Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Protect, preserve as Tu B’Shevat approaches

Posted on 09 February 2017 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
It is beginning to feel like winter (finally) and it is Tu B’Shevat — the Birthday of the Trees.
Most of us have memories of collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year and we continue to plant especially on this “birthday.” 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. Tu B’Shevat is a very special time to remember this.
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 with your children about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. (these are taken from Listen to the Trees — Jews and the Earth by Molly Cone: a wonderful resource filled with quotations and stories.)
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 Rabbah 2)

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‘Old school’ advice: Hope, doom, abstention don’t unify

Posted on 02 February 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
I admit it — I’m old school! We still get the Dallas Morning News delivered to our house and, of course, we get the Texas Jewish Post. (I also read lots of things online so I’m not totally old school.)
Last week Jacquielynn Floyd wrote in her metro column about our new president. Whether I agree or disagree is not important — what is important is that her advice could also be given to us Jews about Judaism. Floyd wrote that there seem to be a few “general camps of response” that she called “the best-hopers,” “the doom-shouters” and “the tune-outers.” Let’s forget politics and think of how these apply to being Jewish and the future of Judaism.
“The best-hopers” — There are those Jews who say that Judaism has always been on the way out and that assimilation may be bad and intermarriage is rampant, but they believe that Judaism and Jews will survive forever. They point to statistics about Jewish practice and say that more Jews are coming back to rituals, even if they are changing the rituals for the times.
“The doom-shouters” — There are those who say that things are the worst they have ever been with more intermarriage than Judaism can survive and this time is certainly to be the end. They point to statistics that show that if it weren’t for the Orthodox, there would be fewer and fewer Jews every decade and the rituals that are practiced are so far from “real” Judaism that the day will come when it isn’t even recognized.
“The opt-outers” — There are those who say that they know they are Jewish — you don’t have to belong, you don’t have to support, you certainly don’t need to practice — just knowing is enough.
All of these groups have something in common — they are all talking about being Jewish at least! However, none of the groups has an answer — each one is simply telling the story to themselves that resonates for them. What could each group be doing?
Hope is good but Judaism is an action-based religion — our rituals connect us to belief and action. Hope for the best, yes, but demonstrate your belief through action. Judaism requires us to stand up and act.
The bad news and the sad history of Judaism leads us to seeing more of the same, but we must change that mindset. Never forget but don’t live in it. Judaism and Jews have survived and will continue.
Walking away is never an answer that works for the community and for the individual. We need community and we must work for it — doing can lead to believing.
Many of those questioning our country’s politics say that we only have to last for four years — not a good answer for politics and for Judaism. We’ve lasted for thousands of years and, with commitment, we are headed for thousands more. Let’s not divide into camps against one another but work together!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Children, blessings can flow up family tree, too

Posted on 26 January 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
Every Shabbat, parents bless their children, but what about blessing our parents?
This comes from The Book of Jewish Sacred Practices: Clal’s Guide to Everyday and Holiday Rituals and Blessings. The website ritualwell.org expands on this (as well as gives many new blessings and rituals and new takes on “old” rituals). The opening comment reminds us that our relationships change: “As a child, my parents could do no wrong. As an adolescent, my parents could do no right. Now, as a parent myself, I finally understand why a primary metaphor for the complicated and changing relationship between God and humans is that of parent and child.”
Relationships are hard and blessings are ways to stop and reflect. Even when we repeat the “standard” blessing over our children each Shabbat, we sometimes have conflicting feelings for our kids. We put those aside, take a deep breath and reflect on how precious our children are. That being said, sometimes our relationships with our parents can be conflicted and challenging. It is often hard to “honor your mother and your father” — it does not say “love.” The Torah has a way of making us stop and think!
So here is a traditional blessing for our parents with a meditation and ritual from the book and website:
Harakhaman hu y’varekh et avi mori v’et imi morati. Merciful One, bless my father, my teacher; and my mother, my teacher. (Take a few moments to really think about this blessing — why does it say “my teacher?” How is a parent a teacher? Why and how should we bless our teachers?)
Meditation: Thank you for the traits you have modeled, for showing me that love can overcome obstacles, for sharing celebration and pain, for teaching me about fragility and strength.
Ritual: If you are a child, call your parents with a blessing as your message. If you are a parent, experience accepting the blessings your children give you, however they are expressed.
Now you have a new ritual and blessing to add. Remember, we can always add new blessings, new thank-yous. We can put them in the Jewish model using the traditional six-word beginning: Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech haolam… In this way we are giving our thank-you to God for whatever we are feeling thankful for.
Try it and feel free to start with the Hebrew and end with your own words about anything you are feeling grateful for. Recent studies have shown how important gratitude is in our lives and for many of us, adding a Jewish twist to our thanks connects us to our heritage. If you say the blessing out loud, it gives those around you a chance to add “Amen,” which basically means “I agree with you.”
Young children can learn to respond and then to add their own blessings.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Passionate connection to Torah keeps us united

Posted on 19 January 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
So often I am asked for a list of books for a personal Jewish library. Once I start the list, it seems like there is no end because when you ask a bibliophile, there are always more books that you must have. However, first on the list is a Tanakh, the Jewish Bible; included in that suggestion would be one with some commentary, or buy additional commentary to go along with the Tanakh. (Of course, I would not settle for one commentary, but that is another story.) The next “must have” is a volume of Pirke Avot and there are so many to choose from. The study of Pirke Avot is a lifelong endeavor but can be started at a very early age. I have shared with you the experiences of teaching this to preschoolers and they are amazing in their understanding of these important Jewish texts.
Let’s look now at the very first mishnah in Pirke Avot:
Moses received the Torah from (God Who revealed Himself at Mount) Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the Elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly. They said three things: Be deliberate in judgment; develop many disciples; and make a (protective) fence for the Torah.
There are two parts of this mishnah — the who and then the what they said. I am often asked, “Can’t we skip all the people? What does it really matter who said it?”
The answer is simple: Yes, it matters! And it matters for so many different reasons! We all want to check our sources and decide if we value the authority that says something. We give more weight to something said by someone that demonstrates depth of knowledge or experience and someone that we respect. Today as we listen to political candidates, we are hopefully deciding on what they are saying and our trust in their ability to stand behind what they say.
This mishnah starts with Moses receiving the Torah from God and then transmitting it to Joshua. Receiving is passive but then Moses became the transmitter — giving. Our job today is to continue receiving and transmitting just as it was described from Moses to the Men of the Great Assembly. Judaism has continued because we have taken on this responsibility of passing on the tradition.
The passion for learning is definitely a Jewish value but so is the passion for teaching. The passion to connect to Torah has kept us throughout our history. Let us continue to learn and to teach.
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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How to use ‘carpool Judaism’ to teach our next generation

Posted on 12 January 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
A number of years ago, I taught a class called “Carpool Judaism.” The idea behind the class was that driving in the car is the perfect time for conversations with your children — they are held captive. Today more than ever, as we spend more and more time in the car, we can use the time to learn together.
First, make this easy and fun so start with questions: Take a stack of 3-by-5 cards and write questions on them and then take turns picking one for the drive (and it doesn’t have to be every ride). Here are a few possible questions:

  • What is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?
  • What is the best mitzvah anyone has ever done for you? What is the best mitzvah you have done for others?
  • What do you like the best about being Jewish?
  • What do you think were the biggest problems Noah had on the ark?
  • Who is your favorite Jewish hero and why?
  • What does it mean to you to be a mensch?

Second, get Jewish CDs for the car. There are many that are not only fun to sing but are filled with great lessons and values about Judaism. Here are a few of my favorites that I still sing in the car (you can find these artists at jewishmusic.com):
Debbie Friedman
Shlock Rock
Peter and Ellen Allard
Rabbi Joe Black
Andi Joseph
The best part about music is that it is fun, but also talk about what the words mean (even if they don’t ask). And remember, when the Torah said to “teach the words as you go on your way” they may not have been talking about the car, but that is our life today. Learn together in every way possible! And you can do all of these things even if you don’t have children — fill your time in the car with learning!
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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Shmirat haguf: Keep those self-improvement resolutions

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Dear Friends ,
It is the new year — the secular new year. We have already had the new Jewish year when we reflected and repented and made a “return” (teshuvah) to being the person we should be. The secular new year has a tradition called “making resolutions” which is followed by the tradition called “breaking those resolutions made.” What is one of the biggest resolutions made each year? Taking care of your body — diet, exercise, meditation, yoga and more — is usually at the top of the list, especially after holidays filled with eating and drinking.
Is there a Jewish value on taking care of your body? Of course — shmirat haguf, which means guarding the body, is a key responsibility for all of us. The 12th-century sage Maimonides (who was a physician) wrote a whole section of his Mishneh Torah about caring for your body. In the opening of this section, the Rambam (acronym for Maimonides) wrote: “Since it is God’s will that a (person’s) body be kept healthy and strong, because it is impossible for a (person) to have any knowledge of his Creator when ill, it is, therefore, his duty to shun anything which may waste his body, and to strive to acquire habits that will help him preserve his health.”
There are additional rules found in the Talmud and medieval Jewish law which talk about washing hands and keeping a clean body. Washing hands before eating for ritual purposes actually kept the Jews from diseases such as the plague in past times. The interesting historical twist was that because the Jews weren’t getting sick and dying, they were blamed for the plague rather than people realizing that simply washing your hands keeps disease away.
As we move into the new year, make a resolution to help both your body and your soul — take care of your body, which will open you to spirit.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Hanukkah stamps chance to display Jewish pride

Posted on 28 December 2016 by admin

Dear Families,
On Nov. 1, the U.S. Postal Service dedicated the Hanukkah Forever Stamp. You can buy these stamps and use them “forever” — a great service of the U.S. Postal Service.
Here is the information from their website about the stamp and the dedication ceremony (I never knew there was a dedication ceremony for first-day-of-issue stamps):
“BOCA RATON, Florida — The U.S. Postal Service’s new Hanukkah Forever stamp — available nationwide today — features a warm, elegant illustration of a holiday menorah in the window of a home. The eight nights and days of Hanukkah begin on the 25th of Kislev in the Hebrew calendar, a date that falls in late November or December. In 2016, Hanukkah begins at sundown Dec. 24.
“The first-day-of-issue stamp dedication ceremony took place at the Temple Beth El of Boca Raton. The public is asked to share the news of the stamp using the hashtag #HanukkahStamps.
“ ‘The Hanukkah stamp we’re dedicating today honors a religious observance that is more than 2,000 years old — and how appropriate that the word itself — Hanukkah — means “dedication” in Hebrew,’ said U.S. Postal Service Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President David Williams. ‘This beautiful stamp depicts a warm, elegant illustration of a holiday menorah in the window of a home. The white window trim is visible through the branches of the menorah, which echo a tangle of snow-covered tree branches beyond the glass. Artist William Low added visual interest to the scene by highlighting the contrast between the hot candle flames and the cool snow, the vertical candles and the horizontal window frame, and the dark menorah with the brightly lit candles. Starting today, this beautiful image of remembrance, light and love will travel on letters and packages to millions of households and businesses throughout America and around the world.’
“Low, of Huntington, New York, worked under art director Ethel Kessler of Bethesda, Maryland, who designed the stamp.
“Joining Williams in dedicating the stamp were Temple Beth El of Boca Raton Rabbi Jessica Brockman, Senior Rabbi Dan Levin and Rabbi Greg Weisman. U.S. Postal Service South Florida District Manager Jeffery Taylor served as master of ceremonies.
“ ‘We are deeply honored to host the Postal Service in unveiling this year’s Chanukah stamp,’ said Levin. ‘The holiday of Chanukah is a celebration of the triumph of the spirit over oppression so deeply reflected in the story of America. All of us in the Jewish community are proud to see our heritage woven into the philatelic tradition of America.’ ”
Every Jewish website and blog today talks about growing anti-Semitism and this time of year we are particularly sensitive to it. The tradition for Hanukkah is to put your hanukkiah in the window so that you are publicizing the miracle of the oil. Should we be “Maccabees” today and not be afraid? The answer is a definite yes! This beautiful government-issued reminder that we can and should shine our light!  Happy Hanukkah.
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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8 values exemplified by biblical Jewish women

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

Dear Families,
Every year and every holiday gives us an opportunity to enhance our experience and learning.
I check so many wonderful websites and wish I could pass everything on. This one is from www.reformjudaism.org and it is a keeper. There are so many lessons to be talked about with our children and the adults with whom we celebrate.
So enjoy Amy Soule’s candle lighting dedicated each night to a different value exemplified by a biblical Jewish woman.

  • 1. Justice: Deborah was a great judge respected for her sage and hopeful counsel. (Judges 4:1-5:31)
  • 2. Peace: Serach bat Asher brought peace and comfort to Jacob by telling him gently, through song, that his son Joseph had not been killed, as reported by Joseph’s brothers. (Midrash Ha-Gadol, Genesis 46:25)
  • 3. Sisterhood: It was Rachel, not her father, who ensured that her sister Leah would have the honor of being Jacob’s first spouse. Rachel taught Leah how to imitate her so Jacob had no idea it was Leah under the chuppah. In this way, Rachel saw to it that no shame came to Leah. (BT: Bava Batra 123a)
  • 4. Loving kindness: Rivka showed exceptional kindness at the well to Isaac’s servant Eliezer and to his camels by drawing enough water to satisfy the thirst of both man and animal. Thus did Eliezer find a kind and loving wife for Isaac. (Genesis 24:16-22)
  • 5. Compassion: Miriam had a vision that her mother would give birth to a child destined to become a great leader. She shared this vision with her parents, giving them the courage to have another child despite Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male infants. Miriam’s brother Moses grew up to be that great leader, shepherding our people from bondage to freedom. (Exodus Rabbah 1:22)
  • 6. Understanding: Pharaoh’s daughter rescued Moses from the water, then raised him under her father’s nose and let his biological mother nurse him. God renamed her Batya (daughter of God) in recognition of her great understanding of a people who were “supposed to be” her enemies. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:3)
  • 7. Joy: Sarah demonstrated great joy after hearing that she was to have a child at the age of 90. Her happiness at this news reminds us to celebrate everything positive that occurs, even — and perhaps especially — the seemingly impossible. (Genesis 18:10-15)
  • 8. Love: Lot’s wife, Idit, looked back at her children and brethren while escaping Sodom, an act of selfless love that resulted in her being reduced to a pillar of salt, which represented her tears. (Pirkei de Rebbe Eliezer 25:160 a/b)
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Handy blessing for travel

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

Dear Families,
As we get closer to winter break, many families will be getting on the road (or in the air) to travel to friends, families and great places to vacation. There is a very special blessing that we say at the start of a journey.
In the past, journeys were often dangerous. Traveling carried a certain amount of risk that could be avoided if you stay home. Our ancestors asked God for protection. The blessing is called Tefilat Haderech and it is a good idea to have it handy this vacation.

T’filet Haderech

Y’hi ratzon milfanecha Adonai Eloheinu v’Elohei avoteinu v’imoteinu, shetolicheinu l’shalom v’tatzideinu l’shalom,v’tadreichanu l’shalom, v’tagei-aynu limchoz cheftzaynu l’chayim ul’simchah ul’shalom. V’tatzilaynu micaf kol o-yev v’o-rev baderech, umikol minei furaniyot l’chein ulchesed ulrachamim b’einecha uvaynay chol ro-aynu, v’tishma kol tachanuneinu, ki el shomei-a t’filah v’tachanun atah. Baruch atah, Adonai, shomei-a t’filah.

May it be Your will, Adonai our God and God of our fathers and mothers, to lead us to peace, direct our steps to peace, guide us to peace and bring us to our desired destination in life, joy and peace.
Rescue us from any enemy or ambush on the way, and from all afflictions that trouble the world. Send blessing to the work of our hands, and let us find grace, kindness and compassion from You and from all who see us.
Hear our pleas, for You are a God who hears prayer and pleas.
Blessed are You, Adonai, who listens to prayer.

Can you see why this blessing made sense in past times? It was scary and often very dangerous to travel and one never knew what might happen along the way and even when you would arrive or sometimes what the final destination might be like.
Read closer — this blessing asks for peace along the way and on arrival. The plea for rescue is not only from enemies but “afflictions that trouble the world” — that is certainly an amazing request for past ages but also for today.
So this blessing is perfect for all times.
Now whether you are planning on boarding a plane or driving your car, whether you are going across the country or across the town, a blessing is always good to start the journey.
Shalom … from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Hanukkah-Christmas dilemma as calendar pairs holidays

Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin

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

  • 1. Visit Christmas: Enjoy visiting your non-Jewish friends and celebrating holidays with them (but be sure to include them in your holiday events). Help your children understand by explaining, “When we go to play at Bobby’s house, we enjoy his toys but when we leave, we do not take the toys home. Those are Bobby’s toys. When we help decorate Bobby’s Christmas tree, we have a good time, but we don’t bring it home. We do not celebrate Christmas. Let’s invite Bobby and his family for Shabbat (or Passover or Hanukkah).”
  • 2. Don’t Compete, Create Meaning: We do not need to set up Hanukkah as a competition or compensation for Christmas. Create meaningful traditions for all of your holidays. There’s more to Christmas and Hanukkah than just the gifts. Judaism celebrates weekly — make a big deal out of Shabbat!
  • 3. Talk with Friends: The discussion is more important than the solutions! There are no right or wrong answers on how to deal with Santa Claus, lights, songs, etc.
  • 4. From 40 Ways to Save the Jewish People: Educator and author Joel Lurie Grishaver tells the story of a college daughter’s talk to her mother, “Mom, I actually figured out that Hanukkah was one of the major reasons I never got involved with drugs or excessive drinking or promiscuous sex. From having to celebrate Hanukkah when everyone else was doing Christmas, I learned that I could be different — and that was OK!”
  • 5. Hanukkah is a wonderful holiday to create new traditions: Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, with her family, added new rituals and here are her…Favorite Hanukkah Happenings!
  • Art Night: Cover the tables so the children can paint murals, make figures out of clay, make a new chanukkiah for the season, and more.
  • Music Night: Invite friends who like to play instruments and sing and have a song fest with a little karaoke (and maybe a talent show).
  • Tzedakah Night: Do something for others — buy a gift to donate, go to a home for the elderly, collect food and deliver to a shelter…
  • Book Night: The gift for the night is a book for each person followed by reading and storytelling.
  • Grandparents Night: A big family night or if you live far from family, this is the night to call everyone on the phone.
  • Movie Night: Watch a movie together — pick one that can be a family favorite for years to come (and, of course, make popcorn).
  • Big Ticket Night: The gift for the night is tickets to a cultural event that everyone in the family can attend.
  • Homemade Presents Night: Definitely the favorite — make presents for each member of the family or draw lots to make one for a special person.
    Hanukkah is a holiday with many wonderful rituals. Families continue to create new traditions to teach the special messages which are part of the historical event. What are the messages we want our children to understand?

Despite pressure to conform, Mattathias and his five sons refused to bow down to idols. Being a Maccabee, whether long ago or today, means fighting for the right to be different and being proud of those differences. We also teach our children that being small does not mean being insignificant. The Jewish people have always been small in number, but we have always been strong in spirit.
We know that each of us can make a difference in the world! And this is the legacy of the Maccabees and the celebration of Hanukkah! So let’s teach our children how to appreciate their differences — first, by teaching and modeling Jewish life and all the beauty of it, and second, by learning about others and then going home to what we know and love.

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