Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Seder planning offers many options, challenges

Posted on 08 March 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It is time to begin planning for Passover (yes, I know Purim is barely over). The rush to the stores for favorite items will begin. We start gathering Diet Coke (a real essential in my family) the minute it hits the stores. The cleaning probably won’t start for a while although so much is last minute.
What about planning the Seder? Are you going to just bring out the same Haggadah as last year? Have you been looking for the Maxwell House Haggadah at the store, or are you going to try something new? There are so many options for Haggadot that it is a challenge to find the best one for your family.
One year for our second Seder, I brought out a rather offbeat Haggadah thinking my teenagers would love it. After about 10 minutes, they insisted I put it away (or throw it away) and go back to a more traditional choice.
There are many new ones out every year, including one called Please, Don’t Pass Over the Seder Plate. This Haggadah is great for young families.
For those of you willing to try my family method, here is the idea: We have a simple (and inexpensive) Haggadah that everyone has. Then everyone has another Haggadah (or two), and we offer different texts and commentary throughout the Seder. And we also have a few chumashim for us to look at the story of the Exodus. It is a little complicated and sometimes gets lengthy, but we have great discussions, lots of questions raised and lots of thinking and experiencing. Try it.
Now this doesn’t work as well when you have lots of young children unless, of course, you plan lots of games and activities for them. Also, important is to involve them in the questions and answers. The Four Questions are not the only ones for children to ask. Encourage them to come up with good ones.
Preparing for your Seder with young children requires lots of planning, but don’t forget to plan for the adults. You want it to be meaningful for the children but also for the adults. Plague bags with toys for each of the plagues are fun, but how do we teach our children that the plagues were bad? And then we must balance that with not scaring children; it is a challenge.
Begin now to plan your Seder so that the learning experience and meaningful memories happen for all ages. Then don’t forget that Passover is not over with the Seder. Keeping Passover in the traditional way is not something every family has done but it is a wonderful learning experience for young children (even when challenging for parents).
Start small; just eliminate bread and eat matzah. But even if you have always kept Passover traditionally, take the time for the discussion. Now that you can have almost everything (from rolls to cereal to tacos), the question becomes “Can you keep the law but lose the spirit of the law?”

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Patience is a virtue parents should teach children

Posted on 01 March 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Dr. Charles Fay of Love and Logic says, “There are few greater gifts we can give our children than the ability to delay gratification.” The lesson is learned best when you are young instead of becoming adults who can’t wait to have things, so we buy now and then pay 17 percent interest on credit cards. Here are the “easy” steps:
1. Model patience and delayed gratification: Parents have to walk the talk.
2. Help your kids get plenty of patience practice.
3. Reward good waiting — and remember, the most powerful reward is when someone they love gives them a big hug and says, “I noticed that you waited so patiently in the store.”
Now what is the Jewish message? Well, we Jews are certainly known for our patience — look how long we have been waiting for the Messiah. In Hebrew, the word for patience is savlanut. It means patience but also tolerance. The root of the word is sevel, which means suffer, or sivlot, which are burdens. These are very interesting connections to this important concept. It is not easy to be patient, and often we do suffer and it feels like a tremendous burden. Patience is hard work.
The Love & Logic Journal ends the lesson on patience with this story:
“I recently witnessed an incredibly patient child getting on an airplane with her mother. This child was in her 50s. Her frail mother was in her 80s. This child patiently steadied her mother as she rose from her wheelchair and struggled to walk onto the plane. When they reached their row, this child patiently helped her mother into her seat, stowed her mother’s luggage, and made certain that her mother was comfortable.”
Let us remember that all things in life come full circle. Someday we will all move very slowly. At that time we will be thankful for the patience we showed our children.
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family JCC.

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Think about your words before hitting ‘send’ button

Posted on 22 February 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
The internet is wonderful for wondering Jews — so much information. I try to read as much as possible and, as I say to my adult students, find what works for you.
To integrate Jewish practice into our lives, it must make sense on many levels. Just this week I read a blog by Laura Duhan Kaplan. She titled the piece “Pray Before You Post” and wrote about comments from people about her pieces.
First, she reminds us not to blame social media telling of ugly comments she received after writing letters to the editor. Her comment is important for us — “It’s the people, not the medium.” When Kaplan responds politely, kindly or generously, her friends said: “I wish you would be less like the peacemaking Aaron and more like the angry Moses.”
Words hurt — we have the Chofetz Chaim to teach us the many rules of lashon hara, evil speech. We say that gossip is a part of life, but does that mean it is OK to talk about others and share secrets? We could spend months, even years, studying the Chofetz Chaim, and yet does it help us control our words?
Judaism is about action and words, but not about thoughts. Unfortunately often our thoughts come out of our mouths before we have thought it through, and now our fingers text, email and more without pondering a bit more.
Kaplan says that ever day she reflects on the personal prayer of fourth century Jewish spiritual leader Mar bar Ravina. His prayer is in the traditional siddur, at the end of the Amidah’s daily silent reflection:
“My G-d, stop my tongue from gossip and my lips from haughty speech. When others curse me, quiet my reactions; help my being be as porous as dust.”
There is a blessing for everything in Judaism — the most important thing is not to remember the “right” blessing but to remember to bless. So imagine what the world would be if each person said this prayer just before hitting “send”?
Laura Seymour is director of camping aervices at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Courage is more than physical strength

Posted on 15 February 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
The Goldberg Family Early Childhood Center at the Aaron Family JCC celebrates a different Jewish value each month. Not only are each of our values important ones, but they also help us learn how we should act and connect us with our history.
Our value for this month is “courage — ometz lev.” The most interesting thing about the Hebrew phrase is that it translates as “strength of heart.” It is not just about being strong in a physical way but doing the right thing when it is hard. More than that, it is also about doing something new and different.
Here are a few sections from an article titled “Giving Ourselves Permission to Take Risks” by Elizabeth Jones. The article was written primarily for early childhood, but it is really a message for all of us.
“Courage, as we’ve learned from the Cowardly Lion (from The Wizard of Oz), is a virtue that is hard to sustain. New experiences are often scary; we don’t know what will happen next or what we should do. Yet all new learning involves risk. We learn by doing — and by thinking about the past and the future.
“Risk is inevitable; it’s a requirement for survival. The challenge is to name it, practice it, enjoy the rush of mastery and bear the pain when pain is the outcome.
“A child who climbs may fall. But a child who never climbs is at much greater risk. Fall surfaces under climbers aren’t there to prevent falls, only to make them less hard. And hugging doesn’t make the pain go away, but it does make it more bearable.”
We chose this value as we get ready for Purim. We go beyond the great fun of the holiday with dressing up, giving gifts and tzedakah, plus telling the story to much noise of our graggers. There is the important message of “ometz lev — courage” that Queen Esther must display.
Having courage does not mean that you are not afraid, but that you must step up and do the right thing (and sometimes the scary thing) even when you are afraid. As you plan your costume and your gifts, think about doing something that scares you — it will help you grow.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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The 8 least appetizing Jewish foods tell stories

Posted on 08 February 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
There are so many ways to be Jewish, and that is truly wonderful. Each of us can choose a path and be committed to our Jewish identity in many ways: Some go to synagogue to pray, some go to classes to learn and some go to the J to play basketball (and there are lots more ways). Each of these, however, is doing.
Judaism is a doing religion, although there are a few of what we call “Cardiac Jews” — I don’t do anything Jewish but I feel it in my heart. I am happy for all types of Jewish identity because a famous Jewish educator once said that when asked whether we do a particular observance, our answer should be, “Not yet.” Leave the possibility open.
One of the most popular forms of being Jewish is the “Gastronomic Jew.” Eating Jewish food is definitely a way to stay connected. As a confirmed picky eater, this one doesn’t work for me. However, I must share a myjewishlearning.com article from Jan. 23 by Shannon Sarna. She writes The Ultimate Ranking of the Grossest Jewish Food. Here is her list without the pictures:
Ptcha is best described as calf’s foot jelly, or an aspic. That’s right, it’s meat gelatin, and it seems to be the most offensive traditional Ashkenazi Jewish food we could find. It is almost universally reviled and not commonly made anymore.
Herring can be sweet and creamy, or it can be more savory and briny, and it evokes a lot of opinions.
Gefilte fish, or stuffed fish, is both a loved and loathed traditional Ashkenazi dish.
Schav: Russian cuisine has no shortage of chilled soups, but none is so reviled as schav, a soup made of sorrel.
Tongue: Many Ashkenazi Jews associate tongue with a sweet dish made with apricot or other dried fruit. Tongue can also be pickled and served like deli meat. It grosses a lot of people out, mostly because tongue, when cooked, still looks like a big cow tongue, which is a bit much to swallow.
Shuba, also known as “herring in an overcoat,” is a dish that is both loved and hated. It’s a layered Russian salad made of chopped egg, beet and herring.
Al Mazieh is a Syrian cornstarch pudding, made from cornstarch, rose water and nuts.
Kishke (meaning “gut” in Yiddish) is also known as stuffed derma or helzel, which is actually stuffed chicken skin. Kishke is a stuffing made out of vegetables, schmaltz and some kind of starch, such as matzah meal, crackers or bread — all stuffed inside a cow intestine.
Now many of you will say you love one item or another — for me, nothing looks great, although I will do gefilte fish at Passover. The most important message from Sarna’s article is this: These dishes might be gross, but they also tell a story of our people.
Think about that and keep telling the stories.

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Tu B’Shevat: more than simply planting trees

Posted on 25 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It is winter, and it has been cold. Yet Tu B’Shevat — the Birthday of the Trees — is just around the corner. With it is coming a feeling of spring.
Tu B’Shevat is the 15th day of Shevat; this year the holiday will be celebrated Jan. 31. Most of us have memories of collecting money to plant trees in Israel at this time of year. We continue the planting of trees on this “birthday.” Additionally, there are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonders of nature, and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times. God commands us to care for the earth, and 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 — in other words, do not destroy. The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste.
This is a good time of year to talk with your children about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. One very good resource for such a discussion is a book, Listen to the Trees — the Jews and the Earth by Molly Cone.
Don’t be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Simply read the full text out loud, then ask your children what they think it means. As you break the text into smaller pieces, continue to ask questions. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Just the answer in which we can find meaning for ourselves with this holiday. Even young children are capable of finding such meaning.
Here are some examples of appropriate texts for Tu B’Shevat:
“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, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai)
“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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Respect, honor, kavod

Posted on 18 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Our Jewish value of the month at the J is “Respect — Kavod” and I have been talking with toddlers through senior adults about this value. The first place I often go is to the dictionary. Here are a few definitions of words about respect, honor, kavod:

  • RESPECT: the condition of being honored, esteemed, well regarded; an attitude of admiration.
  • HONOR: (much harder to define) the state of being honored; being honorable; having a good name.
  • KAVOD: respect; honor; dignity

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)

Questions to think, talk about

  • What does respect mean to you? What does it look like (actions)?
  • Share an example of how you have been respected or shown respect.
  • 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?
  • What does it mean to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
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Biblioholics, diversify portfolio with some videos

Posted on 11 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As my regular readers know, I am a biblioholic — books are my thing to the point that Amazon is on speed dial!
I have recommended countless books and I have many more but lately, I have suggested websites that offer amazing Jewish learning and you can find almost anything you need to know plus many interpretations of the particular question.
Jewish tradition believes in repetition — do the rituals again and again often, until they become a part of your life; read the Torah regularly and discover new ideas each time you read; be open to learning from all people and methods (from Pirke Avot: Who is wise? The one who learns from all people). All of the learning and experiencing is not just about growing as a Jew but growing as a person — the lessons enhance every part of your life.
Now I must recommend a pretty new website: bimbam.com. It is not one of my usual favorites of sites with lots of reading but a site filled with videos — YES, VIDEOS! And they are short, answer so many questions about Judaism and fun to watch. For some of us, this will work beyond the books and the reading so try it. Just this past week (you can get updates and have more to watch than funny cat videos because here you will learn) the topics were on halacha (Jewish law), bar/bat mitzvah and kosher. The less-than-five-minute video on “Keeping Kosher” was amazing! And not only was it filled with the what and how but there was a short segment on how to be a thoughtful guest in a kosher home. Wow! Got everything you need to know in less than five minutes.
Just imagine, if Rabbi Hillel could step into a time machine and transport to the present day, when asked to tell all about Judaism while standing on one foot, he could have simply said to go to this website! Of course, Hillel’s answer of, “Do not do to others what you do not what them to do to you” was followed by his admonition to “go and study.”
I guarantee that if you watch one video, you won’t stop there! So my advice this week is to go directly to bimbam.com and start learning. It is fun and easy and has really good stuff! A semi-disclaimer: Some people think that when a book or a video or a movie or a website is “for children” it means it is just for kids, but remember that we all are learning and perhaps a short video will lead you to more learning.
That is the hope!
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Look beyond your immediate concern for teaching, learning

Posted on 04 January 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It is a new year and we can either look at the positives or dwell on the negatives.
Sometimes we see our own small world and evaluate everything based on how it affects us. However, it is so important that we look beyond ourselves and see our friends, neighbors and those we don’t even know. We try to keep our children (and ourselves) from scary things in the news but often the news gives us opportunities for teaching and learning valuable lessons. An important Jewish value to remember and teach as we begin the year is rachamim, the Hebrew word usually translated as compassion.
As we acknowledge other people’s feelings, thoughts and experiences, we feel compassion for them — we identify with them and want to help them, which is also called empathy. Psychologists tell us that compassion and empathy begin to develop in the first years of life. In fact, scientists assume that we are biologically wired for these feelings. Yet, we must also teach our children to be empathetic and compassionate. Rabbi Wayne Dosick in Golden Rules says:
You can teach your children that a good decent, ethical person has a big, loving heart when they feel you feeling another’s pain, when they know that you are committed to alleviating human suffering.
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person has big, open hands when they watch you give of your resources — generously and often — and when they watch you give of the work of your hands — willingly and joyfully.
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person can fulfill the sacred task of celebrating the spark of the Divine in each human being and the preciousness of each human being when you teach them to imitate God who is “gracious, compassionate and abundant in kindness; who forgives mistakes, and promises everlasting love.”
Some of the questions we should ask our children are: What does it mean to be kind to a friend? Think of a time when someone hurt you. How did it feel? Try to “put yourself in someone’s shoes.” What does that mean? How does it help us to understand others? How can we show compassion to strangers?
This is an opportunity to talk not just about how we feel but what we can do. We must show our children that we must act — we all can do something and this is an opportunity to teach tzedakah at work.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Learn truth about Jewish pets

Posted on 27 December 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
There are so many questions about Judaism that begin with, “What do Jews believe about…?” Or “Don’t all Jews believe…?”
The easiest answer is the old joke that you ask two Jews a question and you get three answers or often four or five or more. We have a wonderful religion that not only allows us to question, but also actually demands us to think and question and even struggle and argue with God. Remember there is a hierarchy in decisions: Torah law first, Rabbinic law second and custom third. However, as we all know, often custom takes precedence. We do what our community and our family does.
Now when you want an answer, your best bet is to go to a rabbi but remember that it isn’t like finding a second opinion from a doctor if you don’t like the answer. When you get an answer from your rabbi, believe him! Today many of us choose to go to the Internet (good idea?). Well, again, you may have to figure out who is speaking and where are they coming from in terms of belief and understanding. However, you can find answers.
All of this leads me to the topic I found enlightening this week — from myjewishlearning.com, there was a great lesson on “Judaism and Pets: Questions and Answers.” There is a commonly held misperception that Jews and pets (especially dogs) don’t go together. For all of us dog lovers, don’t worry — there is no Jewish prohibition against owning pets!
Rather than give away the answers and in hopes to drive you to myjewishlearning.com which is a great website (there are lots of others that I have recommended over the years — I suggest reading many even on a daily basis to give you different thoughts and ideas), here are the some of the questions posed so find out the answers:
Is it true that Orthodox Jews don’t have pets?
Can Jews own pets and still comply with traditional Jewish laws?
Can I spay or neuter my pet?
Can one take care of their pet on Shabbat?
Can you feed your pet nonkosher food?
Are there any Jewish rituals for mourning a pet?
Do pets have souls?
Can I euthanize my pet?
All valid questions for those of us who have pets and love them dearly — find the answers. And here is another website to check out for animal lovers — jewishinitiativeforanimals.org.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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