We are counting the days and weeks. . . yes, we've been counting the days since entering social distancing (almost 6 weeks!), BUT we are also counting the days and weeks in a positive way.
We started to "Count the Omer," from the second day of Passover. Each night we say a blessing and count seven times seven weeks, until on the 50th day we celebrate receiving the Torah at Sinai, on the holiday of Shavuot. In Jewish mysticism these seven weeks are seen as a prime time for inner reflection and personal growth.
This year the Omer season seems more relevant than ever. The first Passover Seder took place while people sheltered at home from a deadly plague. Fast forward over a millennium, and there was another plague, during the Omer season, that killed many of the students of Rabbi Akiba, a great sage and one of the leaders of the rebellion against the Roman empire in the Land of Israel.
Tradition has it that Rabbi Akiba's students were also "plagued" by a lack of mutual respect, and had to learn how to get along together. So during this time each year, we recall these events by a state of "semi-mourning" in which we abstain from haircuts and from holding weddings, among other things. Yep, we are all doing that this year!
The plague lifted on the 33rd Day of the Omer, known as Lag Ba-Omer, which became a day devoted to outdoor celebrations, games, and bonfires. I never gave much thought to this ancient plague, until this year when we ourselves are living through a pandemic. Again and again, the lessons of history have become very real to me this year, and the barriers that separate us from the past have been effaced.
Superimposed on this ancient spring season are some modern Jewish special days: Yom Hashoah, the commemoration of the Holocaust (which took place this week and was marked by virtual gatherings around the world). and a week later Yom HaZikaron (Israel's Memorial Day), followed by Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day).
In honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Independence Day, I would like to invite you to a Virtual Tour of Israel! On Wednesday, April 29, 8pm, please join me on Zoom, where you are invited to share a favorite photo of Israel (you can have them ready on your computer desktop), and/or a favorite Israel story or memory. Hopefully we can also sing a couple of Israeli songs. Bring your own Israeli snacks! To get the log-in and Password, see our email to members, or send me or Marcy an email. At that time, I will also share about an interfaith, Peacemakers' Tour of Israel that I'm planning to co-lead with a local minister, Doris Dalton, God willing, when it's safe to travel again.
Looking forward to seeing you then. I'm counting the days!
Rabbi Julie Hilton Danan shares her thoughts (and some original photos) and invites your comments.