Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Our journey of life

Posted on 22 June 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
L’chi lach is a variant of Lech lecha — the words spoken to Abraham by God, telling him to leave his home, take his family and go to another land, without knowing where the journey would take him. This summer at camp, we have as our Camp Chai theme: Life is a CHAI-way!
We experience the journey of camp. The questions we ask ourselves as we read this parsha about Abraham are also for camp: What makes a journey difficult? How was it different in Abraham’s time than now on our summer journey? Why did Abraham go? What did God promise him? Would you have gone? What are you hoping for on this journey?
And next talk about the promises made to Abraham: What does it mean to have a “great name”? What does it mean “to BE a blessing”? How can you be a blessing? How can you learn to be a blessing when you are “living” in a group at camp? Sing this beautiful song about journeys by Debbie Friedman.
L’Chi Lach (Debbie Friedman)
L’chi lach, to a land that I will show you
Leich l’cha, to a place you do not know
L’chi lach, on your journey I will bless you
And you shall be a blessing (3) L’chi lach.

L’chi lach, and I shall make your name great
Leich l’cha, and all shall praise your name
L’chi lach, to a place that I will show you
L’simchat chayim (3) L’chi lach
And you shall be a blessing (3) L’chi lach.

The land that Abraham was promised is the land of Israel. This song is another of many Hebrew songs hoping for a time of peace. Abraham led us to the land and then so much has happened since then — how can we bring peace or must we “wait and see”?

Bashana Habaah (Traditional)

Bashanah Habaah neshev al hamirpeset V’nispor tziporim nod’ dot
Y’ladim bachufsha y’sachaku tofeset Ben habayit l’ven hasadot
Od tireh, od tireh Kama tov yihiyeh, Bashana, bashanah habaah (2)

Soon the day will arrive when we will be together
and no longer will man live in fear.
And the children will smile without wondering whether
on that day dark new clouds will appear.
Wait and see, wait and see, what a world there can be
If we share, if we care, you and me (2)
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family JCC.


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Rules for entertaining guests

Posted on 08 June 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Summer is the time for trips and visiting places, friends and family (when you are not at camp!).
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 them 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?

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


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Active participation needed to remain committed to values

Posted on 01 June 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
After weeks of counting, we celebrate the holiday of Shavuot — it is a holiday with all night study and blintzes and cheesecake. It is also the time for confirmations and conversions.
Why? Shavuot is the experience of receiving the Torah (some say the Ten Commandments) from God at Sinai. It is a time for us to learn and grow. Those being confirmed (at 16 in some synagogues) and those converting (on Shavuot we read the Book of Ruth, described as the first convert as she left her home and people and became part of her new family) commit and accept the Torah at this holiday.
“Na’aseh v’nishma — We will do and we will understand.” This is what the Israelites said at that moment to Moses and God. What an interesting and amazing response. They said they would accept and commit to the laws and expectations, following them before understanding. (of course, there is that midrash that says from the text “they stood beneath the mountain” that meant that God lifted the mountain over their heads and asked if they would accept the law and they, of course, agreed saying, “Just put the mountain down!”)
What did our ancestors know about the necessity of doing something even before understanding it?  They knew that to really understand, you need to “do” – you need to act, behave, create, and participate actively in the learning and understanding. For greater understanding, they knew they must be actively involved in this partnership with God and each other.
Fast-forward a few thousand years, the great educational thinker, John Dewy, professed that children learn best through doing. He taught that it is through action and doing that we create meaning and understanding. It is how we make connections, solve problems and see new possibilities.
Fast-forward again to today. Brain research again validates what our ancestors knew, and what educators like John Dewy knew as well. When you are actively engaged and creating, you learn best. Children (and adults) learn best by being actively engaged in learning that is authentic, relevant and interesting.
A lot has changed since the Israelites stood at Mount Sinai, and some things never change. To remain committed to our values and traditions, we need to be active participants. The more we do, the more we will understand our purpose and value in our lives today.
The rabbis say that we all stood at Sinai – together we do, accept, learn and understand every day anew. Na’aseh v’nishma!
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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Concepts of justice, fairness tough for children to learn

Posted on 25 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each year as we prepare for camp, we think about the many issues that children face and how to guide them in the right direction. One of the things that we hear from children is, “It’s not fair.”
They spend a lot of time learning to understand the concept of fairness and justice. We want to guide them with our heroes from the past and present.
Tzedek is the mitzvah of doing justice. The words tzedek and tzedakah appear almost 300 times in the Torah. Jewish tradition teaches that justice and compassion are two of the most important qualities for people to survive and live together.
Leviticus 19, also called the Holiness Code, says that being holy is being just. Elie Wiesel told this story: A man who saw injustice in his city protested against it every day. One day someone asked why he continued to protest since no one was paying attention. The man answered, “In the beginning I thought I would change people, but now I continue so people will not change me.”
There is much talk in the news about the Supreme Court Justices. There have been many famous Jewish Justices, and we can learn from their examples. When Ruth Bader Ginsburg graduated with honors from Columbia Law School, not one law firm in New York would hire her because she was a woman. She became a pioneer in the fight for women’s legal rights, and she argued six landmark cases on behalf of women before the Supreme Court. In 1993, President Bill Clinton nominated her to the Supreme Court. Upon accepting the nomination, she spoke of her background. “I am very sensitized to discrimination. I grew up at the time of World War II in a Jewish family. I have memories as a child…seeing a sign in front of a restaurant: ‘No dogs or Jews allowed.’ I have a last thank-you to my mother. I pray that I may be all that she would have been had she lived in an age when women could aspire and achieve, and daughters are cherished as much as sons.”
Ruth Bader Ginsburg was one of the most recent Jewish Justices and the first Jewish woman Justice; however, many great American Jews have served the United States as lawyers and judges. Louis Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice from 1916-1939.
He was nicknamed “The People’s Attorney” because he was an advocate of social and economic reforms. He was also a leading Zionist, and Brandeis University is named after him. Benjamin Cardozo served on the Supreme Court from 1932 to 1938. The school of law at Yeshiva University is named after him. Felix Frankfurter served from 1939 to 1962 and he helped create the American Civil Liberties Union.
Arthur Goldberg and Abe Fortas served in the 1960s and Stephen Breyer was named to the Court in 1994.

Conversation starters

  • 1. Sometimes children say that something isn’t fair — something a parent, teacher or coach decides. What does it mean to be fair? Think of some examples and then think of a way to decide what is fair. For example, when sharing a piece of cake, one person gets to cut and the other gets to choose first.
  • 2. Why is it so hard to be a judge? What does it mean to be “impartial”? What would make it difficult to judge someone? Can we judge ourselves? Why or why not?
  • 3. Making sure there is justice in the world is not the same as making sure there are judges. What is justice all about? Some people say that life isn’t always fair — is that fair?

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


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Don’t ignore Shavuot’s value to individuals

Posted on 18 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Let’s talk about counting — specifically about counting the Omer. Some people don’t know what I’m talking about, some think it is meaningless today, and some, like me, have an app on their phone. It reminds me, gives me the blessing and even gives me some things to think about each night. At this reading, we are getting to the end of this period — Shavuot is coming.
So what is it? The special period between Passover and Shavuot is called sefirah, meaning “counting,” from the practice of counting the Omer, which is observed from the night of the second Seder of Passover until the eve of Shavuot. The counting of seven weeks on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple, until Shavuot, serves to connect the anniversary of the Exodus from Egypt with the festival that commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that it was announced to the Israelites in Egypt that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. As soon as they were liberated, they were so eager for the arrival of the promised day that they began to count the days, saying each time, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
Does it matter today? The Omer continued even after the development of a standard calendar eliminated its initial necessity: to let the people know exactly when to make pilgrimage to Jerusalem. It remained an opportunity to help us move out of enslaving patterns of thought and behavior. For the ancient Israelites, each day was a step away from the defilement of Egypt and a step toward spiritual purity. Like the Israelites who began to get ready for their encounter at Mount Sinai as soon as they crossed the Reed (or Red) Sea, we use the seven weeks beginning on Passover to similarly prepare ourselves for the arrival of Shavuot. During this time, we are supposed to evaluate our behavior and work to improve ourselves.
We all count days leading to something special — maybe good (can’t wait for my vacation), maybe bad (10 days until I have jury duty). But I count something that each of you should be counting. As many of you know, I’m a camp director and I’m counting how many days until camp. I’m also counting how many young lives we will impact at camp. Camp changes lives and through your commitment to camp scholarships, you are part of those lives touched. How many can we count? Here is the story I remind my staff (who are the leaders of tomorrow that we are also impacting each summer): The story is of a little boy on the beach with hundreds of starfish on the sand.
Starfish cannot live outside the water so the little boy was picking up one at a time and throwing it back in the ocean.
A man comes by and sees what the boy is doing. He says, “There are too many. You can’t make a difference.” The little boy picks up one and throws it back — “Made a difference to that one.” That’s what we do — make a difference to one at a time.
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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Image of God tells us how we should live our lives

Posted on 11 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I’m getting ready for camp and this important message is a favorite song that we sing!
In Pirke Avot 3:18, Rabbi Akiva says, “Beloved is man for he is created in the image of God.” This is both a gift and a responsibility. For many, these are the most important words in the Torah. “B’tzelem Elohim — We are created in the image of God” and that tells us how we should live:
What does this tell us about how to treat yourself?
If every person is b’tzelem Elohim, then what does that say about how we look at every person?
Does this mean we are all the same? What about people who are different from us? Are they b’tzelem Elohim?
There are so many ways to “interpret” text, and music and lyrics are interpretations of thoughts and feelings and even of Jewish texts. The world of “Jewish rock music” is expanding every day and the music speaks to us and teaches us. This important message of b’tzelem Elohim comes alive with this song.
Download it today!

B’Tzelem Elohim

(e18hteen — Dan Nichols, Mason Cooper & Michael Moskowitz)

Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah. (2)
We all got a life to live, we all got a gift to give.
Just open your heart and let it out.
We all got a peace to bring, We all got a song to sing.
Just open your heart and let it out.


When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem Elohim.
When we share our hopes and our dreams
Each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim

We all got a tale to tell. We all want to speak it well.
Just open your heart and let it out.
We all got a mountain to climb. We all got a truth to find.
Just open your heart and let it out.


B’reisheet bara Elohim, all our hopes, all our dream
B’reisheet bara Elohim, each one of us, b’tzelem Elohim

Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is the director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


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Reciprocal responsibility

Posted on 04 May 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
One of the most important values that we must all practice is responsibility.
Responsibility — achrayut — is so important for it is really all about community and being a part of something bigger than just yourself. We are all interdependent in this world and that connection makes us strong.
This month as we commemorate Yom HaShoah and Yom HaZikaron, we are reminded of our responsibility to others. Shortly after World War II — not long after his release from a Nazi concentration camp — German Protestant theologian and Pastor Martin Niemoller said, “In Germany, they first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Catholic. Then they came for me. And by that time, there was no one left to speak up.”
Each of us must speak out for the others — we are responsible for one another: Am I my brother’s keeper? YES!
Achrayut is also about taking responsibility for your own actions and choices. Responsibility is about keeping our promises, being honest and fair, and admitting our mistakes and showing our willingness to make things right.
Those who think they can lie without hurting others are wrong. But those who think that others can survive without them are even more in error.
— Hasidic folk saying
In the final analysis it is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them successful human beings.
— Ann Landers (advice columnist)

Family talk time

What does it mean to be responsible? What thing are you responsible for: at home, with your friends, at school or at camp?
Think of a time when you have been blamed for something someone else did. Why didn’t that person take responsibility for their actions?
When you are on a team, you are responsible to that team. What happens if you cannot go to a game? Should you choose to go to a party instead of the game?


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Everything, including spiders, has place in world

Posted on 27 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
This week I told the story of King David and the spider and the one about King Solomon and the bee. Both stories are about how an insect saved a king.
The Tanach is filled with stories and commandments of how we are supposed to treat the land and all that live on that land. From the very first chapters in Genesis, we are told to “rule” and “master” and “to till and tend.” In some ways today, we have taken the “rule and master” as license to do whatever we wish and our land is paying the price.
How can we get back to the real idea that God has given us a gift and we must take care of that gift?
We must remember a very important Jewish value: we are shomrim adamah — guardians of the earth — and this lesson must start young. What we are learning today is not only that the earth needs caring for but also that caring for the earth helps every one of us in so many ways. I often recommend books but here is a website: We need to experience the land to connect to it and value it and care for it and through our experiences we will grow. Look at these texts from our tradition and talk about them with your friends and families:
You must not sit down to your own meal before you have fed your pets and barnyard animals. — Babylonian Talmud, Berachot 40a based on Deuteronomy 11:15
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
Every kind of fish, bird, and animal contributes something to the world you live in — even the ones you may consider to be unnecessary, such as fleas, gnats and flies. — Midrash Genesis Rabbah 10:7
The stories of King David and King Solomon remind us that everything has a place and a purpose even if we don’t see it at first. So before you step on that spider, think of King Solomon and maybe just send it out into the world.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


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Responsibility has deeper meaning in Jewish world

Posted on 20 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Each month at the J we have a Jewish value that we focus on — this is for all of us from preschool to campers to adults. This month the Early Childhood Department is learning about “Achrayut/Responsibility” and it will be an important value for camp as well.
When talking with children, we talk about taking responsibility for mistakes, to make them right.  Also, being responsible for keeping hands to yourself and be careful with your words which can be hurtful. And, of course, we talk about being responsible for your belongings and for the environment.
These are hopefully skills we learn in childhood and take with us.
However, the word “achrayut” which is usually translated as responsibility has deeper meanings in the Jewish world. The word “responsibility” is about respond or answering for your decisions and actions. Achrayut comes from the Hebrew word “acher,” meaning “other”.   It is about our moral commitment to the other person, not just to answer for your actions but to make the other’s needs your own.
As we grow up we learn that if we don’t take responsibility for ourselves, no one else will, yet we also owe something to others. Hillel said it best and we are still quoting him: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”    It is the balance of being responsible for yourself and then for others that is often a challenge in daily life. Hillel also said: “In a place where there are no men, be a man.” That is often restated in many ways but try this way of reading this important Mishnah: “In a place where there aren’t people of moral courage taking responsibility, one needs to step up.” The challenge of stepping up when no one else will is something that sometimes happens because of the situation we are in. We teach responsibility and model it (the best way to teach) hoping and believing that the day will come when our children may be asked to step up and we hope they will.
Viktor Frankl once said:  “Being human means being conscious and being responsible.  By becoming responsible agents for social change we actualize not only our humanity but also our mission as Jews.”
The “big” moments don’t always happen but who we are is demonstrated in the small acts. Back during football season, a video went viral of Dak Prescott throwing away a piece of trash missing the can and getting up to retrieve it and put it in the trash can. Perhaps more than anything he did before or after really showed who he was! Let us take responsibility — cultivate the value of achrayut  in all the little ways so that when the big moment comes, there is not a question of how to act.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


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Finding meaning in counting

Posted on 13 April 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
These days many of us are obsessed with counting whether it is calories or steps or something else. We have always counted days to different events or counting how old we are or any other “counts” we may be interested in. This brings us to the ritual of today — Counting the Omer. For those of you who have never heard of this, here is the scoop on omer counting:
There is a special period between Passover and Shavuot called “sefirah” meaning counting. The practice is observed from the night of the second seder until the eve of Shavuot. We are counting the days on which the omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple – this connects the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that the Israelites were told that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the Exodus. They were so eager about it that they began to count the days, saying, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.” The Torah text for this is Leviticus 23:15-16.
Throughout time this period has been a sad time because of many massacres in Jewish history in the distant past and now, in modern times. During this time period we observe by refraining from joyous events and other customs. The one “day off” is Lag B’Omer which is the 33rd day.
As always, I have a new book to recommend from the Central conference of American Rabbis: Omer – A Counting by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar. Rabbi Kedar says in the introduction, “time, in the Jewish consciousness, is purposeful and directed, ripe with potential and filled with meaning. Yet even as we look toward the future, counting each day forces us to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of the moment. Every day presents us with the choice to stay where we are, to revert to where we have been, or to progress toward fulfilling our destiny.” Her book give us the blessings and the words to say plus something to think about each day.
Nothing is better than a good book for learning (OK, I am biased!) but once you understand this process of “Counting the Omer,” make it easy — there’s a app for that! Go to “Omer Counter.” It will give you the blessing and remind you each day plus you can check off when you have done it.
Now if you are not into books (what a sad thing for “the people of the Book”), you can get an app to remind you when to count, what to say and a few thoughts. Sometimes you have to do a ritual to find the meaning — try it and you may find meaning for yourself and your family!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady,
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


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