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Omer Insights

By Faith Adler

When Rabbi Raskin sent me an email and asked me to write something in March, I did not know what I would say. But one of the choices was about mitzvot, and I could relate to that topic.  I am on the Chesed committee at Har Shalom.  One of the tasks they needed was to deliver a Shabbat meal, and I have never been able to do that due to being a teacher. I do not get out of school until 4:15 and that is too late for Shabbat.   I help with other things on the committee but cannot pick up food or deliver. So, now I am working from home and my day is more flexible,  I was able to shop and deliver food.  With the different times we are in now, I am trying to think of positive things.  One Friday in March,  I drove to Shalom's and bought a Shabbat dinner for a family and shopped for Passover food for another family.  While I was there, I did some Passover shopping for my family too!  I shopped and delivered the Passover food and gave the Shabbat dinner to someone to deliver it.  I was reimbursed for the food but glad I could help.  There are some positive things that come out of our current situation for me. I was able to do the mitzvah of shopping and delivering food.  It is hard to see the light in a time of darkness but I am trying the best I can, like everyone else.

By Hazzan Ozur Bass

“Everything will be different when the virus is over”. I don’t know what will happen after Covid-19. And I pray that we will be together again soon. However, I believe that if we want the future to be different than our past, we must spend time in the present.
I pray that you use some quarantine time on personal growth. Take classes, read books, start hobbies; enjoy concerts, poetry readings, and lectures. If you have time for spiritual growth, try meditation. Use the present to become the better human being you want to be.
“Adonai said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain, and be there’” (Exodus 24: 12). The expression ‘be there’ is superfluous; where else would Moses be? It teaches that he is supposed to be fully in the moment, body, heart, mind, and spirit, receiving the Torah.
May you be blessed, as we journey towards the giving of the Torah, to be present now, and not be tormented by what brought you here or the changes you will make when you’re finally able to; may you find time for personal growth, for connection, and for being active; and may you stay safe and healthy.

Memorial Day by Rabbi Adam Raskin

Today I am remembering two personal heroes, one I knew very well and the other, only through family lore.  My grandfather Joseph Raskin ז״ל (who graduated from Hagerstown High School!) served in the Second World War, in the United States 7th Army, in the European theater.  My “Grandpa Joe” almost never talked about his military service.  His medals and patches stayed locked in a blue felt box in the top drawer of his dresser.  Later in life I learned that my grandfather decided to forgo the psychological services the Army offered soldiers returning from the war in order to hurry back to the side of his beautiful new bride, my grandmother.  I also learned that he suffered mightily from what was then an undiagnosed disorder, PTSD.  His heart and mind were wracked with images and traumas that he experienced overseas, but never fully addressed following his army service.  My grandpa was a musician, an artist, a gentle soul.  Wartime took its toll on him for a lifetime. 
My great grandfather, Philip Finkelstein ז״ל served in the U.S. Army in the First World War.  Unfortunately, while I met three of my other great grandparents, I never met him—because he died of the effects of a German mustard gas attack.  What I always heard about him, though was that he loved this country so much, and always felt deep gratitude for the freedoms American offered his family and the Jewish people.
Sefirat Ha’Omer is a time of partial mourning.  We remember the devastating losses our people endured during the time period of Roman oppression.  But then, from Lag Ba’Omer on, our mourning begins to lift, and we recapture a sense of profound gratitude for our the meaning of our people’s existence.  Matan Torah, the gift of Torah at Mt. Sinai on the 5th of Sivan reminds us that our people’s losses over time are not, to paraphrase President Lincoln, “in vain.”  That is to say, as long as we live proudly and actively as Jews, there will be eternal purpose for our people’s sacrifices and martyrdom across the generations.  So too, remembering America’s heroes today should “increase [our] devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”
May the souls of all those who fought so valiantly be a blessing to us, the inheritors and beneficiaries of their great sacrifices.

By Josh Rabinowitz

​The Counting of the Omer is supposed to be a time of freedom, rebirth, and celebration- the link between our redemption from Egypt and our receiving the Torah. However, in these times it can be difficult to find sources of celebration and freedom. The pandemic, rampant economic downturn, and social isolation permeate our minds as we search and hope for an end and for a return to normal.
​Even in these trying times the Counting of the Omer still has something to offer us. As we count the days until Shavuot we remember how after years of suffering and slavery in Egypt, we found freedom and recieved the Torah. We remember how after a barren winter, from the black frost-bitten soil, soft lavender petals lengthen from their sprouts during spring.
​There is a poem I have taken to heart, found in Cologne, inscribed on the walls of a cave where Jews took shelter during the Holocaust:
I believe in the sun though it is late in rising
I believe in love though it is absent
I believe in G-d though he is silent
In the darkest times this poem has always brought me hope. If the poem’s author, living through one of the most brutal and horrifying times in history, can glean a glimmer of hope in the world around them, then we must attempt to find our hope. The sun will rise. There are people who sacrifice for us and love us. We can feel signs of the divine all around us: a friend teaching me how to bake challah, emergency healthcare providers risking their personal health for the care of others, students and educators engaging through computer monitors. All of this for a hope, a belief, that all our efforts will lead to a return to the freedom, the rebirth, the celebration that the Counting of the Omer embodies.

Yom Yerushalayim by Mia Raskin

There was once a woman at her Passover seder and during Nirtzah, at the end of the night, when they reached the words, “L’Shanah Haba’ah B’Yerushalyaim Habnuyah” she hesitated. Her husband turned to her and asked what’s wrong. She responded, “I love my life here in America… I don’t want to live in Israel next year, how can I sing these words!?” The husband responded, “It’s not the physical place, it’s the mindset.”
Today is hard for me, knowing that I cannot be in the place that I called home the past 7 months, celebrating its existence and success. However, stuck in my house surrounded by my family, it’s the mindset of Jerusalem that allows me to celebrate. It’s the images of the city covered in the glistening Jerusalem stone, the multitude of languages that you’re surrounded by when walking the streets, the history under every step you take, the variety of Jewish people that all practice differently but share one thing in common; Jerusalem is home. This Yom Yerushalayim I will look through my pictures of my new best friends and me, I will hear the sounds of the shuk and the Rabbi Nachman cars blasting, I will taste the juicy Shawarma from my favorite place on the corner, I will smell the challah being baked fresh for Shabbat, and I will feel Jerusalem. I hope you and your families can take a moment today, learn the history, look through pictures, taste the foods so that we can all “be” in Jerusalem together today.

By Ellen & Brad Balfour

As we count the Omer, we are reminded to reflect on each day and make each day count.

During this pandemic, our usual busy days have slowed way down. We find ourselves staying at home and doing all our tasks remotely. Things like haircuts, getting dressed up and wearing jewelry have slowly taken a back seat to wearing workout clothes 24/7 and keeping it very simple.

This has given us time to think about what is really important...and what we are really missing. What we miss most is being with our extended family and especially our two sons. We can’t wait to wrap our arms around them and give them deep meaningful hugs.

In the meantime, we celebrate each day by taking our dogs on long walks and discovering nature around our neighborhood.  Spring renewal is bursting all around us and it gives us hope for a bright tomorrow where we can all be together with our families.

By Sorell Schwartz

The season of emerging life and harvest is, this year, entrapped by two pandemics, one caused by a virus, the other by the sin of sins, loshon hora, evil tongue.  This latter disease has been with us for a good while but its symbiotic growth with the novel coronavirus is daunting.  There is no part of the sociopolitical environment that is un-infected – left, right, or middle – red, blue or purple – CNN, Fox or MSNBC.  The Torah commands Shmiras HaLoshon, Guarding the Tongue. That is not to say Shmiras HaLoshon prohibits constructive criticism (toeles).  It does not.  Or that the wrong doer is meant to be immune from condemnation.  But words can be both palliative and toxic.  As explained by Chofetz Chiam: “The mouth expresses the contents of the heart.  A mouth that spews venom can only be the outlet of the heart that produces it.”  

A practice that Marsha and I impressed upon our daughters at their early ages and to which we adhered to the best of our abilities is what we termed the “Jacob Schwartz Rule.”  The eponymous tribute is to my father, of blessed memory; this month marks the 112th anniversary of his birth and the 45th year of his passing. It is lasting advice he offered me to assist in understanding the feelings of others, to wit:

“If someone asks me what I think of the Chevrolet, I respond by asking ‘Did you buy one?’  If his answer is ‘no’, and I didn’t think much of the Chevrolet, I explain the reasons for my lacking enthusiasm.  On the other hand, if he tells me that he had just made a purchase of the car, I tell him how beautiful they look on the street and for him to enjoy his purchase in good health.  In other words, never think that your view is so important that it must be expressed candidly if it will be hurtful in the face of absolutely nothing to be gained.”  

A childhood rhyme in response to name calling is Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  But that is untrue, as reflected in lyrics by Don Henley:

 Sticks and stones may break your bones

But word can break your heart

By Jodi Chen

11 Things I’ve learned or pondered in the last 41 days:

 - There is no right or wrong way to feel about a global pandemic.

 - Kids have way more patience than they thought they did.

 - Teens making borekas with matzah feels like something of an I Love Lucy episode happening in your very own kitchen.

- It’s only May but Time’s Person of the Year committee can stop looking.  It’s nurses and teachers.  Done.

- It’s ok to make something besides chicken for Shabbat dinner.

- The intersection of Pesach with global pandemic at Moti’s is really something.

- Every town would benefit from a NYC-style daily 7pm pep rally.

- Your heart smiles every day knowing there are some people you don’t see often, but will always be there for you.

- Your heart breaks every day knowing there may be some people you know, who you may never see again.

- The world is unpredictable.  

- There is no right or wrong way to feel about a global pandemic.  And that’s worth repeating.

By Rabbi Debbie Cohen

To be honest, I’ve struggled meaning in counting the omer.   The barley harvest? It just does have much of a connection to my life.  But, I am a first believer that timing in Judaism is everything.  If I don’t connect with a ritual, I might just need to wait for the right moment for it to resonate.  

This year is a time of counting.   “Today is the X day of the lockdown.”  “Today, there were X% more Covid-19 cases than yesterday.”  “The curve with peak in X days.”   Like the counting of the omer, this period of Covid-19 is solemn.  It is stressful and sometimes sad, sometimes lonely.   No parties, no haircuts?  Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

I am finding that my lockdown days meld into one another.   Counting gives structure.  Even though we are living through a disruptive time, it is important to make our days count – to find purpose and meaning each day.  For me, that’s the meaning of the omer, at least for this year.

Today is the 40th day of counting the omer and the 50th day of the lockdown order in Montgomery County.

By Rachel Robin

Right now, we’re all in a state of unity. Sure, there are still political divides and conflicts of opinion, there are still differences in outward appearance and internal struggles. But uniquely at this one moment in time, we are all experiencing the same general circumstance of the pandemic. We all react to it in different ways, but in recent memory there has not been an event so large that the daily lives of so many people were impacted.

Now imagine this state of unity but multiplied by infinity. Imagine that there is a state of unity that transcends differences in opinion, and that impacts an entire wealth of people all at once. What moment could be so great? The giving of the Torah, of course. When the Jewish people received the Torah at Har Sinai, they had one goal: to accept the words of Hashem. Shavuot, just around the corner, is the holiday when we celebrate the enormous gifts (plural!) from Har Sinai: the Torah and the momentary unity of the Jewish people.

As we live in this current state of unity of circumstance, let’s appreciate a unity far greater that we have the honor to relive every year.

By Rabbi Irv Elson

With Shavuoth and the end of the Omer coming on the heels of Memorial Day this year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what insights one brings to the other. Certainly, both the period of the Omer and Memorial Day are times when we remember the incredible sacrifices of individuals who choose a great cause over self. During the Omer we remember and mourn rabbis and students who defied the Romans as they struggled to preserve Torah and the Jewish way of life and who at the end gave their lives for that very cause. On Memorial Day, we remember men and women from across our great nation who chose to serve and to their last breath embodied the motto placed over the doors of the Chapel at the US Naval Academy;  “Non Sibi Seid Patreae”, “Not for Self, But for Country!”

Both the counting of the Omer and the observance of Memorial Day give us pause to ask ourselves, “what are we willing to give up”, for our faith? For our people? For our country? These are certainly questions for the most extreme circumstance and most of us will never know exactly what we would do until we are actually faced with those circumstances. I find it fascinating that now,  during this year’s counting of the Omer, we are being asked to make smaller sacrifices; wear a mask, no public gatherings, etc. which many are finding difficult and even protesting against. I look at it a bit differently….if someone is willing to give up their life for our country or our precious Jewish faith, during the Omer and especially on Memorial Day, I will honor their GREAT sacrifice by gladly and proudly making a few smaller ones…stay safe and stay healthy.

By Beth Kanter-Leibowitz

Counting. Why do we count? What does it signify and why is it important? It may be one of the first things we learn as a young child, to count to 3, to count to 10. When we can count even higher, we are praised for our growth and our knowledge. Counting helps us sort and categorize information. We can find order and mark the passage of time. Counting keeps us on track and shows us there are days ahead, weeks ahead, months ahead, and time for us to do more. Have you been counting? The days of the Omer? Or the days and weeks in lockdown? I have. I have counted the days since I was furloughed, the days my kids have been zoom-ing instead of being in a classroom.  The days until my daughter turns 10 during a pandemic. The number of treats I’ve baked and new recipes I tried. Keep counting… it will get us to the other side—to Shavuot, and then to the next milestone, to the next celebration and to the next sunrise.

My husband challenged me to write a Pandemic Haiku. I’m always up for a challenge, so here it is:

COVID. Hear my name.

Barely legal at 19.

Still stuck at home. Haircuts?

By Sue Alterman

Kabalists view the first day after Lag B'Omer as an opportunity to focus on humility, and the chance to build better relationships. While too much humility can be isolating, when used properly and respectfully, it can build bridges to support strong relationships.

My father’s yarhtzeit is also today. I realize my father, who followed his dream to become a professor, supported others to achieve their desires. In doing so, he built strong, loving relationships. He didn’t boast, but he used his skills to build bridges, enabling others to shine. It’s an admirable trait to focus on today, and every day.

Lag B'Omer  by Marvin Friedman

I happen to have been born a very long time ago---specifically in the 33rd year of the last (i.e., the 20th) century. The number 33 has moved with me from that distant past into the heart of the present very digital age where I have even occasionally adopted it as part of my "user name" (e.g., "mifriedman33). So you can see why this 33rd day of the counting of the omer, Lag B'Omer, has always been particularly meaningful to me.

​The holiday  is said to commemorate the end of a plague that had killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiba's students. The occurrence of the holiday in this particular coronovirus plague year gives the story a unique dimension for you and me. It tells us that plagues have been very much a part of human and Jewish history.  And it hopefully signifies that a time will come when some of us will have occasion to personally commemorate an event in which we actually became part of the story itself. I join you all in praying that time will come soon!

Erev Lag B'Omer by Har Shalom President, Steve Susswein

Lag B’Omer.  The thirty-third day in the Omer.  In the Omer but not “of the Omer.”  A day of celebration: bonfires and barbeques and picnics and pitched competitions.  The Talmud tells us that during the Omer 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students died from a plague but on the thirty-third day the plague ended.  Oh, what a promise for these quarantined times!  The plague will end!  We long to share a picnic with one another; to sit shoulder-to-shoulder around the roaring campfire, singing and swaying in time; to bind ourselves to each other as a duo does in a three-legged race.  No more for us will Lag B’Omer be a “minor holiday,” but now and here forward the most sacred of days. For the plague will end and we will celebrate together!  Glory on Glory to the thirty-third!

By Jordie Priesman

Just as we’ve been counting the Omer, so many of us have also been counting each and every day we’ve been in quarantine. For many of us (myself included) our quarantine situation has brought a huge increase in family time. While everyone in my house has their various responsibilities throughout the day, we always come together at some point - whether it’s through interrupting each others Zoom meetings, fighting over our single-screen Netflix account, or simply cooking dinner together, we always find a good amount of family time. And today, I am cherishing this extra family time a little more since it’s Mother’s Day. I’m fortunate enough to be home with my mom today, but I also realize many are not able to be with their mothers due to the quarantine and social distancing requirements. However, as I continue to count each added day I’m stuck inside, separated from seeing my friends and extended family, I have also learned to count my blessings. For me, the combination of counting the Omer and counting my blessings go hand in hand. So on this Mother’s Day, I’m grateful for several blessings in my life, so many of which have come from my mom. Happy Mother’s Day.

By Alan Fisher

The 30th day of the Omer, 15 Iyar, a month and a day after the beginning of Pesach, is the yahrtzeit of my beloved grandmother, Bella Fisher, a woman who overcame hardship and brought Jewish life to new generations and new parts of the world.  A member of the socialist underground in the Ukraine as a girl, she later worked with Eugene Debs in Chicago.  She supported the family making ties during the Depression.  A devoted grandmother and great grandmother, she told stories of the old days, met with her friends every day, and kept active long enough for my children to maintain vivid memories of her until her premature death at age 97, 27 years ago.  

Grandma’s yahrtzeit comes during Sefira, when we recall the victims of pogroms, including those when my grandmother and her family had to hid from Ukrainians looking to kill Jews on every Christian holiday.  The yahrtzeit comes the day after Pesach Sheni, the only holiday that was added when Jewish people came to Moshe to ask why they could not celebrate Pesach if they were tamei (ritually impure) on Pesach.  God answered their plea and added a holiday for them.  

Grandma was not religious, but she was Jewish to the core.  She accepted my decision to become observant and loved each of us completely.  For Grandma, every day was beautiful, every Jew was wonderful, and everyone was her friend.  She continues to inspire us as her fourth generation grows strong.

By Abe Akresh

The calendar says that the 14th of Iyar, today, is Pesach Sheni—a second Passover.  How did this “holiday” get on our calendar?  What is its significance today, especially with all the difficulties we had celebrating Passover this year?

Pesach Sheni comes from Parshat Behalotaha (Numbers Chapter 9).  It is the first month of the second year after leaving Egypt.  God tells Moshe to tell the Israelites to observe the Pesach sacrifice in the desert.  However, some men were unclean because of coming near a dead person.  They told Moshe they would like to observe the Pesach sacrifice.  Moshe checks with God, who says that anyone who is unclean because of coming near a dead person or is on a road far away should observe the Pesach sacrifice (with matza and marror) a month later, on the 14th of Iyar.  Thus, a Pesach Sheni.  (I assume “on a road far away” applied to a future date since everyone was in the desert for the first Pesach Sheni.)  In effect, God gave certain people a “do-over”, so that they could participate in the Pesach sacrifice (without cleaning out their house or eating matza for 7 days).

Pesach Sheni was observed during temple times, but could not be observed after the temple was destroyed.  Today, the only way we remember Pesach Sheni is to skip Tachanun (personal prayers and supplications) in the morning and afternoon services; we don’t even have a special Torah reading for Pesach Sheni.

Yet this year, it would be appropriate to celebrate Pesach Sheni.  If you were unclean during Passover or were far away (whether physically or emotionally) and could not observe Passover and are now recovered, celebrate with a good meal, but include matza and marror (to remind us of poverty and bitterness).  

And when the pandemic is over, I hope we can all celebrate a Pesach Shlishi—a third Passover.  After all, we celebrate Lag Ba’omer, because a plague (or pandemic) ended during Rabbi Akiva’s time.  I hope the rabbis will set up appropriate rituals for the end of the pandemic, including a good meal, but with matzah and marror.

By Susie Edelson

Originally, Shavuot was a harvest holiday.  We lead up to it by counting the Omer, a measure of harvested grain.  This year, as we count up in the Omer many of those around us are counting down, down to the time when their food runs out, down to the time when their savings are exhausted, down to the time when they lose their home or business, down to the time when they are forced to go to a food bank, down to the time when their loved one succumbs. None of us knows what the next person is going through, what stressors they have besides the current universal stress of being isolated at home for weeks. Each of us, even the weakest, has strengths.  We should make it a rule to share that strength with those around us who may be struggling. Each act of chesed repairs a little piece of our world and lightens someone’s burden.

By Sari Raskin

As we mark the 27th day of the Omer, we are now over half-way through the counting. We are also in the middle of our 8th week of quarantining. Time is a funny thing.  

There are moments where we would like to time to stand still, to enjoy and take in every moment and other times, when we want time to speed up and for things to be over and done.

The Omer, like many structures in Judaism, cause us to take note of and create ritual to mark time. As someone who generally looks at the world as half full versus half empty, I have tried to look at this period of time as the first example. I would have never thought that my college-age daughter would be home so soon and that the five of us would be living together once again under one roof or that I would be celebrating on Zoom birthday calls for various family members and friends with upwards of 50 people on each call. Yes, there are challenges at this moment and I would like us to go back to normalcy as quickly as possible. However, I feel that I should strive for this time to “stand still” a bit, so that when our busy lives resume, I will remember the gift of time that was given to me.

By Robert Klipper

Every night around 11pm, our three-year-old son comes looking for somebody to sleep next to him. I am his natural (second) choice since Mom is busy with his baby brother. I have grumbled through ten months of waking up under construction-themed sheets. But now, with routines upended and the drumbeat of news, this nighttime routine feels like a small miracle. What a gift, what a privilege, to provide security and comfort by simply being present.  We read that God once appeared as a pillar of fire between us and our fears; I pray we feel God’s presence and protection in smaller, quieter miracles, none greater to me than the look of peace on my son’s face as he drifts to sleep.

By Craig Ginsburg

We count the Omer leading towards Shavuot and the weather is warming. From the windows at home and on walks for fresh air and exercise, we watch birds and wildlife returning. We see people performing acts of hesed, tzedakah, and mitzvot - signs of God's beauty – the "light side of the force".

A wise sage once said, "In a dark place we find ourselves, and a little more knowledge lights our way.” These words by Yoda from Star Wars ring true, especially in these uncertain times. (Ok, so maybe he wasn't Jewish, but he did speak Yodish....) We should do just that - find time to read, have meaningful conversations with our loved ones.

Yoda also said, "Truly wonderful, the mind of a child is." We observe painted rocks, chalk sidewalk drawings, thank you signs for healthcare workers. Our children spread joy, leading us through the "Dark Side" of these tough times. We will get through this together. And May the Fourth be with you!

By Robin Kramer Burstein

"Next year in Jerusalem.”

I used to think these words said at the end of the Passover seder, literally meant that we should be together with our brothers and sisters in the city of Jerusalem for seder next year.

 I don’t feel we have the right to turn our backs on 4,000 years of our heritage. The Passover seder, along with many other observances, traditions, and beliefs have kept the Jewish community together. Intermarriage, fewer affiliated Jews, and the increasing influence/demands of the secular world, have made me wonder if next year/generation/century; we will still be a “people”.

Holiday observance, synagogue attendance, and teaching my grandchildren stories of the Jewish people is how I'll try to protect the things that will ensure a Jewish “people” for my family and community.

 Now, whenever I say, “Next year in the Jerusalem,” I’ll mean the Jerusalem of our hearts and minds, so that our “people” will forever share the things that make us Jewish.

By Montgomery County Council Member Andrew Friedson

Makdim Refua L'maka. “Even before the onset of the malady, the antidote already exists.”

Amid our community’s pain and losses, this pandemic provides perspective of what and who are essential. With far too many – even in our affluent county – facing this threat without what and who they need to survive, we recognize how fortunate most of us are with secure homes, ample food, sufficient access. Perspective is the foundation of gratitude; gratitude is the cornerstone of faith.

The antidote already exists because it’s in us. It is us. May we have perspective to summon it, and gratitude to share it.

By Ruth Szykman, Education Director

I had to take my Mom to NYC last week for emergency surgery. (She’s doing much better now.)  It was hard to drive back into the city after going there a month ago and taking my elderly parents out of their Upper East Side apartment to ride this out with us in Rockville. Streets were eerily empty. Monday was the surgery.  We sat together that evening, talking about how people can be so caring, selfless, and kind – even when you think there is so much awfulness in the world.  How can we say an adequate thank you to these doctors, nurses, lab techs, and staff?  All of a sudden, we hear it: people yelling, clapping, ringing bells, and playing drums.  It is as if a parade had started on 64th St.  I went to the window and looked out. People were holding up signs “Thank You Drs. and Nurses!”, “God Bless Health Workers”, “We Love You”.  It was 7pm.    We realized this was the 7pm nightly thank you we had read about in the newspapers.  It lasted a full 5 minutes. We threw the windows wide open and joined in.  “Thank You”, we shouted, laughing and crying at the same time.  An Attitude of Gratitude.

By Laurie Altman Sunshine

“Counting the Days”

Hunkered down, fearful,

we tick off the days

of our captivity

waiting out Covid-19.

As the first night of Passover nears

we sense the scourge outside our doors

like the tenth plague in Egypt.

Silent, stealthy, deadly. 

And then we remember.

On the second night

we begin counting the Omer,

the numbering of days

until the gift of Torah

graces our lives anew.

After the long night comes day,

light dispelling darkness.

From slavery unto freedom,

hope survives despair.

Our seders shall be small,

family Zoom-miles apart.

Still we will tell the story

as we journey to Sinai.

Yom Ha’atzmaut by David Faerberg

A cornerstone of Judaism and the Jewish people is hope.  It is no surprise that the Israeli national anthem “HaTikvah” means “The Hope.”  Hope allowed the Hebrews to survive enslavement in Egypt and return to the Promised Land.  Hope has allowed the Jewish people to survive tragic and turbulent times.  It is easy to lose hope because our lives have radically changed.  However, I am reminded of the actor Michael Caine who said his motto in life was “Use the difficulty,” that is, in any situation in life that’s negative, there is something positive you can do with it.

Yom Ha'Zikaron by Yael Shafrir, Shlicha

For years, Yom Ha’Zikaron and Yom Ha’Atzmaut have been days when I remember and appreciate those who lost their lives in order for Israel to exist. But since my Army service those days became much more important. I finally understood what it means to serve my country in order to protect the people I love. Being on Shlichut is just another way to express how proud I am of Israel, and all that we have accomplished in this small, young, and beautiful country.

During this time where home is our safe place, I am reminded about the reason for the establishment of Israel, creating a safe place for the Jewish people, a place we can all call HOME.

By Sara Goldkind

Counting the Omer is meant to help prepare us for the holiday of Shavuot, when we recall the receiving of the Torah. It’s designed to remind us of God and to further that spiritual relationship.  Powerful and profound ways of being connected to God is through our ties to each other and to nature, at least this is what I believe.  The requirements for physical distancing necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic should provoke us to be more intentional and creative about these connections.  I have reached out to a wide array of family, friends, acquaintances and work colleagues during this strange and unpredictable time.  Almost everyone that I contacted responded back with gratitude.  I am also taking daily walks, thankful to be able to appreciate the miracle and beauty of springtime.  Best yet, is when I walk outside while catching up by phone with my Chevra. Definitely does something for my soul and my feelings of connectedness with God!

By Susan Grant

I find the time from the 2nd day of Pesach to Shavuot a very special time in our Jewish calendar. These 49 days express our anticipation of receiving the Torah by preparing ourselves spiritually and mentally for this great gift from G-d. We work on ourselves with intense character refinement. Each of the 49 days we are told to work on our emotional lives with each day bringing a different trait to work on, until, we, too, are ready to accept the Torah on Shavuot on the 50th day.

One character trait I am focusing on is compassion. Compassion is expressing your feelings in the healthiest manner. It is the sympathetic awareness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). I ask myself if my compassion is enduring and consistent? Do I have the ability to be compassionate while I'm busy doing other activities or only when it's comfortable for me? What are ways in which I can show my compassion for others?

Being housebound during the pandemic with my husband and one of my two sons, I have time to hop on this emotional journey. I need not languish in my home just going through the motions but I can use the time wisely to invest in and elevate myself. I personally do not like making phone calls but I will take a moment to call someone who needs a compassionate word, or make a call to someone to just 'check in.' I will try to make this a regular occurrence not just when it's convenient for me, but when I know it will make a difference in someone else's life. What better way to use our time at home than put it to use to reach out to others. Wouldn't you be pleasantly surprised to receive a phone call or text from someone who is checking in with you? I know I would. I hope you can join me in this mitzvah and/or find another way to show compassion to others.

By Abbe Milstein

Since we started quarantining ourselves about a month ago, Disney movies have been our go to source for inspiration.  Here are a few of the Hoenig/Milstein Families favorites...

"The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem." -- Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean)

 "You're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think." -- Winnie the Pooh (Pooh's Most Grand Adventure)

 "The only thing predictable about life is its unpredictability." -- Remy (Ratatouille)

 "Remember, you're the one who can fill the world with sunshine." -- Snow White (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves)

By Brad Bernstein

Community has always been a strong component of my Jewish identity.  While the physical embodiment of our community remains closed temporarily, it is more important than ever to connect with each other in the digital realm.  During the time of year when Jews come together and say “Next year in Jerusalem,” my four closest childhood friends have come together virtually, bringing us uplifting moments during this physically-isolating time.  We grew up in Dallas and jokingly called ourselves the Jew Crew and Yoo (a friend with the last name ‘Yoo’).  During this time of uncertainty and fear, we brought together our group across our different cities and time zones to share videos of us and our families via Zoom and the Marco Polo app.  Whether saying Shabbat Shalom or sending videos of our kids, we have talked to each other more over the past few weeks than over the past few years.  While so much remains unknown these days, I know that using this time to connect regularly with old friends remains an incredible gift.  I hope you can do the same and experience a warm reception at the other end of a virtual call.

By Marjorie Haas

The unprecedented times in which we’re living bring out the best in many. We all see the big mitzvot – of people risking their lives to save ours. But I’m inspired as much by the smaller, everyday mitzvot – of a little girl leaving a cake on the doorstep of an elderly neighbor, the woman delivering flowers to friends on Shabbat, and the teacher sitting on a student’s driveway and reading a book. We don’t have the control over our lives that we’re used to. But we have enough control to offer love, compassion, and kindness to each other.

By Cindy Fishman

It is so quiet now.  Have you noticed?   It is easier to be introspective, mindful, thoughtful. Will I be able to maintain this once the noise of normal returns?  As we are move closer to celebrating the giving of the gift of the Torah, we take a moment each day to think of that gift, the gift of Torah.  What is the gift of Torah? Can we accept its gifts?   Can we use its gifts? Can we get through the noise?

By Sonia Beekman

Today, on Yom HaShoah, I think about the importance of discussing the Holocaust, L’Dor V’Dor, from generation to generation. In honoring the memory of those who perished, we must remember that the millions lost were made up of individuals – mothers, fathers and children, each with their own unique stories. But to remember alone, is not enough. We have seen the dangers of bigotry and divisiveness and must shine a light on the lessons learned from the Holocaust to help bring people together. So, as we remember the past, let us work toward a brighter future, where neighbors stand up for each other, and show one another compassion, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

By Ilana Brunner

While it’s important to express gratitude throughout the year, both the Omer and the Pandemic are highlighting the importance of this practice. In our home, we have started expressing gratitude by each picking one new thing a day to be thankful for, and then revisiting that item several times throughout the day. Sometimes, over the course of the day, our reasons for being grateful for that item change. The big items have of course come up—home, family, good health, full pantry, stuffed animals—and for the obvious reasons. But other things have also come up, for example, ice cream, because it’s cool and refreshing on a hot day, it tastes good, and it makes people smile. These sprinkles of gratitude throughout the day, particularly when we need a break from the chores of our daily routine (work, homework, dishes), can bring us a physical and emotional boost by making us smile and reminding us to be thankful for the big and little things.

By Dawn Fischer

The part of the seder which has always been the most special, connects my past, my ancestors, to me and to future generations.  My mother’s family, imigrated to the United States from Turkey, in the early 1900’s.  As Sephardic Jews, family seders were conducted in three languages, Hebrew, Ladino, and English.  Over the years, there has been less Ladino, but for the songs!  The music!  Although it’s not until about 11:30 PM when the melodic tunes of Un Kravitico (Chad Gadya) and Quience Quience (Echad Mi Yodea) are sung with heart and palpable memories, it is that part which, for me, makes the seder complete.  “Complete” seems to have a very different meaning this year.

Voices together with instruments hopefully will provide an uplifting sound of optimism during this time.

By Cheryl Geiger

Life will never be the same…

We will now measure time before and after Covid-19.

The memories we share with future generations will recall, nostalgically, the years before Seders became “Zeders” and hugs were cherished expressions of love rather than deadly purveyors of doom.

Paradoxically, perhaps life will be better because we have learned from tragedy – and made a course correction.

We have already started to create a new world where kindness, humility, generosity, appreciation, creativity, mutual respect and empathy not only take center stage – but are becoming the expectation, the new norm.

Rainbows, in part, remind us that no matter the depth of depravity, we have the power to change course.

Monday evening, a perfect rainbow stretched across the NYC skyline.

Perhaps in recognition of all that we are once again doing right. 

By Marcie Wertlieb

The cherry blossoms helped sustain me during the month of March.  The excitement of knowing they were coming.  Seeing the earliest buds.  Watching those tiny buds blossoms into pom-pom bunches.  Seeking out the neighborhoods with the most cherry blossoms.  Sitting under our own cherry blossoms in our back yard.  Gazing out our bedroom window at our little cherry tree while doing Zoom yoga classes.  Thinking of the passage of time as the petals started creating their special spring-time snow, raining down and dusting the earth.  As the cherry blossoms give way to green leaves, Pesach approaches, and a few petals still cling to their branches.  In time, these will fall, and Pesach will come, and go.  Spring will give way to summer, and our community will slowly begin to re-emerge, and to blossom once again.

By Wes Kaplow

Did you ever stop and wonder why the counting of the omer goes up?  When you are anticipating something, like your paycheck, going on an important date, or going on vacation, we usually count down!  We say, "it's only five more days until my son's birthday.” Why is this so?   I believe we count-up so that we think of ourselves as growing each day, always increasing, with greater anticipation as we move forward.  As the Israelites did not know that Mattan Torah (the giving of the Torah) was in store for them, we do not know with certainty when the crisis of these unprecedented times will be over.   Always, and especially now, we must all work to increase the light in our lives and community - count-up the number of friends and family we call, the books we read, the Torah we study.

By Alissa Horvitz

Cyclically, I have a Passover birthday.  I hated it in my childhood.  Sticking candles in a dry seven-layer loaf was un-appetizing, and postponing the party until after Passover was anti-climactic.  Nowadays, and especially this year, my Passover birthday held more meaning.  I used my Passover cookbook to make the dessert part more appetizing for everyone; my family gathered around the homemade dessert, and we celebrated together.  I feel very blessed to have had family gather with me to celebrate both the meaning of the Passover holiday and the specialness of the day.  May you, too, enjoy the blessings of family during Passover and the Omer.  Zissen Pesach to all.

By Aileen Goldstein

As we count the Omer, we count the days from our physical redemption as a people (the Exodus) to our spiritual redemption (with receiving the Torah at Sinai). This year, we are living this perhaps more so than in most, as we shelter in place to preserve our safety and well-being and to guard that of others in this uncertain time. Let our journey through this year's Omer bring us new spiritual and personal freedom: self-love, peace with ourselves and with those in our households, and new ways of creating and maintaining community.

By Jeff & Mikki Ashin

“Counting Our Blessings”
As we count the days of the Omer and deal with this pandemic, it is important that we daily count our blessings.  We are fortunate to have our health, a home to shelter in place, and enough food (and toilet paper) to sustain us.  We have the blessing of family. Social distancing has separated us physically but has helped us remember how important a role family plays in our lives. We talk more and facetime more to stay connected.  We celebrated Pesach differently this year. Although our seder table did not include our usual group of family and friends, we honored our traditions using technology to connect remotely through zoom. We are counting the days until we can be close to those we love and pray that this time will come soon.

By Abby Elson

It has been said about the Omer that you must count every day, and every day counts. The seven weeks of the Omer contain 49 days, some are holy days such as Passover or shabbatot, and some are mundane or ordinary.  In quarantine, many of us pack our days to make the time go faster. But the Omer reminds us that we must remember that each day is a gift from G‑d, and our accomplishment is measured by how we serve Him during the 24 hours. Some days we serve G‑d by going on yet another zoom call, and other days by abstaining from work. Some days we serve Him by calling a member of our community, while other days we serve Him by using isolation for individual rejuvenation. Counting these days of the Omer allows us to focus on what is important, serving God and serving people.

By Larry Center

Fifty-one years ago the folksinger Richie Havens opened what would become a historic music festival in Bethel, New York.  The sky was a beautiful light blue, there was a slight breeze in the air and there was excited anticipation in the incredibly large and peaceful crowd.  I know because I was there.

Richie appeared alone on stage with his acoustic guitar, singing to the masses.  His first song, the initial song at Woodstock, had   a one-word title:
“Freedom.”  The lyrics included the lines, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long, long, long way from my home.”

As we celebrate Pesach during this unprecedented time, we all feel unmoored from our families, craving the company of friends and loved ones, forced to hold virtual seders for the first time in our lives, wanting to be close to parents, grandparents, children, but seeing them only on a computer screen.

But the theme of Pesach still resonates with us, still calling upon us to rejoice in our freedom.  Even in this time of the corona virus, we possess the freedom to celebrate this wonderful holiday, to be with our friends and family virtually, and to express our individuality in words and deeds.

Let’s focus on the freedoms we do have and continue to be there for each other!  As the Youngbloods sang decades ago, “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together and love one another right now.”

Happy Passover!

By Amanda Kaiser

Each day that we are asked to stay home is another day to find beauty in and around our home. We've watched the cherry blossoms go from sprouting buds to raining pedals. We've collected flowers and leaves to make "nature soup." We've watched as different birds fly around our house, identifying them as best as possible. We've baked challah and will embark on baking matzah. We've talked about our hopes for the future and what scares us about right now. We are choosing to be optimistic in these uncertain times and embrace each day as a gift that we are able to be together.

By Debbie Reichmann

In many ways the Passover Seder has always had virtual elements. We are commanded to see ourselves as if we were freed from slavery. We welcome Eliyahu into our homes. We use foodstuffs to represent different aspects of the story. So this year, we need to go further in our virtual world. If we can, we will use technology to bring our friends and families to our tables. If we can, we will say to one another, “this is when so and so would say/do this.” We will bring these happy memories into our disrupted lives and make this year joyful, too. That way, when we tell of the Seder of 5780 in the future, it will be yet another story of success.

Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780