by Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath –

For those who are of the habit of marking Jewish time, we started counting the Omer on the second night of Passover, nearly a week ago. Last year when I wrote about counting the Omer, I focused on values, and the ability to really DIY this ritual, which doesn’t require a minyan, has plenty of room for solo reflection, and can be done quickly and easily wherever you are.

Of course, I had no way of knowing that a year later, everything was going to have to be DIY, done at home, and socially distant.

This year, counting the Omer is one of the easiest Jewish rituals to maintain, and to find meaning in. There are apps, email newsletters, text chains, and Instagrams fully devoted to journaling prompts, mindfulness exercises, and reflections. One of my innovative Jewish educator friends is turning the count from Day 1 – Day 49 into a homeschooling scavenger hunt, taking her kids on “Omer walks” every day until they find the number du jour. When a ritual is not part of one’s regular repertoire, it can be the easiest to be creative with, because there’s no sense of how things ‘should’ be, or what’s missing. There’s only excitement about what’s new, and for most of the families I work with, counting the Omer definitely qualifies.

In the age of social distancing, counting the Omer is a ritual we can share with our learners in ways that are new, relevant, and [hopefully] provide ways to connect with Judaism and the Jewish community from our homes.

The Omer teaches us about living on Jewish time

For forty-nine days, we take a moment each evening to mark the start of a new Jewish day. For forty-nine days, we take note of what day it is, not allowing one to meld into the other unnoticed due to the lack of routine, or need to change out of elastic-waisted pants. The Omer is all about intention, and asks us to be reflective and mindful each day. Let’s ask our learners – what rituals can you develop to mark the start and end of each new day? How can you be sure to distinguish between one day and the next?

The Omer asks us to look inwards

Each day of the Omer has a sefirah, and each week has a corresponding sefirah. The combination of these two kabbalistic sefirot gives each day its theme, and therefore sets our intention for the day. With themes about lovingkindness, eternity, strength, humility, and more, it’s no wonder that there’s plenty for us to unpack. What would it look like for each of us to take the medium of our choice and build a practice around reflecting through it? Maybe it’s journaling, or doodling, or TikTok video-making, or talking to someone near or far. How can we use this time to reflect every day?

The Omer is all about counting up

One of the most challenging things about the stay at home order and the social distancing we’re all experiencing (at least on my end) is that there’s no end in sight. There’s no one telling us that if we can just hold on for two weeks, or two months, or until the summer, everything will be okay. So there’s no way to count down the days until a return to normalcy, if that’ll even still exist by the end of this. The Omer teaches us to count up. We aren’t starting at 49 and making our way down to 0. We’re starting at the beginning, and counting our way to a pinnacle. It’s not the end of the story, Jewishly or in terms of the progression of COVID-19, but it does give us a sense of working towards something, and of not waiting for an end, but rather creating a new stage. How can we work with our learners to make use of this time? To acknowledge the legitimate sadnesses and losses of what we’re all missing, but at the same time to not solely exist in limbo, waiting for an unknown future?

Are you counting the Omer this year? Please share your rituals and resources in the comments!

Once again, my daily Omer reflections can be found on my Instagram, @Sam_Vinokor. Please follow along!