Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

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 myjewishlearning.com, as it presents a variety of views. A part of the site that is specifically directed to families with young children is kveller.com.
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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With President Bush’s death, reflecting on how Jews mourn

Posted on 05 December 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Death is never an easy subject, but it is an important one. With the passing of past President George H.W. Bush this week, we have been mourning his death, yet truly celebrating his life.
We look at the preparations, which are immense and must follow certain guidelines, while also recognizing and respecting the family — a family that has been in the national view for decades. As a nation, we take comfort in the process and put aside any politics.
All of this makes me look to Judaism and the ways we mourn. I never mean to be flippant, yet I have said that we do death and mourning in our religion well. The process from the moment of death through the mourning follows ritual designed to get us through a difficult time.
As a member of our congregation’s chevra kadisha, I participate in the first steps of preparation and know how everything will move in an orchestrated ritual. Of course, there are ways each family handles the details, but the comfort comes from knowing there is a path that we can follow.
One of the “best” parts of how we mourn (if we can call is “best”) is the recognition that mourning takes time, yet we must also move on. The tradition of shiva ending after seven days with a walk around the block demonstrates that push we often need to get back to our lives. Then, we have additional markers at 30 days and then the year of saying Kaddish, followed by a yearly remembrance along with holiday times to stand with community. We are a people of memory but also of hope, and that is what keeps us going.
This is not a usual topic for this column, as I often try to write for young families (although I know all ages read my thoughts). Death is not an easy topic, and yet we cannot and should not hide this part of life from our children. I have books galore that parents often borrow (and often children’s books help even adults grieve), but I recommend talking to our children (of all ages) about death so it isn’t so frightening.
If we wait until a death of a close friend or family member happens and then try to explain, we often are not able to talk. We are mourning as a nation, and there is much even to watch on television. We could hide it from our kids or use the opportunity. (it is also a good time for those of us “older people” to talk with our children and grandchildren about our wishes.)
To the Bush family, may his memory be a blessing.

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No dilemma; enjoy each other’s differences

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Every year at Hanukkah time, we hear the same discussion for families with young children talking about how to deal with the “December Dilemma.” This “problem” is all about how to help your Jewish children survive Christmas. This year myjewishlearning.com had two new thoughts on this important issue.
The first thought comes from Lauren Ben-Shoshana, titled “You Need to Talk to Your Jewish Children About Santa.” She states, “In their first year of kindergarten, if not before, every parent needs to have a Santa Claus conversation. It begins like this: Santa is not real. And then talk about secrets.”
She gives parents the words to talk about secrets that are good and feel good inside, and we tell our Jewish children that Santa is one of those secrets and we do not want to ruin that secret. This is a tough one, but it is a wonderful way to teach about other people’s beliefs and then to give an opening for discussion on other types of secrets that you should not keep. What a great way to begin this conversation and give parents a reference point as children grow.
The second thought, also from myjewishlearning.com, is titled “Celebrating Hanukkah…Even If You Don’t Celebrate Hanukkah” by Rachel Jarman Myers. She shares this post from a blog, New Orleans Mom Blog by Ashley, non-Jewish mom. Here are the words that Myers shares:
She’s a mom who wants her “children to know that they live in a world where their family’s way of celebrating is not the only way to celebrate.” She goes on to say, “I want my children to understand that their beliefs aren’t everyone’s beliefs, and while I want them to be confident in what they believe, I also want them to be open-minded enough to consider others ideas and perspectives.”
Both these “thoughts” can help us navigate this season for our children and for ourselves. The spirit of Hanukkah is really about recognizing our unique beliefs and cultures, and celebrating proudly. The December Dilemma has been about the feeling of wanting something that isn’t ours — the way we have talked to our children about this included everything from making Hanukkah even more special so they wouldn’t feel they were missing something, to helping them understand that Christmas and Hanukkah weren’t in a competition, but each had deep meanings and messages.
However, the message for all families should be not only celebrating what is ours, but recognizing and celebrating the differences in our religions and cultures. The New Orleans Mom shares this favorite song:
“Here in my house there are candles burning bright, one for every night of the holiday. We gather with friends, sharing gifts and happy times, Happy Hanukkah. And in my neighbor’s house, the lights are shining, too, red and green and blue ‘round the door. The sound of jingle bells and laughter everywhere. Merry Christmas, and many more. Season of light. Season of cheers. Season of peace, may it last throughout the year.”
We are not so different but let’s enjoy our differences…and our similarities.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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How David Ben-Gurion challenged Dulles

Posted on 29 November 2018 by admin

Dear Friends,

Although I spend my waking hours working at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, I don’t use this column to push programs — at least not too often. However, here is a wonderful free opportunity.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the J, there will be an exclusive screening of “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” with an introduction by and conversations with Doug Seserman, CEO of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This movie won the 2017 Israeli Ophir Award (Israeli Oscars) for Best Documentary.

Admission is free, but space is limited. RSVP is required by Friday, Nov. 30 — contact szoller@aabgu.org or 646-452-3710.

This reminded me of a special story about founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that was shared by his grandson. As you read this story of our people, remember that telling our stories both about our people and even our families is so important.

“In 1954, when Ben-Gurion was prime minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President (Dwight) 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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How David Ben-Gurion challenged Dulles

Posted on 26 November 2018 by admin

Dear Friends,

Although I spend my waking hours working at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center, I don’t use this column to push programs — at least not too often. However, here is a wonderful free opportunity.

At 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 3, at the J, there will be an exclusive screening of “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue,” with an introduction by and conversations with Doug Seserman, CEO of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. This movie won the 2017 Israeli Ophir Award (Israeli Oscars) for Best Documentary.

Admission is free, but space is limited. RSVP is required by Friday, Nov. 30 — contact szoller@aabgu.org or 646-452-3710.

This reminded me of a special story about founding Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion that was shared by his grandson. As you read this story of our people, remember that telling our stories both about our people and even our families is so important.

“In 1954, when Ben-Gurion was prime minister, he traveled to the USA to meet with President (Dwight) 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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Show gratitude this Thanksgiving

Posted on 14 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
Is Thanksgiving a Jewish holiday? It depends on the way you look at it.
Thanksgiving is about being thankful. Judaism is about being thankful. We demonstrate thankfulness with blessings — saying 100 per day as the sages tell us.
Gratitude can also be seen from the perspective of the value of shmirat ha-guf (caring for the body). Studies have shown that practicing gratitude improves mental and physical health, increases empathy and improves sleep. There have even been changes in the brain from the practice of gratitude.
Judaism is about doing; gratitude is about doing, but also about feeling. Gratitude takes practice and changing the way you think. Big Life Journal (biglifejournal.com) is a wonderful parenting and teaching website. It will take a little thinking to replace these ideas that talk about relationships with children to relationships with spouses, friends and even bosses.
Begin with “parenting from a place of gratitude.” Each time you’re about to say, “I have to,” replace it with “I get to.” And then try being grateful for your kids (spouse, friend, boss) by seeing behavior from a positive viewpoint, for seeing people from the positive is a way to show gratitude for their presence in your life.
• Wanting their way = being persistent
• Clinging = being affectionate and connected
• Demanding things = being assertive
• Not sitting still = being energetic and joyful
• Whining all day = communicating their needs
• Being loud = being expressive and confident
So, as you prepare for Thanksgiving, don’t just plan the menu, plan the moments of gratitude. There are lots of ways to add thanks during your Thanksgiving feast, perhaps by everyone sharing a thought (sometimes it helps to tell people to prepare a thankful thought). And make sure to say blessings — the Motzi, of course, but also make sure you say the Shehecheyanu, thanking God for bringing your family and friends to this special moment in time.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Teach tzedakah by example: giving yourself

Posted on 09 November 2018 by admin

Dear Families,
“Tzedakah” — what’s it all about? How do we teach it?
Each week at our Early Childhood Shabbat Celebration at the Aaron Family JCC, the children come up and excitedly put their money into our many tzedakah boxes. Why? It’s fun. But without knowing it, they are getting into the tzedakah habit.
The definitions for habit are: an established custom; a pattern of behavior acquired through frequent repetition. Our children are learning early that this is what we do. Many a parent has recounted that when they go to the grocery store and there is a donation box at check out, their children say, “Let’s put money in the tzedakah box.” They get it — it is a habit.
In eJewishphilanthropy.com, a column posted on Feb. 25, 2016, by The Lapin Group gave this information:
Parental Giving:
•Among people who recall their parents frequently supporting nonprofit organizations, 52 percent are, themselves, donors today.
•Among those who saw their parents provide occasional support, 46 percent are now donors.
•But among people who rarely or never saw their parents model this behavior, only 26 percent are donors today — half the proportion of those who say their parents gave frequently.
Talking to kids about philanthropy has an impact too:
•When parents did this frequently, 51 percent of today’s adults are donors.
•When parents did this occasionally, 44 percent are donors.
•When parents rarely or never did this, just 32 percent are donors.
Statistics tell an interesting story — if you have children, take note; if you don’t yet (or your children are grown), think about your parents and what they instilled in you. What are the many little things we do to help others? The big donations are not the only ones that count.
A number of years ago when I was at a conference attending sessions, my husband explored the city. That evening, he told me that he bought a homeless man a pair of shoes. It is not about the money — it is about dignity and caring. Teach by your example — that is the only way we teach.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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