Archive | Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Appreciation and gratitude extend to our pets

Posted on 20 May 2019 by admin

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

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The Omer: Counting the days to Sinai

Posted on 25 April 2019 by admin

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

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The ‘why’ of Pesach

Posted on 18 April 2019 by admin

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

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Everyone pays attention to our behavior

Posted on 11 April 2019 by admin

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

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It’s time to plan for Pesach

Posted on 04 April 2019 by admin

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

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Study of grandparents’ Jewish involvement

Posted on 28 March 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
In November, the Jewish Grandparents Network began the first national study of Jewish grandparents. Thanks to outreach from 17 national organizations and Jewish Federations, nearly 8,000 responded to the survey.
Here are some of the results, courtesy of eJewishPhilanthropy.com.
• Joyful Transmitters (20 percent) — love being grandparents and feel it’s important to transmit Jewish values and beliefs.
• Faithful Transmitters (16 percent) — want their grandchildren to have a strong connection to Judaism and to marry Jews.
• Engaged Secularists (23 percent) — engaged grandparents, but don’t model Jewish involvement for their grandchildren.
• Wistful Outsiders (20 percent) — want to be more involved with their grandchildren, but family dynamics get in the way.
• Non–Transmitters (20 percent) — not Jewishly-engaged nor interested in passing on Jewish practices to their grandchildren.
We will definitely be hearing more about this study, but I want to challenge us all to read the groupings above, and remove the words “grandparents” and “grandchildren.” What if we generalized these into how we approach our own Judaism and our own role in passing on our tradition? Does it matter if we are parents, teachers, students, workers? Where do I fit in my commitment to Judaism, and do I have a role in the continuation?
Perhaps we can use the terms to view how we live our Jewish lives — am I a joyful individual with a strong connection to Judaism? How does engagement look to myself and those around me? If I am a wistful outsider, how can I get inside? And, are the “non-transmitters” also not living Judaism – is the term “just Jewish?” What is my commitment today whether I am a grandparent, parent or “just a regular person” living my day-to-day life? Where does being Jewish fit into my definition of who I am?
This type of survey creates many questions that only each of us can answer for ourselves. Additionally, as we prepare for Passover in just a few weeks, these might also be good questions for discussion, to add to our favorite four.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Simple song to guide your family’s choices

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
When we talk with our children about faith in God, they ask us so many questions that we often cannot answer. Purim, Passover — all the holidays with so many lessons for life. We are always looking for the answer. Judaism is a great religion with so many guidelines and things that we are supposed to do.
There are 613 Commandments — that’s a lot of things to do. Throughout our history, prophets, judges and rabbis have tried to sum up what we should do to lead a good life and do good for others. The prophet Micah summed everything up in three simple things to do, but these things include everything. Here is a wonderful and simple song that will help us remember.
Only This (Micah 6:8)
By Josh Zweiback and Steve Brodsky
What does God demand of you? Only this, only this. (2)
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God (2)
U-mah A-do-nai do-resh mim-cha
Ki im a-sot mish-pat v’a-ha-vat che-sed
V’hatz-nei-ah le-chet im E-lo-he-cha
Whenever we want to understand words from the Bible, we begin by asking questions. Micah asked the first question, “What does God demand of you?” What is Micah trying to learn? What does he ask about demands — does that mean that God expects us to do these things whether we want to or not? Do we have a choice to behave the right way?
After we question Micah’s question, more questions come to mind. Think and talk about these questions with your family:
Why does Micah respond to the question, “Only this”? Is it simple?
What does it mean to “do justly”? How do we act in a just manner? What does it mean to be fair to others?
What is mercy? How do we act with mercy? Why does Micah say to “love mercy”? Is that different than treating people with mercy?
Being humble, showing humility, is a very important Jewish value. What does it mean? What does it look like? Why does Micah say to “walk humbly”? How do we walk with God?
Why just these three things? How do they relate to everything else we should be doing? Is this really enough?
How can we use this song in our lives? Sometimes when we wonder how we should be acting, this song may come to mind. There are so many things we need to remember — this makes it easy to sum up the really important things to do.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Simple song to guide your family’s choices

Posted on 21 March 2019 by admin

Dear Families,
When we talk with our children about faith in God, they ask us so many questions that we often cannot answer. Purim, Passover — all the holidays with so many lessons for life. We are always looking for the answer. Judaism is a great religion with so many guidelines and things that we are supposed to do.
There are 613 Commandments — that’s a lot of things to do. Throughout our history, prophets, judges and rabbis have tried to sum up what we should do to lead a good life and do good for others. The prophet Micah summed everything up in three simple things to do, but these things include everything. Here is a wonderful and simple song that will help us remember.
Only This (Micah 6:8)
By Josh Zweiback and Steve Brodsky
What does God demand of you? Only this, only this. (2)
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with your God (2)
U-mah A-do-nai do-resh mim-cha
Ki im a-sot mish-pat v’a-ha-vat che-sed
V’hatz-nei-ah le-chet im E-lo-he-cha
Whenever we want to understand words from the Bible, we begin by asking questions. Micah asked the first question, “What does God demand of you?” What is Micah trying to learn? What does he ask about demands — does that mean that God expects us to do these things whether we want to or not? Do we have a choice to behave the right way?
After we question Micah’s question, more questions come to mind. Think and talk about these questions with your family:
Why does Micah respond to the question, “Only this”? Is it simple?
What does it mean to “do justly”? How do we act in a just manner? What does it mean to be fair to others?
What is mercy? How do we act with mercy? Why does Micah say to “love mercy”? Is that different than treating people with mercy?
Being humble, showing humility, is a very important Jewish value. What does it mean? What does it look like? Why does Micah say to “walk humbly”? How do we walk with God?
Why just these three things? How do they relate to everything else we should be doing? Is this really enough?
How can we use this song in our lives? Sometimes when we wonder how we should be acting, this song may come to mind. There are so many things we need to remember — this makes it easy to sum up the really important things to do.
Laura Seymour is director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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Esther a scintillating story, if you read between the lines

Posted on 13 March 2019 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,
For most of us, the holiday of Purim is a children’s holiday and it is a wonderful one.
However, the problem is that most of us have only read the “children’s version” of the “Book of Esther. If that is true for you, boy, have you missed out on a great story!
The Megillah of Esther is a powerful story with many important lessons. As teachers of young children (and parents are the most important teachers!), it is crucial that we understand and learn on an adult level so that we can teach our children.
Please read the book but look for these passages highlighted below to enhance your celebration and discussion this Purim.
The book of Esther
• The whole book is an exciting story of intrigue, killing and sex — perfect for adult reading (but you do have to read between the lines!).
• Vashti refuses to dance! — the refusal was problematic because the king’s advisers said, “This very day the ladies of Persia, who have heard of the queen’s behavior, will tell their husbands, and there will be no end of scorn and provocation.” So what really was the concern over Vashti’s refusal? This is a great lesson for our daughters on their right to refuse (although there are some who would disagree with me!).
• Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king: “Do not imagine that you, of all the Jews, will escape with your life by being in the king’s palace. On the contrary, if you keep silent in this crisis, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from another quarter, while you and your father’s houses will perish. And who knows, perhaps you have attained to royal position for just such a crisis .” First, we are all part of the Jewish people and we suffer together but also celebrate together. Most important, each of us has our moment to rise to the challenge — Esther was lucky to be in the position to be the hero!
Purim is a holiday of fun to remind us of the presence of God in Jewish history although the Book of Esther is the only book in the Tanach in which God’s name never appears. Our survival depends on our commitment to each other.
And now, how do we celebrate this holiday? “When it comes to mitzvot, shalach manot is a slam-dunk,” says my favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver. Each mitzvah is an opportunity and Purim provides a wonderful way to celebrate and connect! Most of us have a pretty good memory of the story of Purim, but the holiday comes with four easy-and-fun-to-do mitzvot: slam dunks, Jewish style!
1. Hear the story — read the Megillah of Esther! This is a serious must-read for parents because it is filled with intrigue, power plays and s-e-x!
2. Celebrate: wear costumes, eat, drink and enjoy! Eating is crucial as in most Jewish holidays.
3. Give tzedakah to the poor — yet another opportunity to give to those in need.
4. Shalach manot, gifts of food to send to friends.
Of course, there are traditional rules:
• Begin by making your list of family, friends, teachers, and all people who are important to you. This includes Jews and non-Jews.
• Prepare your packages of food by these “official Purim rules”: These gift packages must include at least two different kinds of food. (That’s it — hamantaschen are traditional but not obligatory!)
• Create (or buy) a container for each and include a little card.
• On or around Purim, hand-deliver all the gifts. This step provides the real connection!
There are so many “opportunities” for talking to our children about this fun-filled holiday. Try a discussion on women as heroes, costumes/masks and hiding, standing up for ourselves when it is hard, and living in a diverse world. Ask your children, your friends and yourself: Who is the real Purim hero? Esther, Mordecai, Ahasuerus, God?
Laura Seymour is the director of camping services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.

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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.

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