Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

A guide to High Holiday apologies and forgiveness

Posted on 07 September 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
The month of Elul is a time for reflection, and then we celebrate Rosh Hashanah joyously. Then the Ten Days of Repentance are upon us, and we must think about the challenges of forgiveness.
Often, we make a blanket apology such as, “If I have done anything to hurt you in the past year, please forgive me.” For those “sins/hurts” that we did not knowing, this works, but what if we have hurt someone? Apologies are hard.
I found an article on with advice from Everett L. Worthington Jr. of Virginia Commonwealth University. He gives this handy acronym to remember the steps of a request for forgiveness:
C — Confess without excuse. Be specific about what you’re sorry for (“I’m sorry I forgot our anniversary”). Do not offer any kind of excuse. Do not let the word “but” come out of your mouth.
O — Offer an apology that gets across the idea that you’re sorry, and that you don’t want to do it again. Be sincere and articulate.
N — Note the other person’s pain. Acknowledge that your actions were hurtful.
F — Forever value. Explain that you value your relationship and you want to restore it more than you want to hang on to your pride.
E — Equalize. Offer retribution. Ask how you can make it up to the person.
S — Say “never again.” Promise that you won’t do it again (and mean it).
S — Seek forgiveness. Ask the other person directly, “Can you forgive me?”
This is a great model. Worthington goes on to say how people might respond to requests for forgiveness:
1. Yes, I forgive you.
2. I need more time.
3. I can make a decision to forgive you, but I’m still very hurt.
4. No, there’s nothing you can do to ever make it right. I don’t forgive you.
This is a challenging thing to do, but the steps are clear-cut. Maimonides goes further, saying that if someone turns you down, you should go back a second and third time. However, if they are still unwilling to forgive, you are considered to have atoned, even if forgiveness hasn’t been granted.
Remember also, if you are on the other side — being asked to forgive — often forgiving is as important to you as to the one who hurt you. We need to let the pain go for our own healing. Ideally, we should not be hurtful but that is not always in our control. However, it would be best not to wait for Yom Kippur to apologize.
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Mourning a pet Jewishly is a controversial topic

Posted on 29 August 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
People often ask where I get ideas to write about, and that is a good question.
I must get between 6 and 10 newsletters, blogs and other “interesting stuff” daily. Some is interesting, and some I read quickly and delete. Sometimes, if I just find something that makes me wonder and I am hoping it answers questions you may have — it’s often those questions that start with, “What do Jews think about…?”
So, this comes from this past week: Judaism and Pets. We have a dog getting on in years who has been struggling with health issues this summer. Just as we have talked about and made plans (a will, a cemetery plot) for ourselves, what should we think about for our pets? Here are three interesting excerpts from the article (abbreviated):
Are there any Jewish rituals for mourning a pet?
The idea of mourning a pet in the way one mourns a relative is deeply controversial, with authorities from even the liberal Reform movement maintaining that reciting Kaddish or performing a Jewish burial rite for a pet is inconsistent with Jewish tradition. In a 1984 responsum, Reform Rabbi Walter Jacob wrote that it would be wrong to recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased pet — not due to any explicit violation of Jewish law, but because of propriety.
“We should not use a prayer which is dear to the heart of every Jew to commemorate a dead animal,” Jacob wrote. A separate Reform responsum rejected burying a pet in a Jewish cemetery, again not citing any explicit legal precedent, but rather asserting that “the whole mood of tradition” counsels against it.
Can I euthanize my pet?
Jewish law prohibits cruelty to animals, but does not prohibit killing them. Virtually all Jewish authorities agree that euthanizing an animal that is suffering is permitted. In Man and Beast: Our Relationships with Animals in Jewish Law and Thought, Rabbi Natan Slifkin writes: “According to some authorities there is no restriction on killing animals, provided that one kills them in a painless manner. However, it seems that all would agree that if an animal is suffering, it is permissible to kill it in order to put it out of its misery.”
Do pets (and other animals) have souls?
Both the Midrash and Maimonides reject the idea that animals have an afterlife in the world to come, the implication being that they do not possess the higher immortal soul of human beings. However, the Jewish mystical tradition associated with Rabbi Isaac Luria believes in the transmigration of souls between humans and animals. A human soul that requires further rectification could be reincarnated in the body of an animal. For this reason, Hasidic Jews historically were often exceedingly careful about the kosher slaughter of animals for fear they might house the souls of repentant sinners.
Does hearing “answers” to Jewish questions mean you must follow the advice? Yes and no — we are often told that if we don’t want to follow advice, don’t ask. We may go for second opinions with doctors and the same is true for rabbis. However, remember that it is not about “rabbi shopping” — asking until you find someone who will agree with you. It is about hearing perspectives and ideas and then making a decision. For me, hearing a Jewish perspective is always helpful and when the day comes for our dog, this advice is helpful. Yet, it is never easy.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


The Summer of Kindness lives on by practicing

Posted on 23 August 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Camp at the Aaron Family JCC is over for summer 2018, and as with all Jewish camps each summer, this was a summer for Jewish friends and Jewish memories.
At the J, not all of our campers and staff are Jewish but, as we say, “J camps are Jewish camps for children, not camps for Jewish children.” We create a Jewish experience that welcomes all, and together we live our Jewish journey whatever that may be. In speaking with one of my camp families, I was told that during the year, they are Catholic, but they love being Jewish for the summer.
This summer, our theme was “Summer of Kindness.” Kindness, or chesed in Hebrew, is a key Jewish value that is universal and can be understood and practiced by all. The word “practice” is important as we are always striving to find ways to be kind each day. Keep practicing, and it will become habit. Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. The rest is commentary. Now go and study” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Hillel actually was giving us the minimum standard — simply do not do what is hateful. The next step must be to go further and do kind acts to all you encounter.
We practiced and learned in many ways this summer that you can be challenged to do as well. First, we created a “Kindness Bingo Bandana” for staff to carry and do with their campers. We do have some available if anyone is interested — contact me at Another activity was looking for kind quotes to live by. My favorite is, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
We put up posters, decorated T-shirts, wrote messages to soldiers, said thank you to our police officers and our maintenance workers and smiled at everyone. We practiced empathy through games and situations and, most important, we reminded ourselves to be grateful every day. The J also sponsored three organizations with donations from making blankets to donating shoes to food donations. Our kids learned by doing, and our hope is that they continue giving and doing kind acts throughout their lives.
The theme of chesed includes so many other Jewish values — respect/kavod, mercy/rachamim, acts of loving-kindness/gemilut chasadim, gratitude/hoda’ah and, of course, the giving of tzedakah, which is not charity or giving from the heart; rather, it is giving because it is the right thing to do to help others in need. Kindness is a basic value that gives our lives meaning.
What can you do today?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services for the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Try not to give up when you do a difficult task

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

Dear Families,

We wonder, “How do I make the world a better place? There are so many things wrong, where do we begin?”

Maybe we begin by looking at all the things that are right with the world and decide what we can do to make it better. Every one of us wants to find a way to make a difference in the world. Sometimes we stop because we think that we can’t really do anything big. However, it isn’t only the big things that make the world a place for all of us to enjoy.

Find a cause — choose something you care about. Look in your neighborhood or school; what needs to be done? Often just picking up trash, recycling newspapers or helping a neighbor with their lawn is a good beginning. We don’t need to do everything, but we do need to do something.

Text of the Week

Rabbi Tarfon was accustomed to say, “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.” —Pirkei Avot 2:21

• Why does Rabbi Tarfon say that we are not expected to complete the task? Shouldn’t we finish things that we start?

• Often when we think that we cannot finish a job, we don’t even want to start it. Why does the rabbi tell us that we must do something?

• Why is completing a task so difficult? Why do we want to give up when things are hard? Why is it important not to give up?

Value of the Week: Perseverance

The dictionary says that to persevere means to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose despite difficulty or obstacles; continue steadfastly. Synonyms for the concept perseverance include persistence, tenacity and pertinacity. What great words. This value means that we don’t give up because something is difficult. When we believe in something, we must work for it. When we see something that is wrong, we must try to make it right. Rabbi Tarfon knew all about perseverance.

Things to do 

• Choose a project to make a better world and set a goal. Don’t give up.

• Get one person to help you on your project and then get another and another.

• Help others to complete difficult tasks. Cleaning up is easy with friends.


Be kind to people, animals and the planet Earth

Posted on 25 July 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
To make a kinder world, we must make our own space kinder and then expand beyond. There are so many little ways that help us change ourselves, which will then help us change the world. Every kind act affects someone who then touches another person, and the chain continues. When we act kindly toward others, they feel good and then so do we. Is this making a difference? Yes, definitely.
Text of the week
Shammai says, “Make your Torah (study) a fixed practice; say little and do much; and greet everyone with a pleasant countenance.” —Pirkei Avot 1:15
• The sages tell us that everything is in the Torah and you can learn how to live by studying. Why do you think the rabbis tell us to study on a regular basis? How can study help you treat people better?
• What does it mean to “say little and do much”?
• Greeting everyone with a smile is the best way to make people happy, but why would it be part of this three-part mishnah?
• As with each mishnah, how are the three parts connected?
Value of the week
Kindness (sayver panim yafot — “Put on a Happy Face”
Kindness is when we care about others and showing that concern. We should show kindness to everything that is part of God’s creation: people, animals and the environment. Kindness can be shown in small ways that will make a difference. Greeting everyone with a smile brightens the day and makes people feel good. Smiling is the beginning of friendship. It makes people happy — and it feels good inside.
Things to Do:
• Listening and paying attention to someone is one of the kindest acts we can do.
• Do kind acts that help the earth; reduce, reuse, recycle.
• Be welcoming to new people and accepting of all people.
• Do things that give others happiness.


Be fair and do the right thing

Posted on 20 July 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
To create a better world, we need fairness or justice. Sometimes, it seems as if things just aren’t fair for everyone. We need a world in which people are judged equally and have the same opportunities. This is not something we can do alone, but it is something we can achieve together. Sometimes, it means standing up for what is right even if that is difficult.
Text of the Week
Yehoshua ben Perachyah says, “Make a teacher for yourself; acquire a friend for yourself; and judge everyone favorably. —Pirkei Avot 1:6
• Why do we need a teacher? The harder question that the mishnah advises is about “making” a teacher for yourself. What does that mean?
• Friends are important in life. How do we get friends? What does it mean to be a friend? The mishnah in Hebrew actually says to “buy” a friend? Why would the rabbi suggest that?
•Judging everyone favorably is what our value of the week is all about. Why is it hard to judge people fairly? Why do we judge others at all?
• The three parts of the mishnah combine to tell us something important. Why put these three ideas together? How do they help us make a better world?
Value of the Week
Fairness (Mishpat)
Fairness and justice are ideas that are hard to understand. Justice means that people get what they deserve, and fairness is about it doing the right thing for everyone. Judaism tells us that G-d practices justice but is also merciful. That means that we try to balance doing the just thing in a kind way and understanding the needs of others.
When you are just and fair, you treat each person as an individual. Fairness also means that every person’s rights are protected. We do not want people taken advantage of or treated differently because of their sex, race or religion.
Things to do
• Don’t make a quick judgment — find out the truth and act on it. Think for yourself.
• When you are just, you admit your own mistakes and accept the consequences.
• Stand up for yourself and for others. Don’t let others act like a bully or cheat or lie. This take courage.


All we’re asking for is to show a little respect

Posted on 12 July 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
We all want to do good things for the world — to do our part in making the world a better place. How do we know what we should do? How do we decide on a tikkun olam project that is right for us? Here are questions to ask:
• What are you good at?
• What do you like to do?
• What bothers you about what is wrong in the world? What really makes you mad?
• Who are your heroes and what is it about them that you admire?
• What are you not good at, but might do anyway because it would make a big difference in someone else’s life?
Text of the week
Ben Azzai was accustomed to say, “Do not be scornful of any person and do not be disdainful of anything, for you have no person without his hour, and you have nothing without its place.” —Pirkei Avot 4:3
• There are two words in this mishnah that we don’t often use. Look up “scornful” and “disdainful” in the dictionary. What do they mean?
• What does it mean that every person has his hour? What does it mean about everything having a place? What does this tell us about respect?
• How do you show respect for animals and things? Is it different than with people? In what way?
Value of the week:
respect (kavod)
Respect is an attitude that has to do with the way we treat one another, the way we speak and the way we treat others’ belongings. Being respectful also include self-respect. A good way to practice respect is to think about how you would like to be treated. When we respect people, animals and property, we show that we value each and every person and thing.
Things to do
• Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
• Honor other people’s need for time and space to themselves.
• Follow the rules of the place you are; i.e., school, camp, a friend’s home.
• Demonstrate ways to show respect for yourself.


Perfection not required to make a difference

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When you strive to make a difference, you don’t have to be perfect. Sometimes just doing anything is a step in the right direction.
The responsible actions to take are those that will help others when they are in need. When we don’t act when others need help, we close our eyes to the world. We must not say that someone else will do what is needed; we must do our part to make the world a better place.

Text of the week

Hillel was accustomed to say, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” —Pirkei Avot 1:14

  • Why does Hillel focus first on taking care of yourself? Why is that the responsible thing to do? What happens if you do not take care of yourself?
  • Hillel goes the next step and wonders what kind of a person we are if we care only about ourselves. What kind of person cares only for themselves?
  • The last phrase of this mishnah tells us to act now and not wait. Why is that important?

Value of the week: Responsibility (Achrayut)

Being responsible means that others can depend on you. It means you are willing to be accountable for what you do or not do: You accept credit when you do things right and you accept corrections when things go wrong.
When you take responsibility, other can count on you. Making excuses is not something a responsible person does. You want to be trustworthy.

Things to do

  • When someone asks you to do something, do it to the best of your ability.
  • Focus on your own part, not someone else’s.
  • Are you willing to accept credit or correction when you do something?
  • Admit mistakes without making excuses.

Decide to be a leader — and lead

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When it comes to making a difference in the world, many people wait to let others start the task. Especially when you are young, you wonder what you can do. There is so much that we can do, no matter what your age. But the first thing you must do is decide to act. Begin small and then gather others to help you. Together, we can do so much.
Text of the week
Hillel was accustomed to say, “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” — Pirkei Avot 2:6
• What does it mean to be a leader? What does it mean to be a follower?
• Why does the world need leaders?
• Can you be a negative leader? What does that mean?
• This text is about stepping up and doing the right thing. Why is that hard to do?
• Name some leaders that you know or have read about. What are the qualities that make them good leaders?

Value of the week
Leadership (Hanhagah)
We have many leaders in our Jewish history; Moses and King David are very well-known. It is not always easy to be a leader, and sometimes we are thrust into the job as Moses was.
Moses took the job that God gave him and, even when it was challenging, he continued. Yet, even if we are not Moses, we can lead others to do the right thing. There is a wonderful story that we read during the High Holidays. It tells of Rabbi Zusya, who said, “When I die, God will not ask if I was Moses but will ask if I was the best Zusya I could be.” We are judged by our actions, especially when they are difficult to do.
Things to do
• Think of a project you would like to do. Find others to help you and be the leader of the group. Is it hard to be the leader in a group?
• One way to practice being a leader is to teach something to others. Talk about the difficulties in being a teacher.
• Can you be a leader with no followers? It is hard but important to stand up and do the right thing even if no one joins you. This may mean being nice to someone that has no friends.


We are obligated to make a difference, to fix the world

Posted on 20 June 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Each summer at Aaron Family JCC camps, we focus on different ways to make the world a better place. This summer, I will share different texts, values and give things to do for you.
Tikkun olam (fixing the world) is Judaism’s way of making a difference in the world. Jews are required to perform mitzvot. These are not good deeds, but commandments. This means that making the world a better place is not voluntary, but we are obligated to work to make a difference. Every time we do something to help another person, we feel good, so there is a double benefit. However, we must never forget the obligation or think someone else will do it. We need to care for the world and for all that is in our world.
Text of the week
Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image of God. —Pirke Avot 3:18
• In the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, we read that we have been created “in the image of God.” In Hebrew, the term is tzelem Elohim. Rabbi Akiva believed this was the most important phrase in the Torah. Why do you think he felt that way?
• How does being in God’s image tell you to treat other people?
• How does the way we treat others help us with tikkun olam?
Value of the week:
Compassion— Rachamim
Caring and compassion are important as we go out into the world to change it for the better. The Hebrew word rachamim means truly caring about others. The word is also translated as mercy. Rachamim comes from within; it is a sign of love, respect and concern. We must care about others but also care about ourselves. To really change the world we must care about those we don’t know. The Torah says: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:20-21).
Things to do
• Treat others and yourself with care.
• Let people know that they are important by looking at them and listening closely.
• Be careful with everything you touch.


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