Kol Ami — The Northern Virginia Reconstructionist Community

Counting the Omer -Week 1

Week 1: Chesed
Lovingkindness, Free-Flowing Love

Counting the Omer for Spiritual Development and Racial and Social Justice

The Omer is the 49-day period beginning the second day of Passover and ending the day before Shavuot. It is the countdown to receiving the Torah on Shavuot. We count the (49) days and (7) weeks of this period, from 1 to 49. The counting is done the night before each day, beginning this year on March 28, 2021 and ending on May 16, 2021. For more information about Counting the Omer click HERE. To begin counting, scroll down.

Prayer before counting:  Daily siddur, p. 415  on the bottom
Counting the days for Week One: Daily siddur,  p. 416 in English, 417 in Hebrew

Prayer before counting the Omer each day:  Baruch atah adonay, eloheynu melech ha-olam, asher kideshanu bemitzvotav, vetzivanu al sefirat ha-Omer.  Blessed are you, Eternal our God, the sovereign of all worlds, who has made us holy with your mitzvot, and has commanded us concerning the counting of the Omer.

Then, recite the specific day of the Omer:  Today is [the first day; the second day; the third day; the fourth day; the fifth day; the sixth day; the seventh day, which is one week] of the Omer.  Hayom [yom echad; shney yamim; shlosha yamim; arbah yamim; chamisha yamim; shesheh yamim; shevah yamim, shehem shavua echad] la-Omer.

Day One Sunday, March 28
Chesed she’b’Chesed
Lovingkindness in Lovingkindness

“Where what we want to do meets what needs to be done, that is where God wants us to be.”
To Heal a Fractured World (Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks)

An African American liberation theologian, asked if she could think of any reason why a loving God would bring Africans in slavery to North America, answered, “To bring the white settlers there knowledge of how to love.”

Exercise for the day: Greet an African American person whose path you find a way to cross today with lovingkindness in your heart.

Day Two Monday, March 29
G’vurah she’b’Chesed
Strength in Lovingkindness

To be loving and kind, it is also important to be strong – to say “no” to an unreasonable demand; to cherish freedom enough to stand up against oppression; to love ourselves with such compassion that we can meet others proud of who we are.

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer.  Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” (Harriet Tubman)

Exercise for the day: Spend five minutes on the Internet learning something you didn’t know before about Harriet Tubman, an African American woman with a disability who escaped slavery and led other slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad.


Day Three Tuesday, March 30
Tiferet she’b’Chesed
Beauty and Compassion in Lovingkindness

Jewish tradition teaches the concept of hiddur mitzvah – not just carrying out the prayers, rituals, and daily ways of living that bring us closer to God, but to doing so in a beautiful manner.  We do this at Kol Ami when we put prayers to melodies, write poetry, and make cards and other objects of art.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture, which took years of committed determination to create, documents and celebrates the love and beauty people of African descent have brought to and developed on these shores.  To visit the museum, in person or in these pandemic days online, is to feel the love that African Americans in this country have sustained for each other and the broader world in the most difficult periods of US history, and the many forms of beauty that love can create.

Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both:
To learn more about hiddur mitzvah, read https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/holiday-art/.  
To see exhibits in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, go to https://nmaahc.si.edu/.  

Day Four Wednesday, March 31
Netzach she’b’Chesed
Endurance and Perseverance in Lovingkindness

“One could say that the endurance of lovingkindness is what propels human culture forward in a positive direction, the lifeblood of goodness, the hope of the world.  Lovingkindness endures and ripples outward, and one never knows the full extent of the goodness that can come from it.” (D’vorah Horn, creator of Omer Practice Cards)

Nelson Mandela was elected to lead post-apartheid South Africa after the long, bitter struggle for freedom, in which he suffered personally – he was imprisoned as a political prisoner for 27 years – and never lost hope.  He said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both
If you’re feeling flush and generous, give someone whose kindness has helped you endure a gift of D’vorah Horn’s beautiful Omer cards, https://ritualwell.myshopify.com/collections/dvorah-horn/products/omer-deck-2018
And/or, to hear the lovingkindness that pulses through African American survival in North America, listen to Sweet Honey in the Rock sing “I Remember, I Believe”:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sUAbHhlOYhE

Day Five Thursday, April 1
Hod she’b’Chesed
Splendor and Simplicity in Lovingkindness

“A pleasure, doing this work was, / not a hardship, /  she wrote in answer to my question. / It made her feel closer to me. / Her love, her longing, / the very essence of her soul, / she wove into every stitch.” (From Clothes My Mother Made by Hanna Zacks, In The Torah: A Women’s Commentary)

Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both: 
Remember a time when someone did something for you that was both simple and splendid, loving and kind.  Tell someone else the story of what happened.
And/Or:  Learn about the history of the splendidly beautiful hats, sometimes simple and often extraordinary, African American women traditionally have worn to church. A place to start:  https://www.wfxrtv.com/news/local-news/extraordinary-crowns-the-history-of-the-black-womans-church-hat/If the line quoted from the psalms sounds familiar, in Hebrew it’s Kol haneshama tehallel Yah, which we often sing together as a congregation.

Day Six Friday, April 2
Yesod she’b’Chesed
Foundation-Building and Wholehearted Commitment in Lovingkindness

In the late 19th century, immigrant Jews on the Lower East Side of New York, most of them impoverished sweatshop workers, got together, each giving a few cents a week, to build a place where they could gather and pray, the Eldridge Street Synagogue.  The foundation they built has endured; Jews have prayed there for generations, and now it is a museum that honors the immigrants’ memories and history, and the ongoing creative vitality of New York’s present-day multicultural Lower East Side communities.  Kol Ami visited there a few years back, and now you can visit online:  https://www.eldridgestreet.org/

Two possible exercises for the day, choose one or both:  
Remember someone who has loved you and helped you get a strong foundation in life.  If they are still living – thank them for what they have done for you.  If they have passed on, spend a few quiet moments remembering them, with gratitude.

Or, closer to home, consider visiting the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial, https://www.nps.gov/mlkm/index.htm, which honors the legacy of the great leader of the civil rights moment that is still going on in our times.  Dr. King said to a Jewish audience  in 1968, “My people were brought to America in chains. Your people were driven here to escape the chains fashioned for them in Europe. Our unity is born of our common struggle for centuries, not only to rid ourselves of bondage, but to make oppression of any people by others an impossibility.”

Day Seven, Making One Week Saturday, April 3
Malchut she’b’Chesed
Majesty and Humility in Lovingkindness

In Jewish mysticism, the head, the ruler of the body, is at the same time the lowest part of the soul’s energy centers connecting the human to the divine.  The greatest ruler, the most majestic, is often also the most humble.  Mahatma Gandhi is an example.  He once said, “There is no good higher than truth.”

In the centuries between our exile form The Promised Land until the creation of the modern State of Israel, Jews never stopped dreaming of freedom – when we could again live as free people, ruling ourselves in our own land.  During the years of slavery, and in its aftermath, African Americans never stopped trying to rebel and to escape to freedom.  In the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida, they set up self-ruled communities, whose descendants retain their proud, autonomous cultures to this day.

Exercise for the day: 

In one sitting, listen to “World Can’t Do Me No Harm” by the Georgia Sea Island Singers, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKAUjMKc1hc,  and Hatikva (The Hope; now the Israeli national anthem), sung by recently liberated prisoners from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, before the creation of the State of Israel, at the first Shabbat service after the camp was liberated, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syUSmEbGLs4Hear the blend of love, kindness, solidarity, majesty, and humility in the singers’ voices.

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