Counting the Omer Within…ME

Here is my reflection on my experience on Counting the Omer, a spiritual practice in Judaism that we observe from Passover to Shavuot

Before diving deeper into “Counting the Omer and what this all means, ” I need to take sometime to reflect how this all came to be and why it has taken me (nearly months later) to build up the courage and energy to write this out.

I know taking the time to do is what I need to do. It is time. I believe others can resonate with this practice and the incredible gift that Judaism can provide if you let it in… I look forward to hearing how this may resonate with you. What have you learned? What have you re-discovered or re-learned?

You see, Judaism (well religion) for that matter tends to be this huge concept that is really hard to grasp, understand and comprehend. As someone who grew up in the reform Jewish movement, going to temple every Sunday for Hebrew school, BBYO and going to events focused on the Jewish community, it always was a place, almost a safe haven that I felt most connected to (aside from ART or Social Work). Whenever, I was having something going on in my life or feeling down, spirituality was always there. Waiting for me, it was not till probably going through the pandemic and everything that has occurred when I have had these low moments that I recognize it and embrace it for all it is and all it has given me. Like any religion, it can feel boring and like there is nothing that we gain from it. I want to take the time to uncover a part of Judaism that I knew about but it’s not till this year that I really dug deeper into what it means to me and the experience I had of “Counting the Omer WITHIN” in a way that was inviting, cool and creative.

Rewind back (from Present day July 5, 2021 to March 2021)

During the month of March, I was really struggling with my mental health and on occasion contemplated why am I even here and what am I doing with my life? I am not sure about you or if you have ever felt this way but if you have, you can understand that even the simple things like feeding yourself, showering, and overall being active is really very, very challenging. Around the same time, I came across The Tasman Center: https://www.tasmancenter.og randomly on social media. My soul was not in a good place, I felt like my “spark for life” was dying out (I just left a pretty emotionally abusive relationship, job and was in a place I didn’t really want to be in (living with my parents at 33 years old back in my childhood home). I needed something to bring out of such a dark place. My faith, I needed it more than ever before so I reached into my spirituality and here is what SHOWED UP!

I remember enrolling for the cohort, Illuminate the Omer and thinking to myself, what else is there to do right now? I had nothing left to do, so I took it ON. I remember having a lot of ideas, re-discovering what brought me that spark, that fire within my soul. One thing was for certain that my inner Artist was crying out to me to reach deep within and begin creating. A voice inside my head said, “Just do it.” It was around the same time, that I randomly came across the app Clubhouse, I heard things about it was pretty apprehensive. As soon as I opened it up, it just so happens that around the same time there was a huge movement of Jews that were utilizing this app and spent hours, even days on it. I didn’t feel like I was really ready to go down that road and I wasn’t even sure what I was searching for but I knew I needed to look more into it. Once I decided to explore it more, I started to find rooms that were intriguing but were lacking what I desired but it . As soon as I put my intention into the universe, world of Clubhouse, I found what I was looking for (my tribe, my community, my home). My energy returned to me, I felt all the vibes and was ready to dive into this world. I remember scrolling on Clubhouse, wondering what all the fuss was about. What was so great about Clubhouse? I decided to try it out, go into different rooms and soon enough, I found the club, “Mystics and Musicians.” I remember it was just like yesterday, it was pretty late in the evening (since I tend to be a night owl it didn’t phase me.) That first conversation is not what drew me in, in fact it was just a few guys and myself talking about psychedelic’s here and there. I wasn’t that interested. However, I did follow the club and receive some type of notification or saw a new room, “Sefirat Ha’Omer.” I wasn’t sure what to think of it but I remember at some point, joining the room.

The room started off as a smaller crowd, less than 20 and around 10 and was made up of quite the eclectic crowd. A few to name; An almost Cantor at JTS, a song leader in the BBYO/Reform movement, tarot/kabbalah/crystal folk, chakra/mystics/educators/rabbis/musicians/healers/seekers/dreamers and all the things. For the next 8 weeks Passover-Shavuot, we would be Counting the Omer. The Omer means, a sheaf of corn or omer of grain presented as an offering on the second day of Passover. How the heck can we even relate to this and what does this even mean? How can we make sense of this? The practice of counting the omer was no stranger to me, I remember years and years ago back in 2014, I was in a similar place in my life but also not. Much has changed and much reminds me of the same familiar feeling. Here is an old blog entry: https://wordpress.com/post/modehaniandeverythinginbetween.wordpress.com/81

So here I was, it was April 2021. I chose to let this room in and contribute to it. Here’s how it went: every night at 10 PM (EST) we joined the Clubhouse room. In the beginning, Aydin and Jacob led us in the prayer of Counting the Omer, and recited the following prayer in Song:

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’Olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tizivanu al sefirat ha’omer.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to count the omer. To find out more information, check out: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/blessing-for-counting-the-omer/

Every single night at 10 PM EST was unique (no night was the same, which is what made is to special). In the earlier weeks/days, we sang along (without mics on) pulled up on stage and reflected what the day meant to us. See each day, brought new meaning, new life. For 49 days, we intentionally took time to slow down, to reflect and share the most vulnerable part of ourselves. Since we couldn’t physically “see” each other, maybe we felt more comfortable to share the darkest parts of ourselves and parts that brought us joy but the day-to-day mundane life didn’t give us room or overall space to grow in this sense? During this time, I started drawing again. As soon as I picked up my prismacolor colored pencils, a part of my soul came ALIVE again. I was where I needed to be and I needed to lean into it and let it IN. I’ve been here before, I’ve counted before but this was different, it was not trying to be something different, I was stepping into my authentic, true self and it began to shine and shine ever so brightly in the images I created.

I entered into Clubhouse, into the room and was transported into “another world” of sparks, deep spirituality, connection and awe. I was in my element and I was HOME. I remember there were times I was so overwhelmed with my life and the 9-5 life, that there was certainly times that I just wanted to isolate, to shut it all down and stop creating. How is it that the one thing that brings me to life, I was willing to let it go and stop it all together? I am not sure and know I need to reflect more on this but I am glad that I was able to pull myself out of the rut I was in and continue to create. In the weeks that followed, there were times I just wanted to give up and be done. See here is the thing with counting the omer, you can’t just stop (it’s the same as being human and continuing to work on ourselves, we can’t ever just stop). If we do, we die and out soul dies more. So here I was spending hours and hours at a time, pouring into my art and into creating. It was pretty incredible to see what happened when I let it ALL in. I was able to create this majestic piece of art and I know this I not the end, this is simply the beginning.

In the beginning, it was pretty basic, comfortable. Towards, the end it grew almost outside of itself. It became a practice, it became a HOME for me when I did not feel at home in myself (emotionally/spiritually and in my soul/body/mind). Like LIFE, should and has the power to do. but only, if we let it in, and cultivate the energy it needs to grow, flourish and thrive.

Here are all 49 drawings from my Counting of the Omer WITHIN:

What can Av teach us?

Disclaimer: I am no religious expert, these are just my thoughts…and I hope this brings a different perspective + overall creates more dialogue around this concept.

Today is August 1st, our country is on fire, more and more people are dying because of COVID-19; a virus that is making us question everything: How did we get here? What can we do? How do we survive?

This is real, yes, we’re still living in a GLOBAL PANDEMIC..

When looking at the world and my place in it, I find some comfort and solace knowing that I am not alone. We’re not alone. As a Jewish American womxn, I have always wrestled with a part of my identity that sometimes is hard to admit. I am a Jew.

While the world is in a very uncertain, eerie, dark and unsettling place. The Jewish calendar opens our EYES to more than we were ever taught in Hebrew School (at least for me) and I can’t help but wonder: How do we mourn for this new way of living? What can we learn? How can we move forward? What can Av Teach Us?

As Jews, we follow a Lunarsolar Calendar. What does this mean? It means, we follow the Moon so we’re technically in two different universes, right? I like to think so. Again, no expert but this is quite interesting, isn’t it? The month of July-August is known as “Av” This month is supposedly all about mourning the great destruction of two major temples in Jerusalem. Not relatable? Exactly…same here.

The way I see it:

Jews from around the world are observing “Tisha B’v” July 29th-30th was the SADDEST day of the year. To show that we’re in solidarity, to mourn for the Holy Temple in Jerusalem…we’re called to fast from sundown-sundown. So basically we’re given permission to mourn?

What are we mourning in present day?

Not being able to see close friends, loved ones and family the way we usually do. Now we’re required to socially distance ourselves, stand 6 feet apart at least and wear a mask at all times except when eating or drinking. Social gatherings more than 10 are prohibited, concerts and live music aren’t happening and the beloved vibrant and lively Red Rocks is empty. Complete silence.

It is quite an eerie place right now and probably will continue to be until we have a new leader running America again, have a vaccine and numbers have dropped. Basically, to fill out days and out times, majority of us (those who are able to do so and are privileged to have this) spend time at home, watching shows/movies, cuddling our animals. For me, I have watched House of Cards completely through, other shows, documentaries and discovered how weird and also freeing it is take time to slow down and take space to think, to grow and mourn. In addition, Zoom is our new way of connecting with others and we can meet people who don’t even live in America; which is pretty incredible.

What systems have been broken/shifted + will never be the same?

Social Services/Community Orgs/Mental Health: As someone who has worked in the field of social work with a focus on community organizations and social systems, I have had the pleasure, joy and really great privilege of being able to learn, to grow into who I am today and to DO MORE for the greater good of humanity.

Just like anything, when we aren’t living, breathing and doing this kinda work, we sometimes sweep it under the rug. America, teaches us instead of fixing the problems, a band-aid will do.

During the Global Pandemic, it’s becoming more clear that we are in a state of pure and utter insanity. One of my favorite musicians, Nahko and Medicine for the People came out with a new album called Take Your Power Back. “Dear Brother” is one that we all should be listening to and paying attention to. Give it a listen.

The American Dream:

At a young age, we learn about the founding principles of our country, who our founding fathers are and how important it is to get a good education, to work hard to work our way up to make more $, enjoy the fruits of our labor, turn a blind eye and very often just brush off our shoulders, the hate, the injustice that is always under the rug.

Now: Innocent lives are being taken from this awful virus. We still don’t know what caused it and how this happened. We do know, that there are MAJOR ISSUES that we have never fixed in the first place! The truth is, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. The 1% are profiting from billions and billions of dollars.

ALL our EYES to the reality of our country. Now, because of the pandemic and the unfortunate increase of deaths of in particular black, brown, indigenous, persons of color. We’re seeing a clear distinction on how BROKEN, how SEGREGATED we really are.

What silver lining can we see and what lessons can we learn from all of this?

Unfortunately, the virus is unpredictable (it does not discriminate and it can lead to death, which we have seen; numbers are sky-rocketing more and more.

What Can Av Teach us?

If anything, Av can show us the importance of taking the time to slow down, to close our eyes and be here now. It can teach us how important is it to embrace everyday, every moment, every breath. To let go of the life we knew, to grieve and cry because life as we know it will never be the same and that’s okay.