Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Strive for courage, strength

Posted on 27 June 2019 by admin

This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember — “We are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us!”
Ometz Lev, the mitzvah of courage, literally means “dedication of the heart.” When our heart is set, we have the inner strength to overcome fear and doubt. This is not only the soldier kind of courage, but rather the courage that we have because we have trust in God. It also means the power to have endurance, persistence and the strength to be a good person.
Mitzvah hero of today’s world —
Hannah Senesh
Hannah Senesh was born in Budapest, Hungary, in 1921. As a teenager, Hannah was very active in Zionist activity, and in 1939, she moved to a kibbutz in Palestine. World War II broke out and Hannah was very worried about friends and family. In 1943, she joined the Palmach, the Jewish army in Palestine. The Palmach planned a raid to help Jews escape from the Nazis. They would drop soldiers behind enemy lines. Hannah volunteered and was the only woman chosen to go on the raid. Soon after landing, she was captured and tortured to divulge plans and codes. Hannah refused to speak and was executed by a firing squad. Word of Hannah’s bravery and strength spread to all the Jews. She remains in the hearts of all Jews and is remembered through her poetry for her bravery.
“I wounded another not knowing both ends of an arrow mar.
“I too was hurt in the battle and shall bear a scar.”
In our ancestors’ footsteps —
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai
There is in Rome the famous Arch of Titus showing Romans in 70 CE triumphantly parading spoils from the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, which they had just destroyed. It is one end of the story of the time that the Romans conquered Israel. This could have been the end of Judaism, but it wasn’t because of the bravery and wisdom of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai.
While the Romans laid siege against Jerusalem, ben Zakkai had a plan. His followers pretended he was dead and carried him outside the city gate in a coffin, but ben Zakkai arose, and went to the general, who granted ben Zakkai one request: “Give me Yavneh and its sages.” The small academy of Yavneh became the spiritual center of the Jewish people and a new type of Judaism survived which allowed Judaism to flourish wherever the Jews would go.
Finish these statements
Hannah Senesh fulfilled the mitzvah of Ometz Lev by:
Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai fulfilled the mitzvah of Ometz Lev by:
I can fulfill this mitzvah by:
Family talk time
• Let each family member talk about a time they did something that took courage. Remember, it doesn’t always have to mean physical courage. Does having courage mean you are never afraid?
• When we talk about strength, we usually think of physical strength. What does it mean to be strong in other ways?
• Some people talk about “strong families.” What makes a strong family? How can you make your family stronger? Does being part of the Jewish religion or community help you be stronger? How and why?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Mitzvah heroes who have made a difference

Posted on 20 June 2019 by admin

This summer we study mitzvot through “mitzvah heroes.” Each week we remember that “we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.”
Our value this week is tikkun olam, the mitzvah of healing the world. Tikkun olam is a mitzvah of action. The Hebrew word tikkun means to “fix” or “heal” something that is broken; olam means “world.”
When we do tikkun olam, we are performing acts that will benefit our society, from our school to the entire planet earth. This mitzvah is about making the world a better place, and believing we can, and should, make a difference in the world.
Mitzvah hero of today’s world —
Abraham Joshua Heschel
Heschel, a renowned rabbi, was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1940 to escape the Nazis. He became a professor and through his teachings, influenced a generation of other rabbis and educators.
Heschel wrote an important book titled “The Prophets,” and it was from his study of the biblical prophets that he became involved in social issues. He was one of the first to protest against the Vietnam War, and joined Martin Luther King Jr. in protesting against the lack of civil rights for blacks in the United States.
Heschel marched with King in Selma, Alabama, in 1965 and declared: “When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.” Heschel was passionate in his desire to do his part to “heal the world.”
He stated in response to the Vietnam War: “We must continue to remind ourselves that in a free society, all are involved in what some are doing. Some are guilty, all are responsible.”
In our ancestors’ footsteps —
Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972)
Rose Schneiderman was a young immigrant girl at a time when there were very few jobs for immigrants, especially for immigrant women. Most immigrant women worked in “sweatshops,” hot, overcrowded rooms filled with sewing machines that they worked at for 12 to 14 hours a day.
Schneiderman believed that women could improve their working conditions if they worked together. She co-founded the first union of female workers, and became the first woman in a leadership position.
Although she was only 4½ feet tall, Rose Schneiderman was powerful. She fought for the rights of working women throughout her life, and when she died in 1972, The New York Times wrote that she “did more to upgrade the dignity and living standards of working women than any other woman.”
Finish these statements:
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel fulfilled the mitzvah of tikkun olam by:
Rose Schneiderman fulfilled the mitzvah of tikkun olam by:
I can fulfill this mitzvah by:
Family talk time
•It has been said that we cannot change the world until we change ourselves. What can you do to change the way you behave, that will make a difference in the world?
•Read the newspaper throughout the week, and cut out articles the family can talk about at the dinner table. This week, look for articles about people who have tried to “fix the world.”
•Family Brainstorm: Pick a problem in your school, community or even the world, and discuss possible solutions to the problem. Remember brainstorming means that every idea should be put out on the table — even a three-year-old might have a great solution. Examine all possible solutions, then decide what your family can do to help.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services learning at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Summer days boil down to basic Jewish values

Posted on 14 June 2019 by admin

This summer at J Camps, we are learning values through many ways. One way to see Jewish values in practice is to look at our Jewish heroes and mentors. We know that “we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.” We must learn the lessons from those who came before us and then strive to be the ones who will shoulder the next generation.
How do we make Maimonides or Albert Einstein or Hannah Senesh come alive to our children? By making them come alive to us as parents and then introducing them to our children as “family” because these heroes are indeed part of our Jewish family. Just as we know the history of our favorite aunt, we should learn the story of “Aunt Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” We realize that our entire Jewish family makes us who we are and who we will become.
The information for this summer’s weekly columns comes from “Jewish Heroes Jewish Values — Living Mitzvot in Today’s World” by Barry L. Schwartz.
Please feel free to contact me to learn more and to find ways to share these lessons with your children. JCC camps will share and teach mitzvot throughout the summer, focusing on lots of great heroes as well as practicing being heroes for the future. The hope is that campers will come home this summer with positive role models, present and past.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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The 12 Tribes and Camp Chai

Posted on 31 May 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
As we get ready for Camp Chai, campers are excited to find out what “tribe” they will be in. Every camp has traditions, and Camp Chai at the J has a longstanding tradition of naming our groups by the 12 tribes. Here is part of the blessing that Jacob gave to each of his sons, who later became the leaders of the 12 tribes of Israel:
Reuben: the eldest who showed a deep sense of responsibility. He convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph. Later, he offered the lives of his own sons if he should fail to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. His symbol is the mandrake, the flower he brought to his mother Leah.
Gad: means “good fortune” and though “raided by raiders, he shall raid at their heels.” The symbol is camp tents, standing for prowess in battle.
Joseph: The favorite son was noble and distinguished; he was Jacob’s favorite. Joseph’s sons were given a blessing from Jacob because of their father’s honor. The symbol for Joseph includes the bull and the unicorn for his two sons.
Benjamin: “a hungry wolf who eats in the morning,” produced fine soldiers and gave Israel its first king. The symbol is the wolf.
Dan: means “to judge” and Dan would “judge his people.” But Jacob also said: “Dan shall be a serpent in the way.” The symbol is the serpent and scales of justice.
Judah: was a “young lion,” declared Jacob. “Rulers will descend from him.” Judah’s descendants include King David and King Solomon. The symbol is the lion.
Naftali: was alert, nimble and a good speaker. Jacob said he was “a deer let loose; he gives goodly words.” The symbol is a deer, still used by the Israel Ministry of Posts.
Simeon: The descendants of Simeon would be scattered among the tribes. The symbol is the Gates of Shechem, which was a city where the tribe of Simeon lived.
Zebulon: would “dwell at the shore and be a haven for ships.” The symbol is a ship with the breeze blowing and the white foam flowing.
Asher: means “happy,” and he would be “rich in oil.” The tribe of Asher grew olive groves and provided the Temple with oil. The symbol is the olive tree.
Menasha and Ephraim: Joseph’s sons were adopted by Jacob for a special blessing. “By thee shall Israel bless, saying: ‘God make thee as Ephraim and Menasha.’” The symbol for Menasha was the unicorn.
Levi: the tribe that served the Kohanim and the Temple. The symbol was the choshen mishpat — the breastplate of judgment. On the plate were 12 jewels, each with the name of a tribe.
Now if that is too much to remember, here is a song we sing — it is to the tune of “Catalina Magdalina” (some verses are a little tricky) but the same message is given:
Jacob Blesses His Sons
CHORUS: Jacob had 12 sons but they came from different moms. Each became a tribe in Jewish history.
Reuben was the oldest but he didn’t have much spine so he got the basic blessing but without the bottom line. CHORUS
As for Simeon and Levi, their families got mixed. Due to what occurred in Shechem, their blessing was nixed. CHORUS
All honor goes to Judah, the ancestor of David the King. His tribe would win back the Promised Land and praises would ring. CHORUS
Zebulon got the seashore and Issachar got the land. In looking at the blessings, these two were very grand. CHORUS
The task of judging all the folks was given to Dan. But for eloquence in speech, Naftali was the man. CHORUS
Gad will be a raider with a winning warrior band. And Asher will lead the traders and bring delicacies to the land. CHORUS
Benjamin was the baby but he led a wolf-like tribe. First he takes the goodies and later he will divide. CHORUS
Joseph was the favorite but we all know that. He got the longest blessing plus the coat upon his back. CHORUS
Ephraim and Menasha were Joseph’s pride. They got Grampa Jacob’s blessing as they stood side by side. CHORUS

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Learning shouldn’t stop during summer

Posted on 23 May 2019 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,

School is drawing to a close but learning never ends. Throughout Jewish history study has always been important. For many today, studying Jewish topics is daunting. So, let us begin by learning the following two texts together.

Uh-oh. What is a text, how do we learn texts, what do you mean by “together”? The Jewish way to learn involves focusing on important piece of written information from any time or age, such as text from the Torah. Then, with a friend or family member, we try to understand all the deeper meaning to the words.

Our goal is to learn from wiser individuals, and to give meaning to today’s life lessons. We find that the same issues and concerns have been around for a long time, and each generation and each person must struggle for meaning.

The two texts below discuss learning and teaching.

“Constant study is not study all day, but each day.” —Israel Salanter Lipkin

“Those who learn for the purpose of teaching, receive inspiration.” —Midrash

Here are two important quotations from the sages about learning through study and teaching. First, it is especially important for us as adults, as busy parents, to take time to learn both for ourselves and for our children. You might claim you don’t have time. My challenge to you is to take the time, and reap the rewards. For example, I have often spoken of “Carpool Judaism.” Instead of giving the kids a laptop, phone or movie to watch while driving them to and from school, or to other activities, talk with them. The car is a perfect place for all kinds of discussions. As our children grow up, many of us have found that the car is often the best place for those really big topics. First of all, your child is captive. And, second, you do not need to look at each other.

Meanwhile, how can we keep learning? Read, read, read. And, when you’re done reading, you can talk, talk, talk.

As the Midrash says, when you learn to teach, you are inspired. Begin now to spend time with your children, both reading and talking. Start by saying, “I want to tell you about a good book I read” or “I was listening to a friend and I wanted to share these ideas with you.” If you and your children open the doors for communication now, those doors will never shut or be locked.

Talk about everything, especially what is important to you, what you value, and what you imagine. Teach your children to explore new ideas and sense your wonder of the world. When you do that, they will never stop wondering and imagining. As we end the school year, be sure to continue your learning together.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Appreciation and gratitude extend to our pets

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

Dear Families
At the Early Childhood Center, we always talk about a wonderful Jewish value that is sometimes hard to explain to young children. This is hoda’ah, translated as appreciation, gratitude, being thankful.
Since this can be a difficult concept for youngsters to grasp, we focused on their interests. And, through a Jewish lens, I told them that caring for animals is a mitzvah. This, in turn, led into how we care.
I took an idea from Joel Lurie Grishaver and Nachum Amsel’s “You Be the Judge: A Collection of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers,” and the follow-up: “You be the Judge 2: A Collection of Ethical Cases and Jewish Answers.”
The young children became a bet din, a Jewish court of law, to decide the case: “Does Shabbat Have to Go to the Dogs?” The situation is common in many families; feeding the family pet is the responsibility of the children. In this situation, Josh forgot to feed the dog before Shabbat dinner, and as the family sat to pray and eat, the dog was barking. Grandma said to feed the dog after the blessings and dinner. Cousin David, on the other hand, said the dog should be fed before the blessings and before the family eats.
You be the judge: Should the dog be fed before the family eats? Or afterward?
Here’s what the sages said. A mitzvah, tzar ba’alei hayyim, forbids cruelty to animals. Not feeding animals is cruel. In the Torah, we read about Rebecca, who was kind to the camels. Then there is Moses, who brought water from the rock for the people and the animals.
According to Maimonides: “The sages made it a practice to feed their animals before they tasted anything themselves.” Rashi, in the Talmud, added, “One may even delay ha-motzi in order to feed animals.” Many rabbis have agreed that pets are our responsibility, which includes feeding them since they cannot get their own food.
In short, caring for animals is important and must come even before we take care of ourselves. It is a mitzvah and responsibility.
Getting back to the teaching, as my lesson was about gratitude and showing appreciation, I brought it back to being thankful for our pets. Then, one voice piped up, saying: “I’m thankful my mom feeds our dog!”

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The Omer: Counting the days to Sinai

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
These days, many of us are obsessed with counting, whether it is calories, or steps or something else. We have always counted days to different events, counted how old we are, or other “counts” we may be interested in. This brings us to the ritual of today – Counting the Omer.
Here is the scoop on Omer counting, for those of you who aren’t familiar with it. There is a special period between Passover and Shavuot called sefirah, meaning counting. The practice is observed from the night of the second seder until the eve of Shavuot, and is counted every evening after nightfall. When we count the Omer, we are counting the days on which the Omer offering of the new barley crop was brought to the Temple. This connects the Exodus from Egypt to the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Tradition has it that the Israelites were told that the Torah would be given to them 50 days after the exodus. According to Leviticus 23:15-16, they were so eager for it, that they began to count the days, saying, “Now we have one day less to wait for the giving of the Torah.”
During this time period, we observe by refraining from joyous events and other customs; for much of our history, it seems as though massacres have taken place during Omer. The one day off from mourning is Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day between Pesach and Shavout.
A good book that discusses the Omer is “Omer: A Counting,” by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar, and published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis. In her introduction, Kedar said that, “time, in the Jewish consciousness, is purposeful and directed, ripe with potential and filled with meaning. Yet even as we look toward the future, counting each day forces us to acknowledge and appreciate the significance of the moment. Every day presents us with the choice to stay where we are, to revert to where we have been, or to progress toward fulfilling our destiny.” Her book provides the right blessings and words to say during the Omer, plus something to think about each day.
There are also several apps, available for laptop and tablets, and Android and iPhones, to help you count the Omer. These apps remind you each day to say the correct blessing; they also provide some thoughts and insights about Omer.
Whether you count the Omer using the pages of a book or apps on your phone, here is hoping that trying this ritual provides meaning for you and your family.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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The ‘why’ of Pesach

Posted on 18 April 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
So many traditions shape the Passover Seder, from family to family, and over generations and cultures. However, in the words of Simon Sinek, the “why” of Passover is more important that the “how” and the “what.” Sinek’s book, “Start with Why,” will change how you look at life.
So, starting Passover with “why” is perfect, because the heart of the holiday is knowing the story and understanding why it is still relevant today. This is also why, each year, I challenge others to find new and different Haggadot; each one provides a new twist on an ancient story, while helping us understand the past, the present and the future. Additionally, the Seder is designed to make us ask questions: Why the four cups of wine, why the charoses, why the plagues, why those rabbis in Bnei Brak? The questions go on and on.
The challenge is to encourage questions, and to ask them, at the Seder. No answer is wrong. We learn that from the Talmudic sages, who kept all the answers to Torah questions, even when one was considered the answer to follow. We can now look back to any tractate of Talmud and see the ongoing discussions; that is what questioning is all about.
This brings me to something that happened in my prekindergarten Torah class. One little boy told me he had a book that indicated the fourth plague was a swarm of insects. I had told him that plague was wild beasts, so I told him I would check.
My research took me to four different translations and commentaries; some focused on insects, while others specified wild beasts. When I Googled the issue, I was led to’s “Ask a Rabbi” section. So, I did. Within 24 hours I received this response: The Hebrew word for the fourth plague is arov, which translates into “a mixture.” The more common interpretation is a mixture of wild beasts, though the less common interpretation is a swarm of insects. Then he gave me a link to an article on the topic, which showed I wasn’t the only one asking this question. I was excited to receive the response, but did it work for me or my 4-year-old student? I think he was happy with the answer. But I had more questions.
The most important lesson here is to not stop asking questions, and to be open to exploring different answers. Such an answer could help you today, even if tomorrow you have another question. The best part of being Jewish is that we can keep asking and questioning. We learn more by questioning. So, remember this Passover to add, and ask, questions at every meal you have with family and friends.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Everyone pays attention to our behavior

Posted on 11 April 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
I love books. I am an obsessed bibliophile.
I’ve acknowledged this before, but believe it is OK; as Jews, being “the people of the book” is in our DNA. These days, however, we must also be “people of the internet.” There is so much great Jewish knowledge out there and, just as with books, we must know the source.
In “Pirke Avot,” we are told that we can learn from everyone; in other words, we should be open to learning, whether through books or blogs. Here is one story I wish to share that comes from an education blog called “Growing Leaders,” by Tim Elmore, who shares a story about his wife.
“Years ago, when our daughter was four years old, my wife took her shopping for groceries. When they returned to the car, my wife suddenly realized she had a can of green beans that she failed to pay for. So, she turned the cart around and returned the vegetables to the cashier. When she did, the young clerk did a double-take. She could not believe someone would do such an ethical thing. After all, it was just a can of green beans. So, the clerk smiled and said, ‘Thanks, but you didn’t have to do this. It’s not a big deal.’ To which my wife replied, ‘It is when your child is watching.’”
This story brings up other questions, namely, do we follow rules only because we are afraid of getting caught? If no one is watching, is it OK to cheat, steal or lie?
The mother in the story was aware that our actions tell a lot about us, and that our children are watching. Being a role model is something some don’t want to take on; athletes, entertainers and corporate leaders often wish the spotlight wasn’t on them. Yet, we must all remember that, even before phones that video our every action, we were being watched. This is because Judaism is action based. What we do matters. It matters to those watching, and it matters to each of us on how we see ourselves. As such, we should ask ourselves, what we do to demonstrate our values and ethics. So yes, to go back to the story — it is a big deal how we act when our children are watching. But, we need to remember that God is always watching.

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It’s time to plan for Pesach

Posted on 04 April 2019 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 soon begin, if it hasn’t started already. We start gathering kosher for Pesach Diet Coke (a real essential in my family) the minute it hits the stores. The cleaning probably won’t start for a while, although much of it is last-minute.
Begin now to plan your Seder so that the learning experience and meaningful memories happen for all ages. For instances, 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, it is a challenge to find the best one for your family. This year, search the internet. Haggadot are for sale and are available for download.
For those not as observant, there is a Haggadah that can be projected on a screen from your computer. It’s important, however, to remember that we are “people of the book” and “people of the questions” (and lots of talking). Perhaps bring out different Haggadot, and encourage people to read from their favorites, as you follow the order of the Seder.
It is also important is to involve children 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. Also, balance is important, yet can be a challenge. Bags with toys for each of the plagues are fun. But how do we teach our children that the plagues were bad, without scaring them?
Finally, preparing for your Seder with young children requires lots of planning, but don’t forget to plan for the adults; the Seder should be meaningful for all ages.
Finally, don’t forget that Passover is not over with the seder. Keeping Passover in the traditional way is not something every family does, but it is a wonderful learning experience for young children. Start small by just eliminating bread and eating matzo for the week.
With kosher for Pesach innovations, you can have almost everything now — from rolls, to cereal, to tacos. It’s a good idea to discuss Passover, and how to make it meaningful to your family.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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