Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

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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Calling to help during disasters can’t be muted

Posted on 07 September 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
In looking back on my “old” Shabbat Lady articles, I found this one that I had written after Hurricane Katrina and it fits so well for Harvey that I have copied it here to share. It begins:
We have all been affected by Hurricane Katrina and each of us must respond to the call for help. And continues with words for today: We would never want such a catastrophe but now we must teach our children by our example. For children of different ages, we must be careful about how much to tell and how much they should see in the news. We must reassure them and then get to work — action gives us control over situations. Helping those in need in tangible ways will allow our children to take part in helping “fix the world.” There are many opportunities in town. And don’t forget that as time passes, for our friends in Houston, this is not a quick solution. We must continue to respond to the needs for many weeks, months and even years.
As you decide what your family can do, remember to use Jewish texts to talk about the important values of doing for others. Here are some wonderful words to teach the lessons of our history. Talk with your families using these texts from our Jewish sources and then bring the words to the actions we need for today.

Separate reeds are weak and easily broken; but bound together they are strong and hard to tear apart. — Tanchuma, Nitzvaim 1

  • If I am not for myself, who is for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when? — Hillel
  • Those who think they can live without others are wrong. But those who think that others can survive without them are even more in error. — Hasidic Folk Saying
  • It is not your duty to complete the work, but neither are you excused from it. — Pirke Avot
  • How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. — Anne Frank

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


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How to handle entitlement

Posted on 31 August 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
As a teacher and camp director who has worked with children and families for many years, one of the biggest changes (and most worrisome) is seeing children with a sense of entitlement — “It’s all about me!” Judaism has a lot to say about this and, as we enter the New Year, it would be good for all of us to remember the lessons of our sages.
One wonderful way to teach this is to share this message from the rabbis: We should always carry two pieces of paper in our pockets. In one, the message is “For me the world was created!” And the other is, “I am but dust and ashes.” There must always be balance. A good exercise is to write down the values or qualities that you hold important and then try to narrow down the list until you have your top three (or maybe top 10). Is being humble on your list? How about being grateful or thankful? How has our society created the “me-generation” and how do we get back to balance?
We do want our children to know that they are unique and special (especially to us) but along with that comes responsibility. I have just discovered a new children’s book: Only One You by Linda Kranz. This is a book that I now add to my list of gifts to special people in my life of all ages. The book is simple and beautiful, with wisdom throughout from a mother and father fish to their young child heading out to the world.
The final lesson is so Jewish, it could have been written by a sage from the past or present: There’s only one you in this great big world — make it a better place! As we enter the New Year, let us remember that we are part of the world, yet unique is what we have to share, and we have the obligation and opportunity to make the world a better place — tikkun olam!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


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Friendship, community gateways to learning skills

Posted on 24 August 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
It’s time to go back to school. As many have heard me say, “Camp is a more important experience than school.”
My reason is that it is in a social setting where we learn skills that will carry us through life. The knowledge we can always get. At camp, we make friends. Friendship — chaverut — is an important value in Judaism because friendship helps one to become the best person we can be. We learn from, through and with our friends. The rabbis insisted that study be done in pairs called chevruta, because they knew this was the best way to learn. It says in Pirke Avot (1:6), “Acquire for yourself a friend.” We can have many people with whom we spend time, but a true friend is unique.
A true friend is a partner, one who shares our journey. The rabbi asked his students how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. One said, “When you see an animal in the distance and can tell if it is a horse or a cow.”
“No,” said the master.
Another said, “When you look at a tree in the distance and can tell if it is a fig tree or a peach tree.”
“Wrong again,” said the master.
“Then when?” asked the students. And the master replied, “When you look at the face of a man or woman and see that he is your friend. For, if you cannot do this, then no matter what time it is by the sun, it is still night.”
Rabbi Wayne Dosick writes, “In every friendship, you can see and reflect a vision of hope for the entire world: the time when billions of individual people will seek each other in kinship and friendship, and weave a multihued fabric of respect, goodwill and affection.”
Here are a few questions to think about when talking about friendship:

  • What does it mean to be a friend? Talk about your friends and why each one is so special to you.
  • Have you ever been “left out” by friends? How does it feel? Have you ever not included someone else?
  • How can you be a friend to yourself? Why is this important?
  • Talk about the meaning of this special song: “Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Just walk beside me and be my friend, and together we will walk in the ways of Hashem.”

SHABBAT DISCUSSION: Many Jewish prayers are written using a form called an acrostic. The rabbis took a special word and each letter of the word was the first letter of each sentence. Write an acrostic poem with the word “friend” as the key word.


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Wisdom involves thinking about own, others’ actions

Posted on 10 August 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Most of us cannot imagine studying Talmud but it really is possible (you can even find a study group online). The best tractate to study is Pirke Avot, Chapters of the Sages.
Pirke Avot is comprised of six chapters and over 150 mishnayot or teachings. Each mishnah has many lessons on how to live an ethical life. It would be wonderful if we could just read the “saying” and then know what to do. However, it takes a little more work and study, but each of us can do it — even our youngest children.
Spend time each Shabbat talking about the mishnah, using the questions below as guidelines. Begin by reading the words, then breaking down the parts, and trust in the fact that even young children can add their thoughts to the discussion. Remember that after we have begun to understand the mishnah, we must then work to understand how to apply the learning to our lives.
Pirke Avot 4:1 Ben Zoma says:

  • Who is wise? He who learns from every person.
  • Who is strong? He who controls his passions.
  • Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot.
  • Who is honored? He who honors others.

Questions to talk about:

  • What does it mean to be wise? Is being wise different from being smart? How? Do you need to be old to be wise? Why or why not?
  • How can you learn from everyone? What if they are younger or not as smart or very different from you?
  • Why does learning from every person make you wise?
  • What does it mean to be strong? Is it about having strong muscles or something different? What?
  • What does it mean to control your “passions”? Why does that take strength? How do you use your inner strength to control yourself?
  • How many different ways are there to be rich? What does it mean to you to be rich?
  • Is it easy to be happy with what you have? Why or why not? Why does that make you rich?
  • Finally, what does it mean to be honored? How do you honor other people? How do they show they honor you? Why does honoring others make you honored?
    Is one of these qualities more important than the others? Why are they in the order above? Which is most important to you?
  • How can we apply this mishnah to our lives every day?

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Fairness key component in our Jewish lives

Posted on 03 August 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
When working with children, we often hear, “That’s not fair!” It is a hard concept for kids and often for adults. 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! Here are some good questions to have with your family and friends (no matter the age – you can adjust the situations).
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?
Here is a story that also leads to thinking and talking: 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.
Laura Seymour is the director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC.


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Studying part of duty as People of the Book

Posted on 27 July 2017 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
During the summer as a camp director, my time for reading is limited; however, we must learn every day even if it is just a “little” study. The Jewish people have been called “The People of the Book” because of our dedication and commitment to studying the Torah. We should really be called “The People of the Books!” Jews have studied many, many books and learning has always been an important part of every Jewish home. As a confirmed biblioholic (one addicted to buying and reading books), I will give many suggestions on books every Jewish home must have, especially if they have young children in the home. A very special book edited by Joel Lurie Grishaver is titled I Have Some Questions About God. The many questions are answered by a number of different rabbis including former Dallasite Rabbi Ed Feinstein. If you haven’t started your Jewish bookshelf, start today!
Now, children have lots of questions about God, and we adults often struggle to give the answers because we are still searching for them ourselves. The most important thing to remember about questions is that we do not always need to have an answer. In fact, Jews have always been accused of answering every question with another question. As a teacher and a parent, I know that works! So when your children ask the tough questions about God and life, turn to them and ask, “What do you think?” It helps to know what they are thinking. There is a stage when we wish our children would stop asking us questions — instead cheer the questions and find the answers together.
So when are you supposed to have these heavy-duty study sessions with your children? This answer is easy because we have read and recited the answer from memory: You shall teach these words to your children and speak of them while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. It is simple — do not wait for a serious study session but rather talk about God, Torah and all of life every day in every way.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.


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Do your part to improve world

Posted on 20 July 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
All of us who work with families hope that children will realize that each of us has the power to make the world a better place. Tikkun olam is one area of action where 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? — Pirke 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 to the next step and wonders what kind of a person we are if we only care 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?
  • An important way to fix the world is by being responsible — in Hebrew the word is 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, others can count on you. Making excuses is not something a responsible person does — you want to be trustworthy.

There are simple and easy ways to demonstrate that you are a responsible person. However, simple and easy is not always simple and easy. To be considered a responsible person is a quality that is earned by actions such as these:

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

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


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Enjoy our world, but remember to preserve it

Posted on 13 July 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Summer is a great time to think about nature. The value for this week is: Bal taschit, Do not destroy!
The rabbis tell us a story in Ecclesiastes Rabbah that, after the creation of humans, God took Adam and Eve around the Garden of Eden. God showed them all of its beauty, then said, “See how beautiful is my handiwork. I have created all of it for you to use. Please take care of it. Do not spoil or destroy my world.” This is a special message to us even though the rabbis could not have imagined that we would do such damage to our world.
The mitzvah of bal tashchit comes from this verse from Deuteronomy 20:19 — “When you wage war against a city…do not destroy its trees.” The rabbis tell us that we must not destroy any object from which someone might benefit.
Shabbat teaches us the relationship between nature and mankind. We were given six days to manage the earth but on Shabbat, we must neither create nor destroy. On Shabbat, we can just enjoy the beauty of the universe. Jewish agricultural laws also give us the “sabbatical year” to give the earth a rest. Talk about these texts:

  • Care is to be taken that bits of broken glass should not be scattered on public land where they may cause injury. Pious people often buried their broken glassware in their own fields. Talmud, Baba Kamma 30a
  • A tannery must not be set up in such a way that the prevailing winds can send the unpleasant odor to the town. Jerusalem Talmud, Baba Batra 2:9
  • Whoever breaks vessels, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a fountain or wastes food in a destructive way, transgresses the law of bal tashchit. Mishneh Torah, Melachim 6:10

There are also so many things to do to help save our world — try one of these:

  • Recycling is a beginning to help the world. What can we do or do more of in recycling?
  • Can you go through your toys and clothes and give any away? What are other ways you can give to others?
  • What are other things that would fit under “do not destroy?”

Take a Jewish nature hike — look with eyes that see God’s creation. Enjoy beauty — say a blessing.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.


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