“Counting the Omer” — Reasons and Innovations

At JOI we often speak about three different calendars that guide the American Jewish community. Yet the Jewish community’s programming efforts generally focus on only one of them, namely, the Jewish calendar. But the others—the secular calendar and the cultural calendar—play an important part in our lives as well and demand that we program around them too, especially if we want to “reach people where they are” (in this case metaphysically as well as physically). The Jewish calendar includes dates this time of year like Yom Hazikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). The secular calendar includes dates like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. And the cultural calendar includes dates like the opening of baseball season and the end of school. What if we were to use one to inform the other?

Beginning with the second night of Passover, we begin to count down to Shavuot for a variety of reasons. It is called the “counting of the omer” (sefirat ha-omer in Hebrew). The custom probably originally emerged in an agricultural context so that farmers could count down to the harvest. A mystical overlay was placed upon this counting so that each day exposes us to a nuanced perspective on the emanations of God and their impact on our spiritual journey. I have a simple omer counting calendar that I keep on my dresser. And years ago I developed a more spiritual counter for use by participants in Synagogue 2000 (now Synagogue 3000).

Through the years creative liturgists have come up with all kinds of Omer calendars, such as the Homer Simpson Omer Calendar (get it? [H]omer Simson!). This year’s crop include two that speak directly to those whose calendar lens is either sports seasons (note the uniform numbers!) or the release of new films. While the counting of the omer is an easy ritual, it is not high on the list of introductory rituals that those new to Jewish practice generally undertake. Nevertheless, were all Jewish rituals so innovative and enjoyable, perhaps we might do them a little more.

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