Summertime Message & Reminder

The lazy days of summer should not be a vacation from Torah


With the start of summer, The Jewish Star is again pleased to publish a message by Rabbi Hershel Billet, retired spiritual leader of the Young Israel of Woodmere. In a version of the message that the YIW continues to send each year, he urges the exercise of both physical and spiritual caution during the summer months. This message is as relevant now as when it was first published.


By Rabbi Hershel Billet


Now that the summer is officially upon us, our kids will be scattering all over the world in the coming weeks. I am sharing some points I believe are worth noting when anticipating many summer activities we and/or our children might engage in. The first set of points concern safety issues many of us are aware of, along with some reminders I think of every summer on account of sundry items that have caught my attention over the years. Please forgive me if I am saying things to you that you already know. When it comes to safety, a friendly reminder is appropriate.

The second set of points concerns our summer attitudes towards sanctity and kedusha. On a metaphysical level our eternal values are as important as our temporal values.




1. Sunscreen. Just about every study and article about the dangers of the sun recommends putting sunscreen on exposed parts of the body, especially when one will be outdoors for a few hours. When in the sun for extended periods, heads should be covered!   

2. Bike Helmets. Biking accidents are never good for riders, but while most injuries have a better chance of recovery, brain injuries don’t have such luxuries. Please wear helmets — be a role model for the children of our community — and insist that kids do too, even when biking on your block.

3. Hydration. We are not always aware how much the heat or humidity affects us. In general, healthy consumption of water is at least 80 ounces a day. On hot days spent outdoors, even more is recommended.  It is important to remember to drink even when you are doing a water activity. Getting wet does not keep your body hydrated. If you are taking a long plane flight, be sure to drink a good quantity of water.   

4. Nature precautions. Every summer brings with it warnings of ticks that may carry diseases. Appropriate clothing, sprays, and general awareness of what to look for — either in the tick itself or if you are bitten — are all important to bear in mind. In the Northeast USA use appropriate precautions and awareness to avoid Lyme disease.

5. Plants and wildlife. When in the great outdoors, we come in contact with the beauty, but also the potential dangers of nature. Know what kinds of animals may be in your vicinity. Know what kinds of plants — whether dangerous by contact alone or through ingestion — are to be avoided.

Snakes are a particular issue in Israel this summer. There are poisonous snakes. A few precautions are in order. Do not hike in the dark. Do not step or place hands into covered areas where you cannot see what is beneath the covering. Snakes can also be found in swimming holes or lakes. Doors should always be closed and windows must have screens. If bitten, sit down, call for an emergency ambulance and get to the nearest hospital ASAP. A poisonous bite will include genuine swelling at the spot of the bite. It is important not to lose one’s cool and not to be active after a bite. Do not tie a tourniquet, or make an incision or suction the bite. 

5a. Allergies. I always carry Benadryl with me when I travel or hike. People can get allergic reactions from insect and bee bites even if they have no history of having a reaction. Sometimes the reaction can be dangerously severe. Ask your physician what is the best precaution for you.

6. Hiking. Hikers should stick to marked trails. Always have a map. And hike safely. Every year Israeli news reports include too many stories of accidents and tragedies involving people unfamiliar with the desert who go hiking with no plan, map, or communication. Death by dehydration and exposure to the elements is usually the result. Never hike alone and always have a reliable means of communication with you in case of emergency.

7. Driving in the country. Relatively inexperienced drivers (kids under 21) must be reminded that the Catskills and Poconos are full of one-lane, challenging roads. Extra care should be taken on these roads — day and night — especially with young drivers who (percentage-wise) tend to be more reckless. Responsible driving will help prevent the fatalities we unfortunately hear about every summer.

Cell Phones: We should remind ourselves and our children about the grave dangers associated with texting and driving. Everyone should drive with a hands-free device while speaking on a phone in our cars.

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8. Water Safety. Please use every safety precaution with home pools. No one should swim without a responsible and capable person supervising. Especially small children. Pool safety with young children is paramount. There is no margin for error! Tragedy can strike — literally — in seconds. If swimming at the shore or in a lake, familiarize yourself with important information like undertow or depth of the water. Do not swim without a trained water safety person present. Never swim alone! 

9. Hitchhiking. We are in the throes of an emotionally wrenching experience in Israel. Hitchhiking in Israel and in Gush Etzion is part of the culture and one may argue, almost a necessity. We leave that for the Israelis to debate (as they already are) going forward. In the USA it is not a necessity. Staff members who are allowed to leave camp should only take rides from within the camp or outside the camp with people who they can be certain are trustworthy people. Many camps arrange shuttle rides for their staff at fixed hours out and back to camp. Such a policy is commendable.

10. Personal Space. TEACH YOUR CHILDREN TO GUARD THEIR BODIES. If anyone in camp, on a trip, or anywhere else touches them inappropriately, they should know what to do to protect themselves. They must immediately notify you about what happened. Be sure to emphasize to them that they must disclose even (and especially) if they have been warned to keep quiet! There can be no mercy for a person who molests children. Such people are potential murderers!

11. Zika Virus. Zika remains a potential serious risk for people of childbearing age. One should check the CDC or local Department of Health websites for the most up to date information about any Zika risks in areas you are travelling to [and] follow the suggested precautions. …

12. Driving in the neighborhood. During the summer and on weekends many children play outside. Parents must teach them about safety in the streets. Drivers must be aware that not all children think about looking before they dart into the street. Let us all try to take the necessary precautions about this matter. Drivers must go very slowly down side streets, and parents must watch and caution children. Even the safest and slowest driver can accidentally hit a child who dashes from a blind spot in front of their car.

Cell Phones: We should remind ourselves and our children about the grave dangers associated with texting and driving. Everyone should drive with a hands free device while speaking on a phone in our cars.

13. Substance Abuse

Substance abuse is a very serious issue in our communities. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain that our schools and our camps are drug-free. All of these institutions have strict rules about bringing forbidden substances onto their campuses. But they cannot possibly prevent it from happening.

The results of substance abuse ranges from the most dire results that you could imagine other serious consequences in the lives of our children and our families.

Please support your schools and your camps in their efforts to keep these things away from our children. And please urge your children to stay away from the temptations of these substances. Urge them to report to the authorities anything that they see that is improper. This is not called being a gossiper. This is called saving lives.

14. Motorcycles. The risk-reward factor is not worth the risk. NO NO NO. No one should ride a motorcycle!




1. Tzniut. We are Orthodox Jews living in a very open society and we are exposed to the accepted norms of that society. Our standards of kedoshim tihiyu, to be a holy people, often clash with the reality around us. Being a “holy people” requires us to be separate and different in our behavior in general and in the choices we make in our dress. This applies to both men and women. For leisure time and even for swimming, there are appropriate options available that preserve our sense of modesty when in the company of friends.

As the schools our children attend have dress codes, let those guidelines essentially determine how both parents and children choose to observe a standard of tzniut in dress, at least as far as how we cover our arms, legs, and torso. This is a standard we can all appreciate and respect. Summer footwear (sandals, socks, etc.) are a matter of personal choice which I am not addressing here. I do think that there is room in the halacha to allow people to wear comfortable footwear in warm and hot weather.

There are both objective standards of tzniut and subjective standards. But everyone has some concept of what is not appropriate. It is a challenging task. But we must elevate ourselves in the same way that we sacrifice to keep kosher and to observe Shabbat.

2. Religious standards when on vacation. Daily prayers, tzitzit, tefillin, kashrut, choice of entertainment, and full Shabbat observance is a sine qua non for the Orthodox family.

An accepted halachic practice, for example, is not to swim on Shabbat! Just as our community does not condone picking the kosher item in a non-kosher menu,” we must live by the same standards we live by at home even when we are on vacation, away from anyone who knows us.

We may go on vacation from the pressures of our daily routines, but there is no vacation from our covenant with Hashem. Parents should set a high bar for themselves and their children.

Consistency is a special gift we can give our children.

May we be blessed to be avenues of kiddush Hashem and the sanctification of G-d’s name in all that we do.

I wish everyone a pleasant summer.