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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 30 December 2010 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

Judaism is filled with books, legends, stories, quotes and even bubbemeysas. Everything is to teach a lesson about life with a Jewish flavor. Sometimes we just come up with the right story or quote that fits the need at the moment. My children were driven crazy with my stories but hopefully they learned and will pass the stories down to their children.

Today there are wonderful books that give us stories, and books and even movies that are great for teaching a lesson. As expected, I just got a new book titled “Once Upon a Time … Storytelling to Teach Character and Prevent Bullying” by Elisa Davy Pearmain. Not only do you get the stories but you read ideas on follow-up conversations. Here is a story focused on wisdom, flexible thinking, courage, foresight, humility and compassion. That’s a lot to learn from one story. Aesop’s fables are wonderful for giving you the message — King Solomon makes it a little more challenging to draw out the lessons.

‘King Solomon and the Hoopoe Bird’

“King Solomon was known for solving riddles and understanding the language of every animal. Once when the Queen of Sheba was returning to her palace, King Solomon offered her a gift and she turned it into a test. She asked the king to build her a palace made entirely of bird beaks. King Solomon was worried and he called all the birds together. All of the birds came except for the Hoopoe Bird and the king was angry. He demanded the Hoopoe Bird be found and planned to punish it for disobeying.

“The bird cried, ‘Please do not be angry with me. I have been flying about to gain wisdom so I might serve you. Let me ask you three riddles. If you can answer them, you may punish me. If I can teach you something new, set me free.’ The first riddle: How long are the world and its creatures made to last? The King said they must last forever but he realized that he was changing the birds forever. The second riddle: What water never rises from the ground and never falls from the sky? The King answered that it is a tear made from sadness and he realized that the birds were crying because he was going to cut off their beaks. The third riddle: What is gentle enough to feed the smallest baby, and yet strong enough to bore holes in the hardest tree? The King knew it is the bird’s beak but he thought that he was going to take those beaks and how would the birds survive. The Hoopoe Bird knew that the King could now punish him. But King Solomon replied, ‘Yes, I knew the answers but I did not have the wisdom to see how my actions would affect others. You and all the birds are free to go.’”

“The king turned to the Queen of Sheba and she said, ‘This was my test and you passed. Not only are you clever, but also you are wise and compassionate. You can admit when you are wrong, and you can reward others for their wisdom. That is the greatest gift of all.’”

It is wonderful to read books; however, it is even better to become a storyteller. This book gives instructions on storytelling, but I tell you from experience, it is all about practice! Being a great storyteller is a gift but it can be learned and you must work at it. Remember, Judaism is truly an oral tradition — become a part of it!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 16 December 2010 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

I love lists and I love books, so when I got the book “100 Essential Books for Jewish Readers” I was thrilled. The book was published in 1998; now there are many more books to be added to the list (and, of course, I have my favorites). However, there are some that every Jewish home should have on their bookshelf. If you received gift cards to bookstores for Chanukah, now is your chance to add to your Jewish bookshelf.

Here are a few suggestions from the book:

  • The Tanach (pick your choice of many)
  • “Does God have a Big Toe?” by Marc Gellman
  • “On Women and Judaism” by Blu Greenberg
  • “The First, Second and Third Jewish Catalogs” by Michael Strassfeld
  • “Basic Judaism” by Milton Steinberg
  • “I and Thou” by Martin Buber
  • “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Victor Frankl
  • “Jews, God and History” by Max Dimont
  • “Heroes and Hustlers, Hard Hats and Holy Men” by Ze’ev Chafets
  • “The Wall” by John Hersey
  • “The Sunflower” by Simon Wiesenthal
  • “On Being a Jewish Feminist” edited by Susannah Heschel
  • “Jephte’s Daughter” by Naomi Ragen
  • “This is My God” by Herman Wouk

This is a great beginning but only the beginning. We are called the People of the Book yet we are really the “people of the books.” There are so many wonderful Jewish books — old ones, new ones, classic texts (I can’t believe that Pirke Avot was not listed — it is a must on every family’s bookshelf and should be read often), irreverent novels and more. Send me your favorites (lseymour@jccdallas.org) and I will pass them along.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 09 December 2010 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

I’ll admit to not being much of a sports fan, although I do watch the Cowboys (after years of being in Dallas). I just couldn’t get into baseball until World Series fever hit Dallas. So, when the American Jewish Historical Society offered a great deck of collector cards, I couldn’t resist and it was a great Chanukah present. I now know who is Jewish in baseball today — not just Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg.

You can’t always tell who is Jewish by last names although it is a good starting point. Here are a few Jewish players with Jewish names to look for (some have gone up and down from the majors to minors as is not uncommon in baseball — look up their history): Adam Greenberg (Cubs); Jason Hirsh (Yankees); Brian Horwitz (Giants); Al Levine (Giants); Keith Glauber (Reds). There are more, of course, and here are a few interesting facts: At the beginning of the ninth inning at Fenway Park on Aug. 8, 2005, Gabe Kapler, Adam Stern and Kevin Youkilis celebrated the occasion of three Jews on the field at the same time. The record of four Jews on the field was set by the Giants on Sept. 21, 1941 (the day before Rosh Hashanah): Harry Feldman, Harry Danning, Sid Gordon and Morrie Arnovich. And, I must mention our two Texas Rangers Ian Kinsler and Scott Feldman.

All of this is interesting and fun — but what is our fascination with finding Jewish sports figures and Jewish celebrities and Jewish politicians? Does it allow us to dream that we can be anything? An important question for “famous” people, and for all of us, is really about how we live our lives in our jobs and how we live as Jews. Is it the same? Is being Jewish part of everything we do, or do we just take it out on Shabbat and holidays? What does that mean? We must answer these questions for ourselves. Parents, start the discussion now with your kids!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 02 December 2010 by admin

Dear Families,

Hopefully you are reading this over Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and friends. It is the perfect time to talk about family values. Today we are looking for the quick answer — the brand, the vision, the jingle — that will tell us how to live our lives. “Just Do It” or “Have It Your Way” are great examples or those slogans that we all remember. However, our sages did the same thing! They wanted to give all of us the message of how to live our lives. Let me paraphrase Genesis Rabbah 24:7 to show you the thought process:

The rabbis ask, “What is the most important verse in the whole Torah?” Each had a different answer. Ben Azzai said the most important verse in the Torah is: “This book is the family history of Adam” (Genesis 5:1). Rabbi Akiva said that the most important verse is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Tanhuma added: “In the image of G-d were people created” (Genesis 1:27).

Was there a winner? Which one speaks to you? Recently, the JCC staff looked at 20-plus Jewish values and had a similar discussion and debate. We aren’t rabbis but we were looking at what values represent us at the J and what values we personally live by. The discussion was wonderful — in fact, it is the discussion that is often more important than the decision. Here is a list of “Jewish values.” Put them on cards and, together with your family (or the people you work with), pick the three that will serve as guiding principles in your lives. Remember, there is no wrong answer!

•Tzelem Elohim — Image of G-d

•Kavod — Respect

•Emet — Truth

•Rachamim — Compassion

•Hachnasat orchim — Welcoming guests

•Shem tov — A good name

•Shalom — Peace

•Sayver panim yafot — Greeting everyone with a pleasant face

•Anavah — Humility

Now after you have chosen your “family values,” take the next step. What does each value look like? How do we act to show respect? What does it mean that we have a welcoming home? What do we do to achieve a good name? Judaism takes the big picture and makes it action-based — if we can’t do it, how will we or anyone else know that this is what we stand for? Enjoy the conversations! And perhaps even make a family T-shirt!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 24 November 2010 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

Hopefully you are reading this over Thanksgiving, surrounded by family and friends. It is the perfect time to talk about family values. Today we are looking for the quick answer — the brand, the vision, the jingle — that will tell us how to live our lives. “Just Do It” or “Have It Your Way” are great examples or those slogans that we all remember. However, our sages did the same thing! They wanted to give all of us the message of how to live our lives. Let me paraphrase Genesis Rabbah 24:7 to show you the thought process:

The rabbis ask, “What is the most important verse in the whole Torah?” Each had a different answer. Ben Azzai said the most important verse in the Torah is: “This book is the family history of Adam” (Genesis 5:1). Rabbi Akiva said that the most important verse is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). Rabbi Tanhuma added: “In the image of G-d were people created” (Genesis 1:27).

Was there a winner? Which one speaks to you? Recently, the JCC staff looked at 20-plus Jewish values and had a similar discussion and debate. We aren’t rabbis but we were looking at what values represent us at the J and what values we personally live by. The discussion was wonderful — in fact, it is the discussion that is often more important than the decision. Here is a list of “Jewish values.” Put them on cards and, together with your family (or the people you work with), pick the three that will serve as guiding principles in your lives. Remember, there is no wrong answer!

•Tzelem Elohim — Image of G-d

•Kavod — Respect

•Emet — Truth

•Rachamim — Compassion

•Hachnasat orchim — Welcoming guests

•Shem tov — A good name

•Shalom — Peace

•Sayver panim yafot — Greeting everyone with a pleasant face

•Anavah — Humility

Now after you have chosen your “family values,” take the next step. What does each value look like? How do we act to show respect? What does it mean that we have a welcoming home? What do we do to achieve a good name? Judaism takes the big picture and makes it action-based — if we can’t do it, how will we or anyone else know that this is what we stand for? Enjoy the conversations! And perhaps even make a family T-shirt!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 18 November 2010 by admin

Dear Families,

The holiday of Thanksgiving is upon us and the messages of this day are many. The importance of being thankful and the value of expressing those thanks are crucial lessons for our children to learn. Here are a few thoughts to make your Thanksgiving both Jewish and American. Don’t forget to say the Shehechiyanu!

I am honored to quote my favorite Jewish educator, Joel Lurie Grishaver, from his book “40 Things You Can Do to Save the Jewish People.” He says to make Kiddush and Hamotzi on Thanksgiving. “It is important to treat Thanksgiving as a Jewish ritual meal and thereby blend Jewish and American values into a single expression. Thanksgiving has always had its own rituals. …we had never thought to make it Jewish — we had never thought to remember that when the Pilgrims were gathering that first fall harvest in their new land, they went back to the Bible and found their own way of bringing the Sukkot ritual alive. Thanksgiving is nothing more than a Pilgrim version of a creative Sukkot celebration — add the popcorn and cranberries, take out the lulav and etrog, and you get the picture. The moment I figured out that Thanksgiving wasn’t just an American holiday, my world changed. I was no longer involved in a thousand discussions about Jewish American or American Jew. There was no question of priorities — the answer was simple. From then on, I’ve made Kiddush before eating turkey. Kiddush adds another dynamic — it shows not only a melding of food, but of spirit.”

The most important thing is to continue being thankful after Thanksgiving. Our rabbis tell us to say 100 blessings everyday. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to think of 100 things that we are thankful for? There is a wonderful camp song that was written by the director of the UAHC Goldman Union Camp, Rabbi Ron Kotz. It is called “The Na Na Song” and the words (beyond “na na”) are: “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shenatan lanu hizdamnut l’takein et haolam — Blessed are You, Eternal G-d, Ruler of the universe, for giving us the opportunity to mend the world.” Add this to your daily blessings and do your part to make the world a better place — start this Thanksgiving (and if you want the music to the song, send me an e-mail: lseymour@jccdallas.org).

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 28 October 2010 by admin

Dear Parents and Children,

The start of the school year is filled with so many wonderful beginnings. For a Jewish school, we add all the holidays that come one upon the other without a minute to spare. We have been sooooooo busy! And now, the holidays have ended — ALMOST…

Each year, I make sure to comment on a very special “American” holiday. Oct. 31 is a holiday that we do not celebrate at most Jewish schools. Halloween is not a Jewish holiday and although the religious aspects of the day have been long forgotten, Halloween is the eve of All Saints’ Day which also was called All Hallows’ Eve. All Saints’ Day had its origins in 837 when Pope Gregory IV ordered the church to celebrate a day in honor of all saints. Over time, the holiday focused on witches, death, skeletons, etc. Today, however, the day is very much an American experience for most of us. The roots of the day have long been lost, yet the debate among Jews continues.

Rabbi Daniel Gordis, in his wonderful book “Becoming a Jewish Parent” (which I highly recommend) questions raises a number of issues but says: “In the final analysis, what we do about Halloween may not be important. How we think about it, how we talk about it, and what our kids’ reactions to the issue tell us about their identities — those are the crucial issues about which we ought to think and speak very carefully.” Rabbi Gordis questions: “If not participating is going to make our kids resent being Jewish, are we doing enough to fill their lives with positive Jewish moments, with a deep sense of identification, with supportive and loving Jewish community?” We want our children to have a positive Jewish identity and we, the adults in their lives, need to think and plan for wonderful Jewish moments to create memories and reasons to be proudly Jewish.

How you choose to handle this holiday is a family decision but I do have my yearly recommendation. On Nov. 1, RUSH to every store that sells costumes and get great ones for dress-up and especially for Purim — our time to dress up! The sales are fantastic!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 21 October 2010 by admin

Dear Families,

The biblioholic strikes again — I must recommend another book! Last year Seth Rogovoy published a book titled “Bob Dylan — Prophet, Mystic, Poet.” It is a biography that focuses on the role Judaism played in his life and music. Bob Dylan, né Robert Allen Zimmerman, holds a special place in many hearts and when you add the Jewish influence, the music takes on new meaning. I do suggest this biography to those interested in Dylan or music, but that is not the book I am recommending. A new children’s book with a Dylan song is a must-have: “Man Gave Names To All The Animals” by Bob Dylan, illustrated by Jim Arnosky (and it comes with a CD). It is a great Dylan song with wonderful pictures.

The Jewish connection to this is, of course, right from Genesis 2:20 — “…the Lord G-d formed every animal…and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name.” Giving names was a special job that G-d gave to man. Names are important to animals and to people. Parents carefully choose names for their children. If you are a parent, make sure you tell the story of their name to each child and share the story of your name.

Now back to the animals: Adam was told to take care of the animals and, of course, Noah had a very important job with animals. You can find all about animals from the Tanach — check these out and then look for more:

• Ferret – Leviticus 11:30

• Frog – Exodus 8: 1 – 2

• Grasshopper – Leviticus 11:22

• Peacock – 1 Kings 10:22

• Behemoth (maybe original dinosaurs) – Job 40:15-16

There is an ancient, sacred work titled “Perek Shirah — Chapter of Song.” Some sources say that it was written by King David, who was inspired after being told by a frog that its “song” to G-d was loftier than David’s Book of Psalms. Others credit it to King Solomon, who understood the speech of animals, vegetables and minerals. Still others say it might have been the sages. But whoever wrote it, many great people recite “Perek Shirah” every day. In “Perek Shirah,” the creatures say that they are carrying out their assigned tasks and this obedience to the will of G-d is His praise; they cannot achieve their complete purpose without man. We must listen and hear the sound, but we must also listen for the music and the harmony. Each animal has its own special song. The final song is from the dog, “Come! Let us prostrate ourselves and bow, let us kneel before G-d, our Maker” (Psalms 95:6). Dogs epitomize loyalty; they are man’s best friend and display gratitude and obedience to the master who treats them well. What better example for man to show gratitude to G-d?

Talk about the animals in your life and what song each may sing. If you could choose an animal to be, what would you be? Why? Is there an animal that you would choose not to be? Why? In G-d’s eyes, do you think all creatures have equal value? As you ponder these thoughts, be thankful for the wonderful and wide diversity among creatures!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 14 October 2010 by admin

Dear Families,

So often I hear from parents that they belong to a synagogue, go to services or have Shabbat dinner for the kids. It is great when parents are interested and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that their children develop a strong Jewish identity. All those things (and more) are important but there is something even more important: Don’t do it just for the kids — do it for the family! Modeling behavior is crucial; our kids have to see us doing it!

I recently read the book “Raising Kids to Love Being Jewish” by Doron Kornbluth. It is filled with great ideas and stories. Here is a great story that reminds us we can’t just “talk the talk,” we must “walk the walk.”

Kornbluth relates the “60 Minutes” discussion during the 1984 re-election campaign of Ronald Reagan. Diane Sawyer did a scathing eight-minute report: pictures of Reagan visiting a homeless shelter and Sawyer said that Reagan did not support affirmative action; pictures of Reagan with school children and Sawyer said he cut school funding; pictures of Reagan at the stock exchange and Sawyer said experts did not like his policies — the report continued with pictures, and damage was done to Reagan’s administration. After the show, the White House press secretary called to say “thank you.” Sawyer was surprised: “I spent eight minutes attacking you. Why are you thanking me?” He replied, “You are one of the best, most respected journalists in the world today and you still don’t understand. No one listens to the news. People watch the news. We call it television and they are viewers. You gave us eight minutes of golden images. We couldn’t have paid for better.”

We are a visual society and what we see is more compelling than what we hear. Our children need to see us engaged in Jewish activities — reading Jewish books, lighting candles, going to synagogue, studying and even writing a check (yes, you should give and show your children what that looks like, whether it is writing a check or putting money in a tzedakah box). We are all role models — our children are watching! Make sure they see your Jewish identity in action and they will follow your lead.

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.

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Shalom From the Shabbat Lady

Posted on 07 October 2010 by admin

By Laura Seymour

Dear Families,

The Torah is filled with stories about angels although many people are surprised. The Hebrew word for angel is “malach,” which is usually translated as “messenger,” and so the angels in the Torah are messengers bringing words from G-d. We remember the three men/angels that visited Abraham and told him that Sarah would have a baby — that was a pretty special message from G-d. Later we hear the stories of Jacob: First he sees the angels going up and down the ladder, and then he wrestles with an angel. One of my favorite stories is about the angel and Balaam’s donkey. Can you believe that the donkey saw the angel but Balaam did not? Check it out in the Book of Numbers starting with chapter 22, verse 22. We also have a special story from the rabbis about the Sabbath angels who come to our home each Friday night. They look in the window and if everything is messy and crazy and no one is ready for Shabbat, the bad angel says, “May all your Shabbats be like this.” The good angel must say, “Amen.” But if they come to the house and everything is ready for Shabbat, the good angel gets to say, “May all your Shabbats be like this.” The bad angel then says (not very happily), “Amen.”

So if angels come and give us special messages from G-d, are there angels around us every day? Has an angel ever talked to you? The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL) writes: “At times, we are messengers for each other. Like angels, who go about the task of infusing the world with sacred meaning, each one of us has tried, in some way, to make each relationship and encounter meaningful. Let us celebrate all the ways that we nurture and support one another.” It is a wonderful opportunity for each of us to become angels for others — making a difference in their lives.

Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz wrote in “The Thirteen Petalled Rose” that there are two kinds of angels: those who were created by G-d at the very beginning and became part of the process of creation, and those who are constantly created out of man’s thoughts, deeds and actions. Rabbi Steinsaltz says, “Every mitzvah that a man does is not only an act of transformation in the material world; it is also a spiritual act, sacred in itself. And this aspect of concentrated spirituality and holiness in the mitzvah is the chief component of that which becomes an angel.” WOW! In other words, when we do a mitzvah, we are adding angels to the world. In the first chapters of the Torah, when G-d creates man, it says that we are created “b’tzelem Elohim” — in G-d’s image. Part of our job here is to do the right thing and make the world a better place just as G-d does. In that way, we are almost being angels.

When you see someone who may look a little different or strange, remember first that they are created in G-d’s image — and then think that maybe they might be an angel!

Laura Seymour is director of camping services and Jewish life and learning at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas.
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