Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Children’s book reminds adults they need courage, too

Posted on 06 March 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Our Goldberg Early Childhood Center celebrates a different Jewish value each month. Not only are each of our values important ones but they help us learn how we should act and they 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, 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 the holiday of 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.


The importance of Jewish elders to the young

Posted on 21 February 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
Recently there has been a renewed interest and excitement about Jewish grandparenting. A national survey on Jewish grandparenting was launched in November, plus there are many new programs throughout the country and here in Dallas.
There are so many special gifts that an elder can provide to a young child. Jewish educator Joel Lurie Grishaver wrote a piece titled “10 Attitudes of Highly Effective Jewish Grandparents — Patterns for Enhancing and Sustaining your Grandchildren’s Jewishness.” Here is a brief outline of his suggestions:
1. Ask the right question. Don’t ask “Do you want your grandchildren to be Jewish?” Rather ask “What kind of Jews do you want your grandchildren to be?”
2. Be “Auntie Mame.” This wonderful aunt gave two gifts: first, exposure and freedom to explore wonderful new worlds, and, second, total attention to talk and process them.
3. Be a curator. Collect, preserve, catalog, exhibit and then bequeath the family artifacts, including family recipes, stories and memories.
4. Be Scheherazade. Write letters and tell stories.
5. Be there in times of pain. One of the treasures elders offer is the ability to handle pain and deal with the difficult things in life. Be available — that is the key.
6. Be a community center. Be the place where great things happen.
7. Don’t be the Pope and the Poperinna. Be the place where holidays happen but let your children create holidays at their home.
8. Do not play tug-of-war with the children’s parents.
9. Live locally, support globally. Support, volunteer, get involved and show your grandchildren the joy of being part of community.
10. Be all you want them to be. Be the best Jew you can be — keep learning — show them how it’s done.
We know that all the generations from young to old are benefiting from such relationship-building programming. We are thankful to have many grandparents whose grandchildren live far away matching with children here.
To further that connection, a new program at the J Early Childhood Center, made possible through a grant from a wonderful J grandmother and her family, connects children with the J elders.
Being a grandparent is a wonderful time of life. Give your grandchildren the gift of your love of Judaism. And what if you aren’t a grandparent? These can be done by aunts, uncles, friends and even parents!
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Understanding the Shema and mezuzah

Posted on 14 February 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
This week my lesson at the J was about the
Shema and the mezuzah. The Shema is one of the first prayers we teach our children, as it is recited first thing in the morning and then right before bed. It is a wonderful part of many bedtime rituals that families have. The Shema is not a prayer to God but is a statement about God, about us, and about the connections binding us with God and with each other. It says that there is one God for all of us.
The custom is to cover your eyes when saying the Shema, so that you can really think about what you are saying. At the J Early Childhood Center, many classes make it part of their day in different ways.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.
Hear O Israel, Adonai is Our God, Adonai is One.
The Shema is inside of the mezuzah, which we also discussed this week. The children created their own mezuzot, but without the parchment — what was included was an English translation of the
Shema, and advice to purchase the kosher scroll for inclusion.
Here are some of the details to remember for installing your mezuzah:
· Mezuzah literally means “doorpost” but is normally taken to refer to the case which holds the parchment. On the outside of every mezuzah is a single Hebrew word — one of God’s names: Shaddai. The rabbis turn this into an anagram: Shomer Delatot Yisrael, Guardian of Israel’s Doors. When we put up a mezuzah and reconnect with it every time we enter, a sort of nonverbal prayer for protection is pointed in God’s direction.
· A mezuzah may be placed on every interior doorpost in the house except for the bathrooms and the closets.
· The parchment includes the Shema and Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-31.
· A rabbi does not need to put up your mezuzah. You can place it yourself, with the following prayer.
Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu likboah mezuzah.
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, King of the Universe, who has made us holy with mitzvot and instructed us to affix the mezuzah.
· Face the door from the outside. Touch the right doorpost, and place the mezuzah about 2/3 of the way up, with the top of the mezuzah tilted in.
· Become a mezuzah kisser. First touch your hand to the mezuzah, then bring your hand to your lips and kiss it.
A final story is a legend about the rabbinic “argument” on whether to hang the mezuzah vertical or horizontal. The story tells of the typical argument back and forth, ending with a compromise to hang it at an angle. The important message for all times is that sometimes we need to compromise, and that each time you enter your home (or school or business), the mezuzah is a reminder to meet one another in peace.


Let your children be happy campers

Posted on 06 February 2019 by admin

Dear Friends,
Everyone who knows me has heard me say, “Camp is the most important experience in a child’s life.” There are so many reasons why I feel this way — camp gives so much to children, and the lessons learned (and experienced) last a lifetime. This goes double (or maybe even triple, or more) for the Jewish camp experience. I write this column anticipating my yearly “pilgrimage” to the American Camp Association Conference and as we register campers for the J Summer Camps 2019. Let me share the messages from a wonderful book: “How Goodly Are Thy Tents — Summer Camps as Jewish Socializing Experiences,” by Amy L. Sales and Leonard Saxe. You decide for yourself how important a summer a camp is for your children and remember how important it was for you. (For a wonderful thought provoker, go to YouTube — “Because of Camp.”)
• “Jewish socialization involves acquiring the knowledge, skills and attitudes that enable one to be an active member of the Jewish community.”
• “A community’s unity, strength and continuation depend on its capacity to socialize new members — to build commitment to the group and to transmit its knowledge and values to each succeeding generation. Socialization is thus critical to the Jewish enterprise, which is based in community.”
• “…at camp, Judaism was ‘in the air.’ We found it in everyday ritual practices, in Shabbat and in the symbolism that defines the physical environment of the camp as a Jewish space. When Judaism is in the air, as it is at camp, children take it in as effortlessly as breathing.”
• “Camp is a mass of contradictions. It is a simple enterprise that does extraordinarily complex work. Camps are rooted in tradition but also excel at creativity and experimentation. Camp is a quintessentially American invention that produces some of the most powerful Jewish experiences in a child’s life. An institution dedicated to fun, it is responsible for the most serious work of the community: building commitment to the Jewish people and transmitting Jewish knowledge and values to the young generation. Out of these contradictions arise camp’s potential as a socializing agent as well as its challenges for the future.”
• “Jewish tradition says that the study of Torah is equal to all of the other mitzvot because it leads to them all. So, too, is fun equal to all of the other purposes of camp because it leads to them all.”
There are many choices for camps and as the J camp director, of course, I want children and families here. However, as a “real camp person,” I want all children to experience the growth and connections that happen at any Jewish camp. At the J we are saying it loud and clear: Camp is Life. I hope you are ready for a summer of life-changing experiences. You are never too old for camp — join the spirit by sending your child to Jewish camp and remembering your experience.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Reverence for teachers: giving credit where it’s due

Posted on 30 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
A number of years ago I received an email from my son who was studying music at Rice University at the time. A world-renowned teacher came to give master classes and my son was writing to tell about it (and, of course, send pictures). His words were simple, yet so telling of the relationship between student and teacher. He wrote, “My teacher’s teacher is here.” From those words, I heard the reverence of a student for a teacher which, for centuries, has been part of our Jewish tradition. We are continually reminded that “we are standing on the shoulders of the ones who came before us.” All of our knowledge is expanded by learning from others.
Judaism is the religion that may be credited with the early beginnings of copyright law. When you read Talmudic text it says, “Rabbi This said to Rabbi That who said it in the name of Rabbi Who…” However, copyright law is meant to protect the original, whereas the Jewish tradition is to give honor to those who said it first. Citing your “sources” gives credit to them, but also gives weight to your ideas and thoughts. When my son tells me whom he has studied with, he is raised in esteem as well.
All professions honor those who came before — for us, as Jews, we trace our lineage all the way back. It is said that we all came from one man, Adam, so that none of us can say, “My dad’s better than yours!” This, too, is an important message to remember.
Finally, reverence for teachers is a very important Jewish value. When my son spoke of “his teacher’s teacher,” he was honoring his teacher as well as the elder teacher. This respect and reverence for the teachers in our lives is lacking in many schools. However, today in many Jewish day schools the tradition still continues for students to stand when their teacher (or any adult) enters the classroom. Our Jewish tradition values learning and those who help us learn — let us demonstrate with our words and our actions the respect and reverence we feel for those important people in our lives.


Nature reminds us: Do not destroy

Posted on 24 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
We celebrated Tu B’Shevat this week, and the weather outside has been cold one day and warm the next. We have been able to enjoy the beauty of nature outside, even in January. As we continue to celebrate trees and all of nature year-round, remember this important Jewish value: bal taschit (do not destroy).
The rabbis tell us a story in Ecclesiastes Rabbah that, after the creation of humans, God took Adam and Eve around the Garden of Eden. God showed them all of its beauty, then said, “See how beautiful is my handiwork. I have created all of it for you to use. Please take care of it. Do not spoil or destroy my world.” This is a special message to us, even though the rabbis could not have imagined that we would do such damage to our world.
The mitzvah of bal tashchit comes from this verse in Deuteronomy 20:19: “When you wage war against a city…do not destroy its trees.” The rabbis tell us that we must not destroy any object from which someone might benefit.
Shabbat teaches us the relationship between nature and mankind. We were given six days to manage the earth, but on Shabbat, we must neither create nor destroy. On Shabbat, we can just enjoy the beauty of the universe. Jewish agricultural laws also give us the “sabbatical year” to give the earth a rest. Talk about these texts:
• Care is to be taken that bits of broken glass should not be scattered on public land where they may cause injury. Pious people often buried their broken glassware in their own fields (Talmud, Baba Kamma 30a).
• A tannery must not be set up in such a way that the prevailing winds can send the unpleasant odor to the town (Jerusalem Talmud, Baba Batra 2:9).
• Whoever breaks vessels, tears clothes, demolishes a building, stops up a fountain, or wastes food, in a destructive way, transgresses the law of bal tashchit (Mishneh Torah, Melachim 6:10).
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.


Torah says to protect, preserve the planet

Posted on 16 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
We will celebrate Tu B’Shevat on Monday, Jan. 21. Hopefully, it is not one of those things that either we don’t know about so we don’t stop and think about it, or we know about it, went online and bought a tree at and we were done.
There are so many wonderful ways of teaching our children to appreciate the wonder of nature and to learn that the Jewish people have been ecologists and environmentalists since biblical times — commanded by God to care for our earth. Yes, we must teach our children, but today more than ever, we must be reminded to go out in nature and renew our sense of wonder in the world.
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 (Do Not Destroy). The Torah tells us we must not destroy and we must not waste. Take time to talk and think about the meaning of the various comments from Jewish texts on taking care of the earth. Go radical — bring a text to the dinner table.
Before you begin: Do not be nervous if you have never studied a Jewish text. Begin by reading the full text aloud. Ask, “What do you think it is saying?” Then begin to break down the text into smaller pieces. Remember that there is no right answer, but that each of us must find meaning for ourselves (and even young children are capable).
• Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai used to say: “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)
• 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 Rabba 2)
As you walk outside to begin your day, say this:
“May our souls be rekindled as we open our hearts to the world and take good care of God’s world. ‘When you look out at the world around you, you are looking at God; and He is looking back at you.’” — Reb Kalonymus Kalman Shapiro
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


The sages want you to get fit and healthy

Posted on 10 January 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
It is the new year, and the Aaron Family JCC fitness department is seeing those who have made being fit and healthy one of their resolutions. We all know how resolutions tend to go, but there is always hope.
A few Jewish thoughts may help motivate you to continue working out. We too often have the picture of the Jew who keeps his (or her) head in the books, and that is important. But that is not all our sages have promoted and written about.
Here are some excerpts from an article by Abbie Greenberg that came from JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance:
• Already in the Talmud (Shabbat 82a), Rav Huna urges his son Rabbah to study with Rav Hisda. Rabbah resists, saying that Rav Hisda focuses only on secular matters: anatomy and hygiene. Rav Huna admonishes his son, saying, “He speaks of health matters, and you call that secular.”
• Maimonides states that a person “should engage one’s body and exert oneself in a sweat-producing task each morning.”
• Martin Buber recorded a story of Rav Simhah Bunim, of Przysucha, who took very literally the words of our prayer that relate to physical awareness. According to the story, Rav Simhah arrived late for synagogue one Shabbat morning. When asked why he was so late, he quoted from Pesukei d’Zimra, preliminary blessings and psalms, which he had missed reciting because of his lateness: “All my bones shall say, who is like You, God?” How then, Rav Simhah asked, could he come to pray before his bones were all awake?
• In the 20th century, Rav Kook went much further in connecting physical and spiritual health. He claimed that physical health is in itself a value in the process of repentance and that, in each human organism, there is a constant reciprocal relationship between body and spirit.
Rav Kook promoted a Zionism that strove to restore health to the body of the Jewish people so that its spiritual life could flower to its fullest. He intended this restoration to occur not only on the metaphorical level in terms of the strength of the State of Israel, but also with respect to the strength of every person.
All of the sages placed emphasis on the body/soul connection — a concept that is coming back into our fitness programs today. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation are all part of many fitness regimes. The most important value in life is balance, and Judaism has always spoken to this need.
As we go into this new year, let’s promise ourselves that we will strive for balance in our study, our exercise, our families, our work — we do not need to do everything in every area of our lives, but we do need to live a well-rounded life.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.


Fairness a good lesson as Christmas nears

Posted on 19 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
As we get close to Christmas and some children (and adults) still wish for all the fun and, especially, the great music, I thought it might be good to talk about fairness.
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 kids and for us.
Judaism has the message of justice deeply implanted in the spirit of Jewish life. The Torah and the Prophets are 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 19:15)
“Only to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)
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? Why or why not?
• Some families have a rule that if there is a piece of cake to share, one person gets to cut it and the other gets to choose the first piece. How is this a fair way to divide the cake? Can this system be used in other areas?
Here’s a story for 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 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.


A late take on December Dilemma

Posted on 13 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
When you read this, Hanukkah will be over, so why keep talking about a holiday that truly is not the most important in Judaism and has its share of myth-making (meaning the story we tell our children is not the whole truth)?
I am an avid reader of many Jewish internet sites, spanning all Jewish perspectives — it is good to expand to get the full picture of Jewish life. I have often recommended, as it presents a variety of views. A part of the site that is specifically directed to families with young children is
In a recent post, there were a number of writings about Christmas and the age-old December Dilemma. A few that caught my eye were from either interfaith families or converts to Judaism. Each has a different struggle from our “typical” family with two Jewish parents. I say “typical” in quotes because there is no such thing.
Let me also recommend a book titled “Two Jews Can Still Be a Mixed Marriage” by Azriela Jaffe. The point being that we all come from different families with different traditions and ways of managing every part of our lives, Jewish and not specifically Jewish (for a discussion on what that means, I need another column). How do we live in this world of diversity and honor all, yet keep our uniqueness? This is a challenge for everyone.
So what did the various people say? Some converts and spouses in an interfaith family had a lot of trouble with “giving up Christmas.” All are a work in progress coming to terms with changing lives. For all of us celebrating whatever holidays we choose, it is an evolving process as we change and our families change.
We go from our parents’ home to perhaps time as a single to married to children and all the possibilities in between. Of course, there are differences, changes and challenges. And every family is different. Plus, there is no wrong way, just the way you make it work for your family.
Why talk about this after Hanukkah? As we know, the Jewish calendar is a strange thing, and this year Hanukkah was a bit early. We will soon have two months of Adar to get us back on track, and soon we will be saying that the holidays are late. Hanukkah and Christmas celebrations pose a problem whether early or late. This year, Hanukkah will be long gone by the time it is Christmas. Does that make it easier or harder?
As many of you know, I’m great at asking questions, then letting you decide the answers that work for you and your family. What will happen this Christmas for you? The bigger question is which Chinese restaurant will you be at and which movie will you be seeing on Christmas Day? Yes, that is a common tradition for us Jews.


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