbi Nachman of Breslev shared this beautiful teaching about birthdays: The day you were born was the day God decided the universe could no longer exist without you!

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Is ‘Eshet Hayil’ working for you?

Posted on 04 December 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Thanksgiving is over and Hanukkah is soon. I have written about being thankful and lots on blessings, but this week as I was getting ready to talk about Shabbat, had an article on “How to Read Eshet Hayil.” This definitely goes along with being grateful and tradition has it being sung every Friday night. So what is this song about a “woman of valor” and what are the challenges that some feel with the ancient words?
“Eshet Hayil,” sung by the husband to his wife, is from Proverbs 31 and is sung in Hebrew. The Kabbalists in the 17th century belied that the “woman of valor” was the Shekhina, the feminine presence of God. The words detail the woman who never sits still, let alone rests. She manages the household which includes everything like planting a vineyard, acquiring an estate, buying wool and flax, making clothes for everyone, and making cloth and selling it to the merchant plus taking care of the needy and poor. It also states that “she rises while it is still night” and “her lamp never goes out.” She doesn’t “work outside the home” as women do today but the list definitely includes work that could be her professional side. Was it unrealistic or true back then and what about now? Is this the expectation?
Many women have questioned me when I pre-sent this as part of the Shabbat evening and feel it may represent what they are doing but not always happily. I poke fun but still strive to understand the psalm and the way we use it today. Perhaps it is better that we sing it in Hebrew — the feeling is there without the emphasis on all the work that the woman is expected to do. In the article, author Wendy Zierler tells us to read the nine verses that proceed this acrostic poem. “We typically ignore the fact that the Eshet Hayil is preceded by nine verses of instruction offered by an unnamed Queen Mother to her son King Lemuel, in which she warns him against drunkenness and debauchery (with women), encouraging him instead to judge righteously and be an advocate for the needy.” It has been suggested that the verses that follow are that the king was honoring his mother!
Changing traditions is hard but sometimes necessary AND could be fun! Perhaps instead of (or in addition to) the traditional Eshet Hayil, we could find another poem or even write one or maybe even just speak from the heart each Friday night. It is a wonderful tradition to say thank you to those who have helped us through the week and through life. Perhaps even say something to the fathers, grandparents, cousins, good friends, children and whoever else is around your Shabbat table. Rituals can be changed and you will be surprised how quickly a “new” ritual becomes something that has to happen and everyone speaks of it as “something we have always done”!
Laura Seymour is the director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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Thanksgiving ushers in a season of grattitude

Posted on 04 December 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Thanksgiving is today and hopefully each family has spent time focusing on gratitude. However, Hanukkah is even later this year and gratitude is definitely part of Hanukkah. Yet the Jewish value of “Hoda’ah — Appreciation or Gratitude” should be part of every day. Being thankful is a life-affirming quality. A new poll has found that Americans think their own gratitude is increasing, while everyone else’s is going down (survey commissioned by the John Templeton Foundation). What does that say about us? Here are some of the findings:
·How important is gratitude? More than 90% agreed that grateful people are more fulfilled, lead richer lives and are more likely to have friends.
·When do we feel grateful? Given a list of categories, people were most grateful for their immediate families, followed closely by freedom.
·How do we say “thanks”? Less than 50% said they would be “very likely” to thank salespeople that helped them, as well the postman, the cleaning staff, etc.
·Who is grateful? Women were more grateful than men; 18- to 24-year-olds express gratitude less often than any other age group; people were least likely to express gratitude in workplaces…despite wishing to be thanked more often themselves at work.
Lots of interesting facts and thoughts for us to work on in our daily lives!! Judaism has a way to express thanks — saying blessings! The rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings every day; however, the only Torah-based blessing is the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing after the meal. It is written in Deuteronomy 8:10, “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless Adonai your God for the good land which God has given you.” There are four blessing in the traditional Birkat Hamazon:
·Birkat hazan: praising God for sustain life and providing food for all creatures.
·Birkat ha’aretz: thanking God for being compassionate and nourishing the Jewish people, both with food and with Torah.
·Birkat Yerushalayim: begging God to be merciful and continue to support the Jewish people and to rebuild Jerusalem.
·Birkat hatov v’hameitiv: This blessing ends by voicing the hope that “God will never deny us anything good.”
It is an interesting idea that blessing after you eat is commanded. Perhaps that is when we are feeling most thankful. Yet, saying blessings before makes us stop and think about how fortunate we are and to take a moment to appreciate it before moving on. Take time during the holiday season to be thankful every moment of every day!

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The ins and outs of host and guest, Jewish style

Posted on 20 November 2019 by admin

Thanksgiving is the time for visiting friends and family — either you go to them or they come to you. As you prepare, a very good Jewish value is Hachnasat Orchim, hospitality or welcoming guests. There is a skill to welcoming guests and to being one (whether in someone’s home, a hotel or an amusement park). There is a little learning, a little thinking and then a lot of doing. Here is a little learning:
Hachnasat Orchim is about extending hospitality to guests and it is an important standard for Jewish behavior. One of the favorite stories about this mitzvah is about Abraham taking care of the three visitors who came to his tent. He said he would give a little food and then made a major meal — and so set the standard for doing even more. The ancient rabbis were also very concerned about hospitality. It was an important mitzvah to welcome anyone who traveled or who was new or alone. The rabbis came up with specific guidelines for host and guest. Here are a few:
Rules for the host
·Always be happy when you are sitting at your table and those who are hungry are enjoying your hospitality. —Derech Eretz Zuta 9
·Do not embarrass your guests by staring at them. —Mishneh Torah
·It is the obligation of the host to serve at the table. This shows his/her willingness to personally satisfy the guests. —Talmud, Kiddushin 32b
Rules for the guest
·A good guest says, “How much trouble my host goes through for me.” —Talmud, Berachot 58a
·A good guest complies with every request that the host makes of him. —Derech Eretz Rabbah 6
·Guests should not overstay their welcome. —Talmud, Pesachim 49a
·Good guests leave food on their plates to show that they have been served more than enough. —Talmud, Eruvin 53b
·Make up rules that you can use when you visit somewhere.
·Have you ever invited a new family in your neighborhood for dinner? What plans might you put in place to make them feel welcome?
·How can you be welcoming to a new friend whether you meet them at your home or some place you are visiting?

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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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