Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Torah says to protect, preserve the planet

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
We will celebrate Tu B’Shevat on Monday, Jan. 21. Hopefully, it is not one of those things that either we don’t know about so we don’t stop and think about it, or we know about it, went online and bought a tree at www.jnf.org and we were done.
There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by God to care for our earth. Yes, we must teach our children, but today more than ever, we must be reminded to go out in nature and renew our sense of wonder in the world.
The Torah tells us how the world was created, but then goes on to tell us how to protect and preserve the earth. A very important Jewish law is Bal Tashchit (Do Not Destroy). The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste. Take time to talk and think about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. Go radical — bring a text to the dinner table.
Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask, “What do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable).
• Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “If you have a sapling in your hand and you are told that the Messiah has come, first plant the sapling and then go welcome the Messiah.” (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 31b)
• It is forbidden to live in a town in which there is no garden or greenery. (Jerusalem Talmud, Kodashim 4:12)
• When you besiege a city for a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. You may eat from them, but you must not cut them down. (Deuteronomy 20:19)
• Whoever destroys anything that could be useful to others breaks the law of Bal Tashchit. (Babylonian Talmud, Kodashim 32a)
• The whole world of humans, animals, fish and birds all depend on one another. All drink the earth’s water, breathe the earth’s air and find their food in what was created on the earth. All share the same destiny. (Tanna de Bei Eliyahu Rabba 2)
As you walk outside to begin your day, say this:
“May our souls be rekindled as we open our hearts to the world and take good care of God’s world. ‘When you look out at the world around you, you are looking at God; and He is looking back at you.’” — Reb Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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The sages want you to get fit and healthy

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the new year, and the Aaron Family JCC fitness department is seeing those who have made being fit and healthy one of their resolutions. We all know how resolutions tend to go, but there is always hope.
A few Jewish thoughts may help motivate you to continue working out. We too often have the picture of the Jew who keeps his (or her) head in the books, and that is important. But that is not all our sages have promoted and written about.
Here are some excerpts from an article by Abbie Greenberg that came from JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance:
• 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.”
• Maimonides states that a person “should engage one’s body and exert oneself in a sweat-producing task each morning.”
• Martin Buber recorded a story of Rav Simhah Bunim, of Przysucha, who took very literally the words of our prayer that relate to physical awareness. According to the story, Rav Simhah arrived late for synagogue one Shabbat morning. When asked why he was so late, he quoted from Pesukei d’Zimra, preliminary blessings and psalms, which he had missed reciting because of his lateness: “All my bones shall say, who is like You, God?” How then, Rav Simhah asked, could he come to pray before his bones were all awake?
• In the 20th century, Rav Kook went much further in connecting physical and spiritual health. He claimed that physical health is in itself a value in the process of repentance and that, in each human organism, there is a constant reciprocal relationship between body and spirit.
Rav Kook promoted a Zionism that strove to restore health to the body of the Jewish people so that its spiritual life could flower to its fullest. He intended this restoration to occur not only on the metaphorical level in terms of the strength of the State of Israel, but also with respect to the strength of every person.
All of the sages placed emphasis on the body/soul connection — a concept that is coming back into our fitness programs today. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation are all part of many fitness regimes. The most important value in life is balance, and Judaism has always spoken to this need.
As we go into this new year, let’s promise ourselves that we will strive for balance in our study, our exercise, our families, our work — we do not need to do everything in every area of our lives, but we do need to live a well-rounded life.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Fairness a good lesson as Christmas nears

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As we get close to Christmas and some children (and adults) still wish for all the fun and, especially, the great music, I thought it might be good to talk about fairness.
Kids always tell their parents, “That’s not fair!” What exactly are they thinking? What is “fair”? Fairness is a word that is really about justice (mishpat in Hebrew), and justice may be an even harder word for kids and for us.
Judaism has the message of justice deeply implanted in the spirit of Jewish life. The Torah and the Prophets are 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 19:15)
“Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
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 talk about and a great discussion-starter story:
• 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’s a story for discussion:
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.
We should always try to do the fair and just thing. It is an important value to live by.

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A late take on December Dilemma

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When you read this, Hanukkah will be over, so why keep talking about a holiday that truly is not the most important in Judaism and has its share of myth-making (meaning the story we tell our children is not the whole truth)?
I am an avid reader of many Jewish internet sites, spanning all Jewish perspectives — it is good to expand to get the full picture of Jewish life. I have often recommended myjewishlearning.com, as it presents a variety of views. A part of the site that is specifically directed to families with young children is kveller.com.
In a recent post, there were a number of writings about Christmas and the age-old December Dilemma. A few that caught my eye were from either interfaith families or converts to Judaism. Each has a different struggle from our “typical” family with two Jewish parents. I say “typical” in quotes because there is no such thing.
Let me also recommend a book titled “Two Jews Can Still Be a Mixed Marriage” by Azriela Jaffe. The point being that we all come from different families with different traditions and ways of managing every part of our lives, Jewish and not specifically Jewish (for a discussion on what that means, I need another column). How do we live in this world of diversity and honor all, yet keep our uniqueness? This is a challenge for everyone.
So what did the various people say? Some converts and spouses in an interfaith family had a lot of trouble with “giving up Christmas.” All are a work in progress coming to terms with changing lives. For all of us celebrating whatever holidays we choose, it is an evolving process as we change and our families change.
We go from our parents’ home to perhaps time as a single to married to children and all the possibilities in between. Of course, there are differences, changes and challenges. And every family is different. Plus, there is no wrong way, just the way you make it work for your family.
Why talk about this after Hanukkah? As we know, the Jewish calendar is a strange thing, and this year Hanukkah was a bit early. We will soon have two months of Adar to get us back on track, and soon we will be saying that the holidays are late. Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations pose a problem whether early or late. This year, Hanukkah will be long gone by the time it is Christmas. Does that make it easier or harder?
As many of you know, I’m great at asking questions, then letting you decide the answers that work for you and your family. What will happen this Christmas for you? The bigger question is which Chinese restaurant will you be at and which movie will you be seeing on Christmas Day? Yes, that is a common tradition for us Jews.

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With President Bush’s death, reflecting on how Jews mourn

Posted on 05 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Death is never an easy subject, but it is an important one. With the passing of past President George H.W. Bush this week, we have been mourning his death, yet truly celebrating his life.
We look at the preparations, which are immense and must follow certain guidelines, while also recognizing and respecting the family — a family that has been in the national view for decades. As a nation, we take comfort in the process and put aside any politics.
All of this makes me look to Judaism and the ways we mourn. I never mean to be flippant, yet I have said that we do death and mourning in our religion well. The process from the moment of death through the mourning follows ritual designed to get us through a difficult time.
As a member of our congregation’s chevra kadisha, I participate in the first steps of preparation and know how everything will move in an orchestrated ritual. Of course, there are ways each family handles the details, but the comfort comes from knowing there is a path that we can follow.
One of the “best” parts of how we mourn (if we can call is “best”) is the recognition that mourning takes time, yet we must also move on. The tradition of shiva ending after seven days with a walk around the block demonstrates that push we often need to get back to our lives. Then, we have additional markers at 30 days and then the year of saying Kaddish, followed by a yearly remembrance along with holiday times to stand with community. We are a people of memory but also of hope, and that is what keeps us going.
This is not a usual topic for this column, as I often try to write for young families (although I know all ages read my thoughts). Death is not an easy topic, and yet we cannot and should not hide this part of life from our children. I have books galore that parents often borrow (and often children’s books help even adults grieve), but I recommend talking to our children (of all ages) about death so it isn’t so frightening.
If we wait until a death of a close friend or family member happens and then try to explain, we often are not able to talk. We are mourning as a nation, and there is much even to watch on television. We could hide it from our kids or use the opportunity. (it is also a good time for those of us “older people” to talk with our children and grandchildren about our wishes.)
To the Bush family, may his memory be a blessing.

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No dilemma; enjoy each other’s differences

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Every year at Hanukkah time, we hear the same discussion for families with young children talking about how to deal with the “December Dilemma.” This “problem” is all about how to help your Jewish children survive Christmas. This year myjewishlearning.com had two new thoughts on this important issue.
The first thought comes from Lauren Ben-Shoshana, titled “You Need to Talk to Your Jewish Children About Santa.” She states, “In their first year of kindergarten, if not before, every parent needs to have a Santa Claus conversation. It begins like this: Santa is not real. And then talk about secrets.”
She gives parents the words to talk about secrets that are good and feel good inside, and we tell our Jewish children that Santa is one of those secrets and we do not want to ruin that secret. This is a tough one, but it is a wonderful way to teach about other people’s beliefs and then to give an opening for discussion on other types of secrets that you should not keep. What a great way to begin this conversation and give parents a reference point as children grow.
The second thought, also from myjewishlearning.com, is titled “Celebrating Hanukkah…Even If You Don’t Celebrate Hanukkah” by Rachel Jarman Myers. She shares this post from a blog, New Orleans Mom Blog by Ashley, non-Jewish mom. Here are the words that Myers shares:
She’s a mom who wants her “children to know that they live in a world where their family’s way of celebrating is not the only way to celebrate.” She goes on to say, “I want my children to understand that their beliefs aren’t everyone’s beliefs, and while I want them to be confident in what they believe, I also want them to be open-minded enough to consider others ideas and perspectives.”
Both these “thoughts” can help us navigate this season for our children and for ourselves. The spirit of Hanukkah is really about recognizing our unique beliefs and cultures, and celebrating proudly. The December Dilemma has been about the feeling of wanting something that isn’t ours — the way we have talked to our children about this included everything from making Hanukkah even more special so they wouldn’t feel they were missing something, to helping them understand that Christmas and Hanukkah weren’t in a competition, but each had deep meanings and messages.
However, the message for all families should be not only celebrating what is ours, but recognizing and celebrating the differences in our religions and cultures. The New Orleans Mom shares this favorite song:
“Here in my house there are candles burning bright, one for every night of the holiday. We gather with friends, sharing gifts and happy times, Happy Hanukkah. And in my neighbor’s house, the lights are shining, too, red and green and blue ‘round the door. The sound of jingle bells and laughter everywhere. Merry Christmas, and many more. Season of light. Season of cheers. Season of peace, may it last throughout the year.”
We are not so different but let’s enjoy our differences…and our similarities.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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How David Ben-Gurion challenged Dulles

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Dear Friends,

Although I spend my waking hours working at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, I don’t use this column to push programs — at least not too often. However, here is a wonderful free opportunity.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the J, there will be an exclusive screening of “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” with an introduction by and conversations with Doug Seserman, CEO of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This movie won the 2017 Israeli Ophir Award (Israeli Oscars) for Best Documentary.

Admission is free, but space is limited. RSVP is required by Friday, Nov. 30 — contact szoller@aabgu.org or 646-452-3710.

This reminded me of a special story about founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that was shared by his grandson. As you read this story of our people, remember that telling our stories both about our people and even our families is so important.

“In 1954, when Ben-Gurion was prime minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President (Dwight) Eisenhower to request his assistance and support in the early and difficult days of the State of Israel.

“John Foster Dulles, who was the then secretary of state, confronted Ben-Gurion and challenged him as follows:

“‘Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister — who do you and your state represent? Does it represent the Jews of Poland, perhaps Yemen, Romania, Morocco, Iraq, Russia or perhaps Brazil? After 2,000 years of exile, can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture? Can you speak about a single heritage or perhaps a single Jewish tradition?’”

“Ben-Gurion answered him as follows:

“‘Look, Mr. Secretary of State — approximately 300 years ago, the Mayflower set sail from England and on it were the first settlers who settled in what would become the largest democratic superpower known as the United States of America. Now, do me a favor — go out into the streets and find 10 American children and ask them the following:

• “‘What was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower?

• “‘How long did the voyage take?

• “‘What did the people who were on the ship eat?

• “‘What were the conditions of sailing during the voyage?

“‘I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a good chance that you won’t get a good answer to these questions.

“‘Now in contrast — not 300 but more than 3,000 years ago, the Jews left the land of Egypt.

“‘I would kindly request from you, Mr. Secretary, that on one of your trips around the world, try and meet 10 Jewish children in different countries. And ask them:

• “‘What was the name of the leader who took the Jews out of Egypt?

• “‘How long did it take them before they got to the land of Israel?

• “‘What did they eat during the period when they were wandering in the desert?

• “‘And what happened to the sea when they encountered it?

“‘Once you get the answers to these questions, please carefully reconsider the question that you have just asked me.’”

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How David Ben-Gurion challenged Dulles

Posted on 26 November 2018 by admin

Dear Friends,

Although I spend my waking hours working at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, I don’t use this column to push programs — at least not too often. However, here is a wonderful free opportunity.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the J, there will be an exclusive screening of “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” with an introduction by and conversations with Doug Seserman, CEO of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This movie won the 2017 Israeli Ophir Award (Israeli Oscars) for Best Documentary.

Admission is free, but space is limited. RSVP is required by Friday, Nov. 30 — contact szoller@aabgu.org or 646-452-3710.

This reminded me of a special story about founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that was shared by his grandson. As you read this story of our people, remember that telling our stories both about our people and even our families is so important.

“In 1954, when Ben-Gurion was prime minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President (Dwight) Eisenhower to request his assistance and support in the early and difficult days of the State of Israel.

“John Foster Dulles, who was the then secretary of state, confronted Ben-Gurion and challenged him as follows:

“‘Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister — who do you and your state represent? Does it represent the Jews of Poland, perhaps Yemen, Romania, Morocco, Iraq, Russia or perhaps Brazil? After 2,000 years of exile, can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture? Can you speak about a single heritage or perhaps a single Jewish tradition?’”

“Ben-Gurion answered him as follows:

“‘Look, Mr. Secretary of State — approximately 300 years ago, the Mayflower set sail from England and on it were the first settlers who settled in what would become the largest democratic superpower known as the United States of America. Now, do me a favor — go out into the streets and find 10 American children and ask them the following:

• “‘What was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower?

• “‘How long did the voyage take?

• “‘What did the people who were on the ship eat?

• “‘What were the conditions of sailing during the voyage?

“‘I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a good chance that you won’t get a good answer to these questions.

“‘Now in contrast — not 300 but more than 3,000 years ago, the Jews left the land of Egypt.

“‘I would kindly request from you, Mr. Secretary, that on one of your trips around the world, try and meet 10 Jewish children in different countries. And ask them:

• “‘What was the name of the leader who took the Jews out of Egypt?

• “‘How long did it take them before they got to the land of Israel?

• “‘What did they eat during the period when they were wandering in the desert?

• “‘And what happened to the sea when they encountered it?

“‘Once you get the answers to these questions, please carefully reconsider the question that you have just asked me.’”

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Show gratitude this Thanksgiving

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday? It depends on the way you look at it.
Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Judaism is about being thankful. We demonstrate thankfulness with blessings — saying 100 per day as the sages tell us.
Gratitude can also be seen from the perspective of the value of shmirat ha-guf (caring for the body). Studies have shown that practicing gratitude improves mental and physical health, increases empathy and improves sleep. There have even been changes in the brain from the practice of gratitude.
Judaism is about doing; gratitude is about doing, but also about feeling. Gratitude takes practice and changing the way you think. Big Life Journal (biglifejournal.com) is a wonderful parenting and teaching website. It will take a little thinking to replace these ideas that talk about relationships with children to relationships with spouses, friends and even bosses.
Begin with “parenting from a place of gratitude.” Each time you’re about to say, “I have to,” replace it with “I get to.” And then try being grateful for your kids (spouse, friend, boss) by seeing behavior from a positive viewpoint, for seeing people from the positive is a way to show gratitude for their presence in your life.
• Wanting their way = being persistent
• Clinging = being affectionate and connected
• Demanding things = being assertive
• Not sitting still = being energetic and joyful
• Whining all day = communicating their needs
• Being loud = being expressive and confident
So, as you prepare for Thanksgiving, don’t just plan the menu, plan the moments of gratitude. There are lots of ways to add thanks during your Thanksgiving feast, perhaps by everyone sharing a thought (sometimes it helps to tell people to prepare a thankful thought). And make sure to say blessings — the Motzi, of course, but also make sure you say the Shehecheyanu, thanking God for bringing your family and friends to this special moment in time.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Teach tzedakah by example: giving yourself

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
“Tzedakah” — what’s it all about? How do we teach it?
Each week at our Early Childhood Shabbat Celebration at the Aaron Family JCC, the children come up and excitedly put their money into our many tzedakah boxes. Why? It’s fun. But without knowing it, they are getting into the tzedakah habit.
The definitions for habit are: an established custom; a pattern of behavior acquired through frequent repetition. Our children are learning early that this is what we do. Many a parent has recounted that when they go to the grocery store and there is a donation box at check out, their children say, “Let’s put money in the tzedakah box.” They get it — it is a habit.
In eJewishphilanthropy.com, a column posted on Feb. 25, 2016, by The Lapin Group gave this information:
Parental Giving:
•Among people who recall their parents frequently supporting nonprofit organizations, 52 percent are, themselves, donors today.
•Among those who saw their parents provide occasional support, 46 percent are now donors.
•But among people who rarely or never saw their parents model this behavior, only 26 percent are donors today — half the proportion of those who say their parents gave frequently.
Talking to kids about philanthropy has an impact too:
•When parents did this frequently, 51 percent of today’s adults are donors.
•When parents did this occasionally, 44 percent are donors.
•When parents rarely or never did this, just 32 percent are donors.
Statistics tell an interesting story — if you have children, take note; if you don’t yet (or your children are grown), think about your parents and what they instilled in you. What are the many little things we do to help others? The big donations are not the only ones that count.
A number of years ago when I was at a conference attending sessions, my husband explored the city. That evening, he told me that he bought a homeless man a pair of shoes. It is not about the money — it is about dignity and caring. Teach by your example — that is the only way we teach.

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