Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Justice doesn’t always mean exactly the same

Posted on 26 April 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Kids always tell their parents, “That’s not fair!” What exactly are they thinking? What is “fair”? Fairness is a word that is really about justice (mishpat in Hebrew), and justice may be an even harder word for children and for us.
The message of justice is 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 talk about and a great discussion starter story:
* Have you ever been treated unfairly? How did it make you feel?
* Do you think it is fair that older children get to stay up later and do more things than younger children? Why or why not? Do you think it is fair that boys get to do things that girls don’t get to do and vice versa? 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?
Shabbat story discussion
A young boy came to a woman’s house and asked if she would like to buy some of the berries he had picked from his father’s fields. The woman said, “Yes, I would, and I’ll just take your basket inside to measure out 2 quarts.”
The boy sat down on the porch and the woman asked, “Don’t you want to watch me? How do you know that I won’t cheat you and take more than 2 quarts?” The young boy said, “I am not afraid, for you would get the worst of the deal.” “How could that be?” she asked. The boy answered, “If you take more than the 2 quarts that you are paying me for, I would only lose the berries. You would make yourself a liar and a thief.”
Talk about the meaning of this story with your family.
We should always try to do the fair and just thing — it is an important value to live by.

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Come for Hello, Dolly!, see b’tzelem elohim in action

Posted on 19 April 2018 by admin

In Judaism, we have a blessing for everything, which is great because the sages told us to say 100 blessings every day.
Isn’t it wonderful to feel gratitude 100 times a day? There is even a wonderful blessing that thanks G-d for making people different:
Baruch atah Adonai Elohaynu melech ha’olam mishaneh ha’briyot. Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, who makes people different.
We are supposed to say this blessing when we see someone who looks different and when we see someone with challenges. It gives us an opportunity not only to be thankful for what we have but thankful that we can know people who look at the world differently.
The community is invited to see a very special performance of Hello, Dolly! at 2 p.m. Sunday, April 22. Our troupe is called Habima Theatre and is a joint project of CHAI, Inc. and the Aaron Family JCC. It is designed to promote dignity, respect and acceptance of people with intellectual disabilities. Our performance is the wonderful culmination of the Habima Theatre workshop, which begins each January.
During the course of the workshop, the participants stretch and grow in many ways. Each member of the cast and crew is empowered and enriched by the accomplishment of the group. Twenty adults with developmental delays are the actors in this production. In addition, we have teen and adult volunteers who have been working with us. This will be our 18th year of performances — our chai performance.
So why should you come and bring your children? The excitement and joy shown by each of our performers makes this a very special event. As you sit and watch the struggles and accomplishments, the important Jewish concept of b’tzelem Elohim (being created in God’s image) comes alive. We recognize that each of us brings something special to the world, and we are truly fortunate that we can be in a community with so many different people.
Shalom…from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Mr. Dulles, the Jewish people have their story straight

Posted on 12 April 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Just before Passover, David Ben Gurion’s grandson, Alon Ben Gurion, spoke at Congregation Shearith Israel about his grandfather and Israel. He related a story that I used at the many Passover Seders in which I participated.
The story tells of the challenge of convincing the United States to support Israel. It is a story about Jews as a people with a common heritage no matter where we live throughout the world. As we put away our Passover dishes and prepare for Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, tell this story to every Jewish parent who questions Jewish school whether preschool, day school or supplemental school. We must continue to tell our children the stories of our people. Here is the story:
In 1954, when David Ben Gurion was Prime Minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President Dwight D. Eisenhower to request his assistance and support in the early and difficult days of the State of Israel.
John Foster Dulles, who was the then secretary of state, confronted Ben Gurion and challenged him as follows:
“Tell me, Mr. Prime Minister, who do you and your state represent? Does it represent the Jews of Poland, perhaps Yemen, Romania, Morocco, Iraq, Russia or perhaps Brazil? After 2,000 years of exile can you honestly speak about a single nation, a single culture? Can you speak about a single heritage or perhaps a single Jewish tradition?”
Ben Gurion answered him as follows:
“Look, Mr. Secretary of State, approximately 300 years ago the Mayflower set sail from England and on it were the first settlers who settled in what would become the largest democratic superpower known as the United States of America. Now, do me a favor. Go out into the streets and find 10 American children and ask them the following:
“What was the name of the captain of the Mayflower?
“How long did the voyage take?
“What did the people who were on the ship eat?
“What were the conditions of sailing during the voyage?
“I’m sure you would agree with me that there is a good chance that you won’t get a good answer to these questions.
“Now in contrast – not 300 but more than 3,000 years ago, the Jews left the land of Egypt.
“I would kindly request from you, Mr. Secretary, that on one of your trips around the world, try and meet 10 Jewish children in different countries. And ask them:
“What was the name of the leader who took the Jews out of Egypt?
“How long did it take them before they got to the land of Israel?
“What did they eat during the period when they were wandering in the desert?
“And what happened to the sea when they encountered it?
“Once you get the answers to these questions, please carefully reconsider the question that you have just asked me.”

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Some questions to generate dinner-table conversation

Posted on 05 April 2018 by admin

Countless studies and reports have come out over the importance for children and families to have dinner together. It is a time to sit down and enjoy a meal and more important, to talk with one another. (A brief aside: a few nights ago, my husband and I were at a restaurant, and I wanted to take a picture of this family sitting together with mom, dad and three kids all looking down at their cell phones – a common picture today.)
Jewish practice has given us the mandate to have Shabbat dinner together each week. although the numbers of families who do that is not nearly as high as the number of families who sit down for at least one Passover Seder.
We have it in our tradition. We have the perfect meal with family, friends and even strangers sitting together and not only eating, but talking and sharing. Yes, the Seder has a plan (it even means “order”), but everything we do is to provoke questions and discussion. How wonderful if we did this every night. When Passover is over, make a plan to have dinner with lots of questions.
But this week, as we conclude the holiday, here are some questions from JewishBoston.com.
· Freedom is a central theme of Passover. When in your life have you felt most free?* The word “Seder” means “order.” How do you maintain order in your life?
· Moses is considered one of the greatest leaders in our history. He is described as being smart, courageous, selfless and kind. Which of today’s leaders inspires you in a similar way?
· In Hebrew, the word for Egypt is “Mitzraim,” which literally means “narrow place.” What is one way that you wish for our society to be more open?
· Is there someone – or multiple people – in your family’s history who made their own journey to freedom?
· The Passover Seder format encourages us to ask as many questions as we can. What questions has Judaism encouraged you to ask?
And, of course, we need a few light-hearted questions on our favorite subject: food:
· How many non-food uses for matzoh can you think of?
· The manna in the desert had a taste that matched the desire of each individual who ate it. For you, what would that taste be? Why?
· Afikoman means “dessert” in Greek. If you could only eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Conclude this Passover with questions, then challenge your family to ask one question per person at dinner every day.

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Moses might have been the introvert we needed

Posted on 29 March 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
All during Passover, we think about Moses (even though he is barely mentioned in the Haggadah), then we continue to read about his role in leading the people through the last pages of Deuteronomy.
Countless people have discussed the qualities that made Moses successful and many write about his failures. We know this man through his story and we look to this story for lessons in our own lives. Will there ever be another Moses? (Not according to the final lines of Deuteronomy, 34:10-12 — “Never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses…”) It might be nice to have another Moses, but we definitely need leaders and perhaps wonder if we could be a leader.
Countless researchers have looked into what makes a leader. We may read those leadership books and measure ourselves and our leaders against those qualities. In 2012, Susan Cain wrote the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, and in 2017 a new book Quiet Power: The Secret Strengths of Introverted Kids. Both are fascinating, whether you are an introvert or extrovert, although one of her goals is to demonstrate that we must not devalue introverts. (Read the books to find out why.)
Now what did she have to say about Moses? First understand that introversion and extroversion come down to how we best derive energy. Introverts recharge from inwardly focused activities and extroverts get their charge through external stimulation. Looking at Moses, you would think he was an extrovert as he certainly had to be around a lot of people, all of them looking to him and needing him.
However, think about it — Moses liked to spend time alone as a shepherd; he admitted that he was not a man of words (we call it a speaking phobia today), and he spent a long time on a mountain alone with God. Without those interests and qualities, he wouldn’t have seen the burning bush, and he certainly would not have been able to spend so long alone on a mountain. Cain says of Moses: “…the medium is not always the message; and that people followed Moses because his words were thoughtful, not because he spoke them well.”
In an article titled Was Moses an Introvert? in the March/April 2018 issue of Hadassah Magazine, Marla Brown Fogelman quotes Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove from his sermon on Moses at the Park Avenue Synagogue: “God chose someone who would not be swayed by unfounded adulation or undue criticism, whose ethic would be shaped not by external pressure or perception but by an inner moral compass.”
Moses never took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but we know that our sages attributed these important virtues to him — silence, humility and thinking before you speak. We needed a leader who could be alone with God and one who could step up when needed. We need the introverts of the world.

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More than four Passover questions

Posted on 22 March 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Passover is coming and hopefully you are already shopping and cleaning. The hope of the Seder is that we will tell the story and even learn something new. Here are a slew of Passover questions — some trivia, some for deeper thinking. If you need answers, let me know, and if you use the questions at your Seder, let me know.
1. Moses’ family
• Can you name Moses’ mother and father?
• Who were Moses’ brother and sister?
2. Passover food
• Why does every cook worry about?
• What do you need to eat lots of during Passover?
3. The Seder plate
• What does the bone represent?
• What are the basic items in charoset and what else can you add?
4. From the Torah
• In Genesis, what is Abraham warned?
• The Book of Exodus begins, “There arose a Pharaoh who knew not Joseph.”
5. The plagues
• Besides the 10th plague, which would you choose as the worst one? Why?
• After each plague, Pharaoh would not let the people go — it says that he had a “hard heart.” What is a “hard heart”?
6. Pre-Passover
• Why do you need a candle, feather and wooden spoon?
• What is made in exactly 18 minutes?
7. Women in the story
• Who was Moses’ wife? Who was her father?
• Who are the midwives who let the Hebrew babies live?
8. The Haggadah
• What does the word “Seder” mean? Why is that important?
9. Something different
• Why do some people put an orange on the Seder plate?
• Why do some people put a light bulb on the Seder plate?
10. Songs
• What does Dayenu mean?
• Go to the internet and Google “Passover Songs” and you will find amazing new songs for your Seder.
11. The end of the Seder
• Who do we open the door for?
• What does “afikomen” mean?
12. Leaving Egypt
• Who from Pharaoh’s family left with Moses?
• How many Israelites left Egypt?
13. Crossing the Red Sea
• Who had to show faith and step into the sea first so that it would open?
14. When the Israelites reached the other side, what musical instrument did Miriam play as she sang?
15. The number 4
• Who is supposed to ask the Four Questions?
• Name the Four Sons and tell which one you are most like.
16. What would you have taken with you out of Egypt?
• What will you pack to keep you comfortable?
• What will you pack to eat?
• What will you pack for fun?
• What memories will you take?
17. What does it mean to be free?
• If you are free, does that mean no rules? What rules do we need?
• Every year we read that each of us should think of ourselves as having left Egypt. Why is it so important to remember?
18. What miracles have you seen?
• The parting of the Red Sea was an amazing miracle. Do you believe in miracles?
• What miracles have you seen?
19. Have you ever taken a leap of faith?
• Nachshon took a leap when he walked into the sea. What or who gave him that courage?
• Describe a time when you had to do something you were scared to do, but you did it anyway.
• Why is it so hard to try something new?

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Jewish values can help you while on a jury

Posted on 15 March 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It’s been a while, but I am sure it is coming — the jury summons. I have been called often and served once, and it was an amazing experience that everyone should have. They tell you to listen to the facts but also recognize that you bring your own experience and knowledge with you.
When I was waiting to see if I would be chosen, I thought that I probably should have told them that I am a Jewish educator, because so much of what Judaism teaches was relevant (it may have gotten me out of it?). So many of the middot that I teach were called into play in this process. Without going into details of the case, here are some “Jewish Values”:
• Dan L’Chaf Zechut — Give the benefit of the doubt: this is crucial in a court of law. Can you listen with an open mind or have you decided without hearing the facts?
• Emet — Truthfulness: The truth is always important, but how do you know if someone is being truthful? How do you determine the credibility of a witness? Combine that with giving the benefit of the doubt — what’s a person to do?
• Shmiat HaOzen — Being a good listener: On the jury we had to sit for many hours and listen. Can you be a good listener and not be quick to judge? Can you listen with your heart and mind as well as with your ears? Can you really hear another person?
• Ometz Lev — Courage: This courage is not to be brave in a fight, but to have inside courage to stand up for what is right. On a jury, it takes courage to stand up for what you think is the truth and is right. There are 11 others feeling just as strongly as you do. Can courage be about knowing when to argue and when to listen?
• Din V’Rachamim — Justice and mercy: These are probably the two middot most recognized in terms of courts of law. We put the two together because it is a matter of balance — you should not have one without the other. Then we must know which to give more “weight” to. Our rabbis guide us here as well. We are asked to think what would happen if the world were “ruled” by mercy alone? What would happen if the world were “ruled” by justice alone?
So, I brought all these thoughts to the jury room and, with 11 others, made a decision that affected many lives. Serving on a jury is our civic duty, it is an incredible experience, and it is an awesome responsibility.
Most people I talk with say they dread going, but when you aren’t chosen, you start to question why they didn’t choose you. When I come back to work after not being chosen, the children ask where I have been and I try to explain.
Concepts like courts and juries take time to understand — but you are never too young to beginning hearing about justice and mercy and courage and the importance of doing the right thing. I hope I don’t get called for a long while, but if called, I will go again and I will learn something new.

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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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