Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Enjoy nature — don’t destroy it

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
This has been a strange fall — how much more rain can we get? But before winter hits, get outside to enjoy the beauty of nature. As you work in the yard (or even clean out your garage) remember this important Jewish value: bal tashchit (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 to 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
A few things to do:
• Recycling is a beginning to help the world. What can we do or do more of in recycling?
• Can you go through your books, toys and clothes and give any away? What are other ways you can give to others and help the world?
• Do you recycle? If not, begin now. Pick one thing: newspaper, plastic bottles, soda cans? Decide and do.
What are other things that would fit under “do not destroy”?
And make sure to get outside. 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 at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


For People of the Books, the choices are endless

Posted on 25 October 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
It is not a secret — I am a biblioholic. I am addicted to buying books. We all have the genetic potential for this disease, as we are the People of the Book. However, I have always maintained that we are really the People of the “Books.” Jews are committed to learning, and books have always been the way to pass on the learning to others.
Here is a quote from Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks:
“The Egyptians build pyramids, the Greeks built temples, the Romans built amphitheaters. Jews built schools. They knew that to defend a country, you need an army, but to defend a civilization, you need education. So, Jews became the people whose heroes were teachers, whose citadels were schools, and whose passion was study and the life of the mind.”
The Torah has always been the beginning of learning, and books upon books upon books have been written with commentary and explanation of that essential book. All 63 tractates of the Talmud and the Midrash and the Codes and the commentaries from the past through today are helping us understand what that first book, the Torah, can teach us about life. Books galore and commentaries ancient and modern — does it ever end? Hopefully not ever. And now we have websites and blogs and eblasts to go through and decide what to read.
How do you choose? For many, we reach to the movement that we belong to — Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, and more. For others, it is an attempt to read a little of everything and find what resonates at that particular moment. Is there a right way to study Torah, to find answers to life’s questions?
Yes, there are a million right ways and the goal is to find what works for you at this moment in time and, most important, to keep searching and learning. Be open to new (and old) ideas and, as has been the practice of generations of students, learn with a friend, especially one who challenges you.
We are at the beginning of the cycle of the Torah, which is a great place to start. You don’t have to catch up on too much, but remember, you can start wherever and whenever you want. I will not tell you all that I am reading right now, but I am excited about the newest Chumash out there that I just got — “The Steinsaltz Humash,” published by Koren Publishers. It is a beautiful book with amazing insights from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. It is in both Hebrew and English, with sections on each page titled Discussion and Background, plus there are occasional pictures.
But what I like the best is that the English text is bold and the commentary follows as if part of the text. Steinsaltz has us reading both at the same time.
Have I convinced you to buy the book? Have I convinced you to keep learning? That is the bigger goal. We are the People of the Books, and we continue to thrive as a people because we keep learning and searching for answers.
A favorite quote of mine is: “Some girls watched ‘Beauty and The Beast’ and wanted the prince. I watched it and wanted the library.”


Children learn respect from parents’ example

Posted on 18 October 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Of all the values we would want our children to demonstrate, “respect” tops the list for almost all of us.
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 G-d 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 G-d on Tikkun Olam — to repair the world.
Here is a short version of an important story about respect and how we teach our children by our example – “The Wooden Bowl”:
This is the story of a grandfather, a father and a son. Grandfather was a wonderful man with a successful business, but when he got old, he gave it all to his son. In time, the old man came to live with his son and his family.
Slowly, grandfather needed more help even with eating. When he ate, food fell on the table and grandfather had trouble with the fork and bowl. One day the bowl slipped, fell and broke on the floor.
The father was angry and from that time, he made the grandfather eat from a wooden bowl. One night, the father heard a strange scratching sound. He looked and found his son carving a block of wood. The father asked what he was doing. The son said, “I am carving a wooden bowl for when you get old.”
How do we teach our children about kavod?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Rosh Chodesh: That other regular holiday

Posted on 04 October 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
We have had so many holidays, but now we take a break. Do you know that there are only six holidays mentioned in the Torah? If you can’t name them all, email me for the answer at
We do have two regularly occurring holidays – Shabbat, of course and Rosh Chodesh, next celebrated Oct. 9-10.
Rosh Chodesh is the celebration of the new month, and it happens 12 times a year, except during a leap year, when we have two Adars. The Jewish calendar is both lunar and solar. The moon tells us the beginning and ending of each month, but the calendar must be adjusted so that the holidays always fall in their proper season, based on the sun.
This is why every year either the holidays are early or late — but no one says that the holidays are right on time. (Do you ever wonder why?) This year is a leap year, so next year at this time, we will be saying that the holidays are late,
In ancient times, people did not work on Rosh Chodesh, however, recently it has become a holiday for women. There is a midrash about when Moses was up on Mount Sinai, the people were nervous and they demanded that Aaron build a golden calf. The women did not contribute their jewelry to build the idol. As a reward, G-d granted the women the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, so that like the moon, women would be rejuvenated each month.
Young children do not yet grasp the concept of time such as a week or a month or a year. For our families, Rosh Chodesh is a wonderful time to experience the cyclical nature of Jewish life. There are so many things to do for families of all ages:
1. Observe the moon. It is a great before-bedtime together time. Keep a journal – pictures or words.
2. Find a “Rosh Chodesh Spot.” Take a picture each month in the spot and watch the changes of the place and the people over the year.
3. Read books about the moon, listen to moon music, draw pictures. Bring in the month through the arts.
4. Say this simple blessing, which is a small part from the Kiddush Levanah, the Sanctification of the Moon, while looking at the moon: Baruch Atah Adonai, M’chadaysh Chodasheem: Thank you G-d for renewing the months.
5. Make sure you have a Jewish calendar so that you can know the names of the months, the date of Rosh Chodesh each month and the holidays that fall during the month.
6. Learn this song:
Twinkle, twinkle little moon
I wonder if I’ll see you soon
Up above the world so high
Like a crescent in the sky
Twinkle, twinkle little moon
I wonder if I’ll see you soon.
Enjoy the new month of Cheshvan. And, relax as there are no holidays (except for Shabbat) in the month.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center


Can you relate to the five legs of Judaism?

Posted on 26 September 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Each year at the High Holidays, I choose a book to read – walking to and from shul and during times in services when my mind might wander.
No, I don’t choose a mystery or a romance, but rather a book on Jewish practice, belief or thought. This year, I chose “A Passion for a People – Lessons from the Life of a Jewish Educator” by Avraham Infeld. For those of us who have heard him speak, this wonderful book has many of his stories. For those who have not had the experience of learning with him, I recommend this book.
One of the most important concepts that Infeld presents is the Model of the 5-Legged Table. Infeld is all about Jewish peoplehood – how do we all connect and intersect? The 5-Legged Table gives everyone a chance to define our own Jewish Identity. Infeld says that the ideal is to have all five legs, but for the table to “work,” you must have three. As you read this brief synopsis of each leg from Infeld’s book, think about where you identify.
• Memory: Our collective memories provide us with the values, beliefs, and rituals that are the foundation of our shared peoplehood. “Jews have memory, not history.”
• Family: Being part of the Jewish people means having an ever-shifting sense of belonging, and belonging to an extended family means having connections and, most important, responsibility for other members of the family.
• Mount Sinai: The idea of Mount Sinai includes the covenant between G-d and the Jewish people. Here is where we received the values and rituals that govern our behaviors, our role in the world and our contribution to humanity.
• The Land and State of Israel: The land of Israel is a warehouse of Jewish collective memory, and it is now the place where the laws of modern nationalism were activated in order to create a state. Israel is the place where the Jewish people can express their national identity.
• Hebrew: Language is a way of transferring culture across generations. Hebrew is our shared language, embodying our values, our memoires and our aspirations for the future.
For those of us trying to define our Jewish identity, this idea is one that is both powerful and helpful. Do all five work for me, or perhaps only three truly speak to me? There are many entry ways into our Jewish identity – for some it is through synagogue attendance, for some it is Torah learning, for some it is involvement in Jewish organizations.
We can also simply be “gastronomic Jews” – defined by the foods we love – and that connect us to Jewish memories. My favorite is “cardiac Jews” – I don’t do anything Jewish, but I feel it. That is good enough – we are all part of the Jewish peoplehood, and together we will keep Judaism alive. That is the hope for the coming year.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


A guide to High Holiday apologies and forgiveness

Posted on 07 September 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
The month of Elul is a time for reflection, and then we celebrate Rosh Hashanah joyously. Then the Ten Days of Repentance are upon us, and we must think about the challenges of forgiveness.
Often, we make a blanket apology such as, “If I have done anything to hurt you in the past year, please forgive me.” For those “sins/hurts” that we did not knowing, this works, but what if we have hurt someone? Apologies are hard.
I found an article on with advice from Everett L. Worthington Jr. of Virginia Commonwealth University. He gives this handy acronym to remember the steps of a request for forgiveness:
C — Confess without excuse. Be specific about what you’re sorry for (“I’m sorry I forgot our anniversary”). Do not offer any kind of excuse. Do not let the word “but” come out of your mouth.
O — Offer an apology that gets across the idea that you’re sorry, and that you don’t want to do it again. Be sincere and articulate.
N — Note the other person’s pain. Acknowledge that your actions were hurtful.
F — Forever value. Explain that you value your relationship and you want to restore it more than you want to hang on to your pride.
E — Equalize. Offer retribution. Ask how you can make it up to the person.
S — Say “never again.” Promise that you won’t do it again (and mean it).
S — Seek forgiveness. Ask the other person directly, “Can you forgive me?”
This is a great model. Worthington goes on to say how people might respond to requests for forgiveness:
1. Yes, I forgive you.
2. I need more time.
3. I can make a decision to forgive you, but I’m still very hurt.
4. No, there’s nothing you can do to ever make it right. I don’t forgive you.
This is a challenging thing to do, but the steps are clear-cut. Maimonides goes further, saying that if someone turns you down, you should go back a second and third time. However, if they are still unwilling to forgive, you are considered to have atoned, even if forgiveness hasn’t been granted.
Remember also, if you are on the other side — being asked to forgive — often forgiving is as important to you as to the one who hurt you. We need to let the pain go for our own healing. Ideally, we should not be hurtful but that is not always in our control. However, it would be best not to wait for Yom Kippur to apologize.
Shalom from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Mourning a pet Jewishly is a controversial topic

Posted on 29 August 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
People often ask where I get ideas to write about, and that is a good question.
I must get between 6 and 10 newsletters, blogs and other “interesting stuff” daily. Some is interesting, and some I read quickly and delete. Sometimes, if I just find something that makes me wonder and I am hoping it answers questions you may have — it’s often those questions that start with, “What do Jews think about…?”
So, this comes from this past week: Judaism and Pets. We have a dog getting on in years who has been struggling with health issues this summer. Just as we have talked about and made plans (a will, a cemetery plot) for ourselves, what should we think about for our pets? Here are three interesting excerpts from the article (abbreviated):
Are there any Jewish rituals for mourning a pet?
The idea of mourning a pet in the way one mourns a relative is deeply controversial, with authorities from even the liberal Reform movement maintaining that reciting Kaddish or performing a Jewish burial rite for a pet is inconsistent with Jewish tradition. In a 1984 responsum, Reform Rabbi Walter Jacob wrote that it would be wrong to recite the Kaddish prayer for a deceased pet — not due to any explicit violation of Jewish law, but because of propriety.
“We should not use a prayer which is dear to the heart of every Jew to commemorate a dead animal,” Jacob wrote. A separate Reform responsum rejected burying a pet in a Jewish cemetery, again not citing any explicit legal precedent, but rather asserting that “the whole mood of tradition” counsels against it.
Can I euthanize my pet?
Jewish law prohibits cruelty to animals, but does not prohibit killing them. Virtually all Jewish authorities agree that euthanizing an animal that is suffering is permitted. In Man and Beast: Our Relationships with Animals in Jewish Law and Thought, Rabbi Natan Slifkin writes: “According to some authorities there is no restriction on killing animals, provided that one kills them in a painless manner. However, it seems that all would agree that if an animal is suffering, it is permissible to kill it in order to put it out of its misery.”
Do pets (and other animals) have souls?
Both the Midrash and Maimonides reject the idea that animals have an afterlife in the world to come, the implication being that they do not possess the higher immortal soul of human beings. However, the Jewish mystical tradition associated with Rabbi Isaac Luria believes in the transmigration of souls between humans and animals. A human soul that requires further rectification could be reincarnated in the body of an animal. For this reason, Hasidic Jews historically were often exceedingly careful about the kosher slaughter of animals for fear they might house the souls of repentant sinners.
Does hearing “answers” to Jewish questions mean you must follow the advice? Yes and no — we are often told that if we don’t want to follow advice, don’t ask. We may go for second opinions with doctors and the same is true for rabbis. However, remember that it is not about “rabbi shopping” — asking until you find someone who will agree with you. It is about hearing perspectives and ideas and then making a decision. For me, hearing a Jewish perspective is always helpful and when the day comes for our dog, this advice is helpful. Yet, it is never easy.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


The Summer of Kindness lives on by practicing

Posted on 23 August 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Camp at the Aaron Family JCC is over for summer 2018, and as with all Jewish camps each summer, this was a summer for Jewish friends and Jewish memories.
At the J, not all of our campers and staff are Jewish but, as we say, “J camps are Jewish camps for children, not camps for Jewish children.” We create a Jewish experience that welcomes all, and together we live our Jewish journey whatever that may be. In speaking with one of my camp families, I was told that during the year, they are Catholic, but they love being Jewish for the summer.
This summer, our theme was “Summer of Kindness.” Kindness, or chesed in Hebrew, is a key Jewish value that is universal and can be understood and practiced by all. The word “practice” is important as we are always striving to find ways to be kind each day. Keep practicing, and it will become habit. Hillel taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do unto others. The rest is commentary. Now go and study” (Talmud, Shabbat 31a). Hillel actually was giving us the minimum standard — simply do not do what is hateful. The next step must be to go further and do kind acts to all you encounter.
We practiced and learned in many ways this summer that you can be challenged to do as well. First, we created a “Kindness Bingo Bandana” for staff to carry and do with their campers. We do have some available if anyone is interested — contact me at Another activity was looking for kind quotes to live by. My favorite is, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
We put up posters, decorated T-shirts, wrote messages to soldiers, said thank you to our police officers and our maintenance workers and smiled at everyone. We practiced empathy through games and situations and, most important, we reminded ourselves to be grateful every day. The J also sponsored three organizations with donations from making blankets to donating shoes to food donations. Our kids learned by doing, and our hope is that they continue giving and doing kind acts throughout their lives.
The theme of chesed includes so many other Jewish values — respect/kavod, mercy/rachamim, acts of loving-kindness/gemilut chasadim, gratitude/hoda’ah and, of course, the giving of tzedakah, which is not charity or giving from the heart; rather, it is giving because it is the right thing to do to help others in need. Kindness is a basic value that gives our lives meaning.
What can you do today?
Laura Seymour is director of camping services for the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Try not to give up when you do a difficult task

Posted on 01 August 2018 by admin

Dear Families,

We wonder, “How do I make the world a better place? There are so many things wrong, where do we begin?”

Maybe we begin by looking at all the things that are right with the world and decide what we can do to make it better. Every one of us wants to find a way to make a difference in the world. Sometimes we stop because we think that we can’t really do anything big. However, it isn’t only the big things that make the world a place for all of us to enjoy.

Find a cause — choose something you care about. Look in your neighborhood or school; what needs to be done? Often just picking up trash, recycling newspapers or helping a neighbor with their lawn is a good beginning. We don’t need to do everything, but we do need to do something.

Text of the Week

Rabbi Tarfon was accustomed to say, “You are not required to complete the task, yet you are not free to withdraw from it.” —Pirkei Avot 2:21

• Why does Rabbi Tarfon say that we are not expected to complete the task? Shouldn’t we finish things that we start?

• Often when we think that we cannot finish a job, we don’t even want to start it. Why does the rabbi tell us that we must do something?

• Why is completing a task so difficult? Why do we want to give up when things are hard? Why is it important not to give up?

Value of the Week: Perseverance

The dictionary says that to persevere means to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose despite difficulty or obstacles; continue steadfastly. Synonyms for the concept perseverance include persistence, tenacity and pertinacity. What great words. This value means that we don’t give up because something is difficult. When we believe in something, we must work for it. When we see something that is wrong, we must try to make it right. Rabbi Tarfon knew all about perseverance.

Things to do 

• Choose a project to make a better world and set a goal. Don’t give up.

• Get one person to help you on your project and then get another and another.

• Help others to complete difficult tasks. Cleaning up is easy with friends.


Be kind to people, animals and the planet Earth

Posted on 25 July 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
To make a kinder world, we must make our own space kinder and then expand beyond. There are so many little ways that help us change ourselves, which will then help us change the world. Every kind act affects someone who then touches another person, and the chain continues. When we act kindly toward others, they feel good and then so do we. Is this making a difference? Yes, definitely.
Text of the week
Shammai says, “Make your Torah (study) a fixed practice; say little and do much; and greet everyone with a pleasant countenance.” —Pirkei Avot 1:15
• The sages tell us that everything is in the Torah and you can learn how to live by studying. Why do you think the rabbis tell us to study on a regular basis? How can study help you treat people better?
• What does it mean to “say little and do much”?
• Greeting everyone with a smile is the best way to make people happy, but why would it be part of this three-part mishnah?
• As with each mishnah, how are the three parts connected?
Value of the week
Kindness (sayver panim yafot — “Put on a Happy Face”
Kindness is when we care about others and showing that concern. We should show kindness to everything that is part of God’s creation: people, animals and the environment. Kindness can be shown in small ways that will make a difference. Greeting everyone with a smile brightens the day and makes people feel good. Smiling is the beginning of friendship. It makes people happy — and it feels good inside.
Things to Do:
• Listening and paying attention to someone is one of the kindest acts we can do.
• Do kind acts that help the earth; reduce, reuse, recycle.
• Be welcoming to new people and accepting of all people.
• Do things that give others happiness.


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