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omer

Counting of the Omer

These days, with four small children in our house, I count a lot. I inventory lunches and shoes and loads of laundry. I track little back packs and waters bottles and ouchies. I measure fevers and hours of screen time and outside play. I tally toys and turns and the children themselves every few minutes. Every day fills itself with small, sometimes forgotten numbers.

When each of my children were born, we counted their lives according to hours, or feedings, or dirty diapers. As they aged, the measuring stick dilated into weeks or months, but never much longer than that. Ella, my first child, was only sixteen months when Aidan was born; and the twins, Daniel and David, followed just twenty four months and one week later. Now, for more than half a decade – since my pregnancy with Ella – I counted our lives in days, sometimes in weeks, and occasionally, in months. But the twins marked the last pregnancy my body can healthily carry. As they age, the measuring stick lengthens and stretches with their no-longer-so-little bodies. And steadily, my subconscious practice of counting the time since their birth in days, then weeks, then months faded into the the bittersweet ease of measuring their lives in years.

The practice of the counting of the Omer reminds us of each day’s preciousness. Some days are more exciting than others (I’m looking at you, Lag B’Omer) but every day merits a blessing. Marking and measuring the small things, the circadian passage of time, is what makes up the majority of our lives. Bigger milestones come and go, and I am grateful for them. But the counting of the Omer reminds me again of the joys of measuring our time in smaller increments.

Rabbi Lauren Ben-Shoshan, M.A.R.E., lived in Tel Aviv, Israel until recently, and now resides in Palo Alto, California with her lovely husband and their four energetic and very small children.

Categories
omer Rabbis Organizing Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

We All Count: Stacked Against The Underdog

This blog is the first in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the period of the Omer to the issue of race and class structural inequality.  Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center. 

In Philadelphia, the Rev. William Barber and the Hon. Robert Reich, along with so many colleagues, inspired us to think about justice. We were challenged to consider: what roles might we play in breaking down structural inequality? What roles do we play, however unwittingly or unwillingly, in maintaining an increasingly unfair system? In what ways are we responsible for the fact that, in 2015 America, certain lives matter more?

This conversation coincided with the release of Robert Putnam’s Our Kids. In his new book, Putnam explores growing inequality in America, considering both its causes and effects. Much was written about the book in the days leading into our convention. I haven’t read it yet, but I find myself agitated by Jill Lepore’s lengthy review essay in the New Yorker, and columns by David Brooks and Ross Douthat in the New York Times.

These lines, from Lepore’s assessment of Our Kids, are at the heart of my discomfort:

“Our Kids”…has a sad helplessness. Putnam tells a story teeming with characters and full of misery but without a single villain. This is deliberate. “This is a book without upper-class villains,” he insists in the book’s final chapter. In January, Putnam tweeted, “My new book ‘Our Kids’ shows a growing gap between rich kids and poor kids. We’ll work with all sides on solutions.” It’s easier to work with all sides if no side is to blame.

By not taking sides, Putnam leaves room for Brooks and Douthat to assert that the erosion of character and morality are at the heart of America’s growing inequality. Brooks takes the softer tone, writing about “habits and virtues” lost in a rush to relativism, while acknowledging that structural inequality exists as well. Douthat is more unforgiving, offering a weak acknowledgement that economic policies can’t be entirely ignored before launching into yet another all-too-predictable denunciation of the 1960s, Hollywood, and the public schools (complete with helpful links to some of his earlier columns).

It was against the backdrop of that reading that Barber and Reich spoke to me. I heard in their words a compelling rejoinder to Brooks and Douthat, bringing the focus back to where I believe it ought to be: the fight against structural inequality itself (and not only its negative effects).

In Philadelphia, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis took our first steps in a campaign focused on the structural inequalities that lead to injustice. With the commemoration at Selma and last summer’s events in Ferguson still fresh in our minds, we talked about how Reform rabbis can organize for power across lines of race and economic attainment. Sixty-two colleagues attended the session, and committed to spending sefirat ha’omer in conversation with each other, holding one, two, or even three relational meetings with colleagues. Trainings are coming at the Consultation on Conscience and by webinar, and this summer we’ll explore partnerships and coalitions, and (re)build and strengthen relationships in our local communities.

Seven colleagues will advance this conversation throughout the omer. Each week, one of us will share a story of bearing witness to structural inequality and how we feel the call to act.  Our series is guided by the principal that “we all count.”  During the sefirah we recall wandering in the wilderness, and we count these days in order to pay attention to and illuminate what we often ignore. This year, the lives of Black men and boys lost very publicly and painfully rendered a conversation about mass incarceration and racial inequality unignorable. This year, our country has accommodated economic inequality at levels not seen since the Roaring  Twenties. This year, we are especially called to acknowledge that everyone matters, everyone counts. Please read our blog postings on RavBlog and the CCAR and ROR Facebook pages. Add  your voice to the conversation in the comments section, and repost.

What will we learn over through this campaign? Perhaps we’ll learn that there is room to talk about values and culture (Brooks and Douthat aren’t entirely wrong), but that most important work lies elsewhere. Our justice system, our health care system, our voting system and our tax code are all stacked against the underdog. Leading (by and large) privileged lives does not give us license to ignore those facts. On the contrary, our privilege compels us to organize in solidarity with those who are beaten down by these systems. Avadim Hayinu.

Rabbis Organizing Rabbis invites all of our CCAR colleagues to be a part of this conversation, through the sefirah and beyond. We all count.

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Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is project of the Reform Movement’s social justice initiatives: the CCAR’s Committee on Peace, Justice and Civil Liberties, the Religious Action Center, and Just Congregations.

Rabbi Larry Bach serves Temple Mount Sinai, in El Paso, Texas.

Categories
News Passover Pesach Reform Judaism

Making Each Day Count: Getting Ready for Omer

How does this happen? That busyness reigns supreme, that ambition drives the day, that exhaustion connects moment with moment, that, well, we simply forget to pay attention to what is noble and grand and really important. That we ignore what is truly beautiful and possible.

How does this happen? Days pass by and we are mostly oblivious. We simply pay little or no attention to our potential power, to the passage of time, to wonder, to the incredible beauty that emerges when shadow dances with light. We tend to be deeply uninvolved and forget how we have emerged from the days that we were afraid to be ourselves, the days when we were hesitant beings.

product_image-1.aspRemember those days when we blinked and twitched as we tried to find our place in society, to discover our way through family craziness? Do you remember when we desperately searched for a strong sense of self that would withstand the push and pull of life? I remember. And if I were to be completely honest, I don’t have to reach back into memory. I still blink and twitch and I am still discovering my way. Maybe that’s why we choose to be so busy, so distracted by nothing much, because to be aware is, can be, complicated.

But we are invited every so often by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar to transcend our very human tendency towards oblivion. We are invited to gain a sense of footing, to lift our eyes beyond the mundane and think and learn, consider and see, really see what is possible and interesting and fantastic in our lives. Now, with the ever-slow emergence of spring and sun and warmth and the undeniable regrowth of color we have our chance.

Seven weeks, forty-nine days, separate Passover and Shavuot. And for those forty-nine days our tradition gives us a simple command – to count. Count each day, for forty-nine days, one at a time, and pay attention. Take time back from oblivion and to notice.

Though the counting of the omer is an ancient tradition connected with the harvest in the Israel, today it has become a spiritual practice. Like all spiritual practices there are tools, which help us stay focused on the journey. For years, during the counting of the Omer, I have sent daily emails, short passages, some from Jewish tradition, some from the wisdom of great thinkers, some original writing. Every passage ends with the short blessing, which counts the sequence of days from the first to the forty-ninth. These passages are like a bit of sweetness delivered to your mind and heart; a daily invitation to breathe, to pause, to reflect.

Reflection. It is the nectar of a considered life. And our lives are worthy of our consideration. Each day. One day at a time. Making our days count for something grand.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar is the senior rabbi of Congregation BJBE in Deerfield Illinois. She is the author of several books including Omer: A Counting, published by CCAR Press in both paper and as an ebook. This book includes passages for counting the Omer as well as seven spiritual principles to consider each week. You can also sign up for her blog at karynkedar.com.