Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

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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What does respect mean?

Posted on 06 July 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
There are many ways to use the word respect or honor.
The Hebrew word kavod comes from the Hebrew word meaning “heavy,” which gives us an important message that respect is a pretty heavy responsibility.
Respect, kavod, begins with each person. If we feel proud of ourselves, what we achieve, and how we behave, it is self-respect. Imagine what a wonderful place the world would be if we all showed respect to one another.
The rabbis taught that every person should have two pockets. In one pocket, put a piece of paper that says, “I am but dust and ashes.” In the other pocket, the paper should say, “For my sake alone was the world created.” When we feel too proud, we remind ourselves that we are but dust and when we are feeling low, we remind ourselves that God created the world for us. When we recognize and acknowledge the value and worth of every human being, when we honor and respect the uniqueness of each person, then we will work with God on tikkun olam — to repair the world.
Who is honored and respected? One who honors and respects others. (Pirke Avot)
Let your neighbor’s honor be as dear to you as your own. (Pirke Avot)
Talking about respect to children or even other adults is important and sometimes hard to define. Try using these questions for conversation:
Ask your children what respect means to them. If they cannot give a definition, share an example.
Talk about people you respect. Who is (or has been) a role model for you? What are the characteristics of the people you respect?
How is following rules a form of respect? What are the rules we follow to show respect?
The Torah teaches: You shall rise before the aged. (Leviticus) What does this mean? Why is it so important to show respect to older people?
Shabbat Discussion: What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself?”
Is this hard or easy to do? Why?

A Story for Shabbat: from Brainteasers From Jewish Folklore by Rosalind Chaney Kaye

The Most Precious Thing

A rich man fell in love and got married. The couple lived happily, but they had no children. Believing that a marriage without children is not really a marriage, the husband followed an old custom and asked his wife for a divorce.
“It’s no more my fault than yours that we haven’t been blessed with children,” she protested.
“I know that,” he sighed. “And we have had a wonderful life together. Even so, you must leave and return to your parents’ home. As my parting gift, you may take with you the most precious thing you can find in the house.”
Their home was filled with beautiful dishes, silverware, candlesticks, samovars, blankets, and rugs, as well as fine clothing and jewelry. What did the wife choose to take with her?
She took her husband himself. He was so touched by her love that they stayed married. In less than a year they were blessed with a child.


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Miracles all around us

Posted on 29 June 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
What is a miracle?
When we read the Bible, the miracle stories go way back to Moses and the Red Sea among other quite miraculous happenings. People often have wondered if miracles happen today. We all look for signs of God in our lives. The question goes back to “What is a miracle?” How do we define the wondrous in our lives?
Camp at the J is in full swing. It is very early the morning of the overnight and the children are still asleep. It is not a miracle that we made it through the night — but the miracle is in the growth of the children from experiencing a night away from their families. The miracle is also that parents who were nervous also survived the night, hopefully trusting us and not worrying too much. It is growth for parents as well. This song reminds us that miracles are all around us and we need to stop and look.

A Way to Say Ah (Beth Shafer)

Ah, mmm, oh. A miracle happened to day.
Was I aware? Did I even care?
A miracle happened to day. And did I pause enough to find
A way to say “ah,” a way to say “mmm”
A way to say “oh, Thank God I’ve arrived.”
A way to say “ah,” a way to say “mmm”
A way to say “Oh, Thank God I’ve arrived.”

A way to sanctify the time to remember
that on our journey we are not alone.
A way to not allow my senses to be dulled
to the wonders I will be shown.
We start each day with blessing and before we even get out of bed, we thank God for bringing us to a new day. I am certainly glad to wake up today — although I might be even more thankful when I hit the bed tonight.

Modeh Ani (traditional)

Modeh Ani L’fanecha Melech Chai V’kayam
She-he-che-zartah b’nish-matee b’chemlah (2)
rabah emunatecha.

Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.


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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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