Counting the Omer in a Time of Quarantine

Posted April 07, 2020  | Written by PJ Our Way Team

Girl sitting outside

By Carla Naumburg, PhD


“I don’t know who needs to hear this, but today is Wednesday.”
 
Some version of that post pops up in my social media feeds almost every day, and I must admit I appreciate it. As millions of families around the world are stuck at home during a global pandemic, the days are starting to run together a bit.
 
Not surprisingly, Jews have an app for that. Ok, not so much an app but an ancient tradition for counting the days between Passover and Shavuot. It’s called Counting the Omer, it harkens back to the time when the Jewish calendar revolved around the changing seasons, the harvest, and temple offerings.
 
For 49 days, starting with the second night of Passover (April 10, 2020) and ending with Shavuot (May 28, 2020), Jews count each day. Literally. That’s it. Each evening, you say a blessing thanking God for commanding us to count the Omer, and then you say, “Today is the first day of the Omer.” After the first week, you start counting weeks and days. (Bonus - this part is great for brushing up on your kid’s arithmetic skills.)
 
If this sounds like kind of a weird tradition, well, it sort of is. But like so many seemingly archaic Jewish practices, it’s also surprisingly relevant for modern times, perhaps now more than ever.
 
During Passover, we tell the story of the initial liberation of the Jews from slavery. On Shavuot, we eat cheesecake and celebrate receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai. When the Jews fled Egypt, they were physically free, but it wasn’t until they got the Torah that they finally felt empowered to move forward as a truly liberated community.
 
We count the Omer as a way of acknowledging this journey from slavery to freedom. 
 
This metaphor feels a bit too on the nose for me this year, but I’m still grateful for it. And not just because it’s a reminder that our people have been through this before (far too many times, perhaps), but also because, quite honestly, I’m appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge that we’ve made it through yet another day. Oh, and I need something to do with my kids. 
 
There are lots of creative ways to count the Omer with tweens; you can see a few fun ones here. In addition, you can have everyone add a drawing or memory in a family journal - even just a sentence or two. 
 
And if you’re too fried to come up with a creative activity for counting the Omer, that’s ok. You can say the blessing and count the days in Hebrew or English, and you can use the traditional language (included at the bottom of this post) or make up your own. Either way, I know I could certainly benefit from a ritual that provides a little structure to our days while reminding us that even though we’re not actually going anywhere, we are on a journey that will end in freedom. 
 
Gam zeh ya’avor. This too shall pass.

How to Count the Omer (from My Jewish Learning):
One stands when counting the omer, and begins by reciting the following blessing:

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.

After the blessing, one recites the appropriate day of the count. For example:
Hayom yom echad la’omer

Today is the first day of the omer.

After the first six days, one also includes the number of weeks that one has counted. For example:

Hayom sh’losha asar yom, she’hem shavuah echad v’shisha yamim la’omer

Today is 13 days, which is one week and six days of the omer.
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