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Counting the Omer

49 Days to Sinai: making these days count

Days 1-32: The first portion of the Omer is characterized by a semi-mournful tone, where we avoid celebrations and abstain from haircuts, among a few others customs. This is the period of time during which the students of Rabbi Akiva lost their lives to a devastating plague, apparently brought on by their inability to engage civilly with one another. How ironic that we too find ourselves in the midst of a pandemic. In our case, however, the pandemic has led individuals and communities to engage in acts of kindness and generosity, bringing out the best in humanity. During these first 32 days, we will offer a daily email describing a moment in which the author experienced unexpected joy—a surprising phone call, an act of lovingkindness, etc.

Days 33-49: Once we reach Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, the tone shifts. The students of Rabbi Akiva no longer perished. But the journey of the Omer is meant to bring us from Egypt to Sinai, from redemption to revelation, and thus the journey must continue. We are also in the midst of a journey that seems to go on and on. In this moment when the end is on the horizon but still far in the distance, we all need encouraging stories of resiliency and courage. During days 33-49, we will offer a daily email describing a strategy or a practice of resiliency. How are we modeling resiliency for one another and what can we do to support one in another in this journey?

The First Day of the Omer - April 9, 2020 / 16th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz

As a kid, I loved playing with Legos. By the time I was a teenager and no longer interested in them, my mom had mixed the sets all together and put them in various plastic storage containers. Looking for a project the other day, I wished that I had those Legos. Rebecca had a great idea—buy a new, challenging Lego set online to work on during the quarantine! So now I find myself building a Lego set once again, about 20 years since I last did this. It’s amazing how searching through the box and working with these tiny Lego pieces transports me into another world and allows my mind to wander in fun and imaginative ways. Rediscovering this childhood pastime has brought me unexpected joy. I look forward to the time when Ruby is old enough to explore, create, and imagine with me.

The Second Day of the Omer - April 10, 2020 / 17th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Cantor Sarah Bolts

I’ve been joking for several weeks that I have more of a social life during this pandemic than I do the rest of the time. My calendar now includes a weekly breakfast with college friends, a biweekly chat with my best friend and his daughter, and virtual playdates for Julia. I’ve heard from friends whom I haven’t talked with in years, wanting to reconnect. And of course I’m still connected with my B’nai community through our virtual minyanim and events. Friends and family have been reaching out to each other via phone, Zoom, and Facebook, to check in with each other and to chat. It gives me hope that people’s first impulse during this time of social distance is to bridge that distance however we can, to connect and support each other. We will get through this strange time together, even though we are apart

The Third Day of the Omer - April 11, 2020 / 18th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Rabbi Michael Safra

I was anxious about the prospect of closing the synagogue and having to work from home. Aside from the uncharted territory of the virtual space, I was concerned about the dynamics of two working parents and three children being together all day every day. I still remember the “snowmaggedon” storms of 2009/10. That was just two weeks, but it was difficult. Every time I thought I might get something done, it seemed that someone else needed me. And this was to be much longer. But then something happened. In the days before classes started, my children found ways to occupy themselves. Virtual classes began and they enthusiastically completed their assignments. The other day, they even volunteered (acquiesced?) to clean the bathrooms! I realized that they were growing up, and I felt tremendous pride and joy. That became my lesson for this crisis. We will all experience our share of challenges. But as long as we continue to change and grow, there are no obstacles we cannot overcome. 

The Fourth Day of the Omer - April 12, 2020 / 19th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Cantor Josh Perlman

Silver Lining Number 1: We will have leftovers from our Passover Seder until the end of the Omer.
Silver Living Number 2: This was the first time in over 40 years that I was able to spend a Seder with all of my brothers.
Silver Living Number 3: Cleaning up after the Seder did not feel so much like slavery.

Silver Lining Number 4: We shared the second seder with more people online than ever before in my entire life collectively.

The Fifth Day of the Omer - April 13, 2020 / 20th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Rebecca Ravski

“Hi.” “Uh oh.” “Wow!” These are Ruby’s first words, which she started saying during the past month in quarantine. Last August, I cried as I drove down 16th Street, returning to work after my maternity leave. To be honest, I cried each morning for over a week. I was afraid I would miss out on many of Ruby’s “firsts”: her first word, the first time she stood on her own, the first time she took a step. Being in quarantine, being home together as a family, has allowed me and Mitchell to be present to witness all of these firsts. As she took her first steps this past Sunday afternoon, all I could think of was how fast life goes, how fast the world changes, and it made me even more grateful that we have this extra time to be with Ruby, watching her grow at such a crucial time in her life.

The Sixth Day of the Omer - April 14, 2020 /21st of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Rachel Hyman, Program Associate

Will we go to Yankee Stadium? When are the Yanks in Baltimore? How many Nationals games will we attend? When should we buy the Boston tickets for the September game when we are there for a Bar Mitzvah? These are some of the questions that had been swirling around the house months before this pandemic. Postponing Opening Day wasn't surprising, but as time ticks by we couldn't help but wonder if there would be a season at all. Then the MLB announced that they are working on a CDC/NIH-approved plan to begin the season. There are a lot of logistics and no start date, but there might be baseball. It brings an immediate smile. Just the thought, even with necessary adjustments, provides a concrete vision for the future getting back to the normal we remember and just the possibility is enough hope to latch on to for now.

The Seventh Day of the Omer - April 15 , 2020 / 22nd of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Jeff Fredman

Today is the 7th day of the Omer, which is also normally tax day. Unlike Rabbi Akiba's students, who were said to die at this time because they lacked respect for each other, I want to celebrate what we are all doing economically, by quoting a blogger (Mrmoneymustache) who says: in this situation, it really helps to understand the big picture of what is actually going on. The world is not ending. The air outside your windows is not a swirling cloud of certain death. All that has changed is that we are in a self-imposed economic slowdown that has been created purely to save the lives of our most vulnerable people. Which is one of the most compassionate things our society has ever done. To me, this is a remarkable and wonderful moment and I would not have guessed that such a capitalist country would ever have the [guts] to do it." Let us hope that we are always able to take the right path forward and respect one another.

The Eighth Day of the Omer - April 16 , 2020 / 23rd of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Arlene Polangin

Sunday, March 29, 2020 was a lovely, warm day. After my usual morning exercises and my breakfast “riff” on Shakshuka with eggs, marinara sauce, and fresh spinach, I went for a 45-minute walk, reveling in the burst of neighborhood apple blossom trees. After I returned and had a short rest, my doorbell rang. All I could think of was: “Is this a joke?” Social distancing had begun by order of Governor Hogan March 12. I looked out my door’s peephole to see my former neighbor and his 10-year-old daughter, whom I've known since her birth. We've stayed in touch with emails, visits, dinners, and birthday celebrations. I've also loved taking her to see the Washington Ballet's “The Nutcracker” the last two years. They'd walked over from their home about a mile away. We had a delightful visit on my front lawn, “social distancing” more than six-feet apart. I do wish I'd taken a photograph of them. Their surprise visit brought great joy to my heart at a difficult time and capped off a wonderful day.

The Ninth Day of the Omer - April 17, 2020 / 24th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Rabbi Penina Alexander, Assistant Principal

As the quarantine continues, some of my stress has subsided as we get into a rhythm with jobs, kids and the demands of the household. I am grateful that this time coincides with spring because there is so much beauty outside. This is our first spring in our current home, and I was awe-struck one morning when I looked out my sons’ bedroom window and saw two incredible dogwood trees in bloom. It was like I had never seen anything so glorious. Every morning after, I’d enter the room, pull up the shades and offer a blessing of gratitude over these trees with their exploding white blooms. Mah rabu – how great are your works, God. Those blooms have all fallen but I look forward to what else we might discover out there to remind us how incredible the natural world can be.

The Tenth Day of the Omer - April 18, 2020 / 25th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Daniel Fisher

Unexpected Joy? I have two words – Mah Jong. Or is it one hyphenated word? I’m not sure. Either way, it has been one of the great small joys my family has shared over the past few weeks. Over three years ago, I bought a Mah Jong set with aspirations of learning to play. Those three years brought little success. We started and stopped several times but never had the time (or patience) to see it through. It took a quarantine to give us the time and teach me the patience to finally get over the hump. Now, our kitchen table has been converted into a Mah Jong table and our kids can’t wait for our nightly matches. I don’t think I’m quite ready to take on the Sisterhood on Monday mornings; but every night our family sits down together and shares a special moment over cracks, bams, dots, dragons, flowers, winds, and jokers (if you’re lucky).

The Eleventh Day of the Omer - April 19, 2020 / 26th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Judy Saks

Government officials mandated face masks, but I had none. My old, not-very-trusty sewing machine offered a silent reproach: “Are you going to haul me out of the basement to sew a mask from a t-shirt?” Not likely. But I saw a video about making a mask from a kippah—a mask that required no sewing, just staples and rubber bands. After some searching, I unearthed a box labeled “Kippot” and, in it, I found the treasure: 15 kippot from my son’s 2008 wedding. The masks were easy to assemble and fit perfectly. Using those wedding kippot as face masks brought unexpected joy. The kippot brought back a score of delightful and even humorous memories of that July wedding 12 years ago. I still wonder how the Ketubah, blown off its stand by a gust of wind, managed to land safely! And what a joy it is to put those wedding kippot to another important use--keeping me safe so I can continue to enjoy the two grandchildren who came from that union.

The Twelfth Day of the Omer - April 20, 2020 / 27th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Moshe Ben-Lev, Education Director

When we realized that our 25-year-old son, who lives in a large house he shares with others, could not simply come and go as the virus become a pandemic, it was clear that we all wanted the family to be together during this crisis. My 20-year-old daughter already lives at home as she attends community college, and so it seemed to make sense that we all be under one roof. It had been a long while since we all shared the same space and I worried that perhaps as the weeks grew longer, we would struggle to get along. After all, as much as we all love each other, sharing at close quarters can be challenging for anyone. Shortly after shelter-in-place became reality, while we all wanted to be together in the evenings and watch TV, finding something that suited everyone was simply not going to happen. My son suggested that we have game nights. We had some games and ordered more to come. Every couple of days we all eat dinner together and then play games. We laugh, reminisce, get nostalgic, and enjoy each other’s company. During the daytime we are all busy with work, studies and chores, but nights have become a time we all look forward to as we are reminded what it means to simply be a family without talking about our challenges and fears. Huddled around the table, with those you love and love you, makes everything joyful.

The Thirteenth Day of the Omer - April 21, 2020 / 28th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Hal Ossman, Executive Director

One of the unintended consequences of the pandemic was the cancelling of all spring activities for our children. Soccer, gymnastics, dance, theater, art, etc. My oldest child, Sage, was also sad that Girls on the Run was cancelled. This program is designed for girls starting in 3rd grade to develop a love of running and train for and run a 5k. You see, I was a runner. When I met my wife Rachel, I got her into running. About 5 years ago I hurt my back and had to stop running on a regular basis, so Rachel became the runner for the family. Both my children have grown up with their mother running many races a year, and this spring was the opportunity for Sage to take up that mantel. But, out of disappointment, this has become an opportunity for unintended joy. After talking it over with the family, we decided, including my youngest, Erin, to train for a 5k together. And since we are all quarantined at home, we have the time to do this. So, three weeks ago, we started training for a 5k. Three days a week we go for a training run. To see my family find joy in something that I have loved doing for over 20 years, and haven’t been able to do myself, is quite the highlight. And my back is holding up so far!

The Fourteenth Day of the Omer - April 22, 2020 / 29th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Fonda Lowe, Vice President, Youth & Education

During the summer of 2001, my sister Elyse was in the end stage of a cancer diagnosis. Her family was living in Manhattan, and I had been visiting regularly to care for her children. Elyse and I grew up Queens and moved when we were teens. Over the years, I maintained contact with one childhood friend, Carol. I let her know about Elyse’s illness. Carol arranged to meet me for dinner with two other friends, Andrea and Diane, whom I hadn’t seen for 30 years. We dined in a restaurant overlooking the East River and talked and laughed for more than three hours. What a mitzvah and so wonderful for all of us! Our friendship started anew. Since that day, we get together regularly, getting to know each other’s families and sharing simchas. We recently enjoyed a Zoom happy hour; Carol in North Carolina, Andrea in Florida and Diane in New York.

The Fifteenth Day of the Omer - April 23, 2020 / 30th of Nisan, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Barry Suskind

Working from home for a month has been a change for me and I miss the casual conversations and personal interactions that happen in the office. However, I have found there are other things to enjoy each day. I have made taking an afternoon walk in the neighborhood with my wife part of my daily routine. It is a good time to reflect on the day and share our thoughts as we walk together. I’ve also noticed that while nature has thrown its worst at us, nature has also treated us to a beautiful spring. For years, spring has been short with temperatures quickly transitioning from freezing to hot. This year the trees have large flowering blooms that have come in waves, first with white, then pink and purple. Had I been in the office this year, I would have missed this splendor getting home too late to walk the neighborhood.

The Sixteenth Day of the Omer - April 24, 2020 / 1st of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Lois Alperstein

It was Monday March 2nd and I spent most of the day at AIPAC’s Policy Conference, although I was already thinking about social distancing. Shortly afterwards, we were notified that a group at conference from NYC tested positive and my anxiety level rose. The new normal was sinking in. We were expecting to return to Palm Beach on March 11th, but a week prior our children started urging us to stay home. They wanted me to start a 14 -day quarantine from potential exposure at AIPAC. They urged us not to travel south, where they believed our choices in health care were not as good. For almost a week I received calls and texts urging us to stay home. On March 11th we were in a car headed to Reagan airport, when I was checking my emails. Here was part of an impassioned plea from our daughter Lauren. It began, “Dearest of Dear Parents. I implore you to stay home; do not go to Florida until this situation has resolved itself. I hate to say it but you both fall into the CDC’s higher risk group - they recommend that you do not travel - stay in your home to lessen your exposure to the disease. This disease is no joke…” I was reading it aloud and by the time I finished, Les instructed the driver to take us home. And home is where we have been since Wednesday, March 11th. The rest of the pandemic is a story we are all living. As I write this reflection I am grateful to our children, Alex and Lauren, for caring so much about us. I am grateful that we are safe and hopefully will remain so as our first grandchild is expected this September. And mostly, I am grateful that we have adult children who have learned the lesson that family is everything and nothing but safety of those whom we love is critical. I’m grateful that they learned this lesson from their life experiences and challenges. Sometimes challenges teach us what is most important in life.

The Seventeenth Day of the Omer - April 25, 2020 / 2nd of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Anonymous

My child is a college student sojourning at home because of the pandemic. He goes down to the basement, wearing sweatpants and unclean t-shirts, and he plays video games all night. He cries out about the labor inflicted by professors in boring online classes. And he did groan that our kosher home curtailed his choices for take-out meals. Nor are these troubles enough, for Pesach means his life will be embittered by all manner of food limits, and the prohibition of beer (please note, he is of legal drinking age!). Then came our zoom seders. Grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins were all connected. My son appeared wearing a clean button-down shirt. And he did participate in the seder. Not grudgingly, not snarkily, not with eye rolls or great sighs. But with knowledge and even some enthusiasm did he recite and sing. And this brought me great unexpected joy. Anonymous, for my sake and the sake of my child.

The Eighteenth Day of the Omer - April 26, 2020 / 3rd of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Taibel bas Rachel Leah v'Shlomo Yehoshua

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch grabbed my heart with his teaching “The catechism of the Jew is his calendar.” (My biography once read in its entirety “Hebrew calendar is my life.”) So when others write about him, I listen. The entire Jewish spectrum cites the anecdote about how the very elderly Rabbi SRH explained to his students why he traveled to the Alps. The rabbi said: I shall now be able to give the proper answer when G-d asks me in the World-To-Come, “Have you seen my Switzerland?” The rabbi believed that a Jew is obligated to experience the joys permitted to us in this world. I will be home until there is a reliable vaccine and I accepted that medical necessity easily. Why? Because my new joy that came along with the coronavirus is learning via Zoom. It’s a new meaning for the word: just call me a Zoom Zealot.

The Nineteenth Day of the Omer - April 27, 2020 / 4th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Carol April

When I retired from my full-time job of 31 years at the end of January, I had mixed emotions – how would I fill my days, would I like being home with my husband all the time, would I have enough money to do the things I’ve been waiting to do? But the first month was filled with unexpected happiness—dinners out, weekday movies, weekends at the beach, and more time with my grandchildren. Then March came and, with it, the Covid-19 pandemic. My retirement plans were suddenly altered in the most unimaginable way. When we first were told to stay home and go only to the grocery store or pharmacy, I thought “I can handle this.” But as the weeks wore on, I realized I had to find a way to see positivity in our “new normal.” I painted my family room, worked on a puzzle, and started a 21-day meditation. I began to appreciate the time I had to make my own schedule. Now, my husband Hugh (today is his 74th birthday!) and I are cooking together, taking daily walks, enjoying our dog Bella, watching some great shows on Netflix and Prime Video, and connecting with family and friends on Zoom. I find unexpected joy in everyday pleasures and in knowing I have the inner strength to overcome the challenges of this difficult time.

The Twentieth Day of the Omer - April 28, 2020 / 5th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Steve Kerbel

On this eve of Yom HaAtzma'ut, my joyful reflection is a historical one: On the day the British Mandate over Palestine expired - Friday, May 14, 1948 - 5 Iyar, the Jewish People's Council gathered at the Tel Aviv Art Museum to declare the establishment of the State of Israel. There is no record of who attended the meeting, but 350 invitations were sent out via bicycle messenger, instructing the recipients to keep the information secret. Word got it out, however, and when the normally quiet Friday afternoon streets of Tel Aviv were filled with crowds anticipating the announcement, people started singing Hatikvah in the streets even before David Ben-Gurion began reading the declaration that had been written. The ceremony was held at 4 p.m. before the British left to avoid making the declaration on Shabbat. It took 17 minutes to read the entire document in a 32-minute ceremony. Four hours later, Israel was attacked. The new state was recognized that night by the United States and three days later by the USSR. Now we celebrate this day as a Holiday for the Jewish people, renewing our national homeland as an independent Jewish State.

The Twenty-First Day of the Omer - April 29, 2020 / 6th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Netta Asner-Minster, Congregational Shlicha

As celebrations have ended for Yom HaAtzmaut (Israeli Independence Day), I wanted to share how I usually celebrate. For many, this is a day of partying or BBQs, but I always embarrassingly admit that Yom HaAtzmaut with my family is spent in front of the television. In the evening we watch the national ceremony, and the following day we watch broadcasts of the 100 soldiers receiving excellence awards from the President of Israel, the International Youth Bible Quiz, and the Israel Prize. For many it might seem an unusual way to spend the day, but for me it is 24 hours I spend with my family. Together, we watch shows that represent our nation. Whether honoring Israeli individuals, IDF soldiers, the Bible, or leading Israelis in various fields, it is a moment of joy to me to celebrate this way, which I have missed this year.

The Twenty-Second Day of the Omer - April 30, 2020 / 7th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Harriet & Ted Fredman

1. Our first unexpected joy was when during a family zoom session when our granddaughter in Ramat Hasharon Israel informed us that she will be attending Hebrew University next fall. Because she was an EMT while in the Israeli army, she wants to eventually become a doctor.
2. Our second unexpected joy was when we heard by phone from our granddaughter in Tenafly, NJ who decided to accept an offer to attend the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
3. Our third unexpected joy was during the online seder on the second night led by Cantor Josh and his brothers. We felt either we were in a fancy resort celebrating or had been invited to the Perlman home! The seder was magic and we enjoyed the singing, the jokes and the delightful atmosphere!

The Twenty-Third Day of the Omer - May 1, 2020 / 8th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Sarah Jarvis, Director of Youth Engagement

I grew up baking with my mom from a young age. I was very lucky to have a mom who baked all the time and encouraged my sister and me to explore the kitchen. As I got older, I baked occasionally for friends’ birthdays or for events. But now with all of this time at home, I have really found a new appreciation and love for baking. I have experimented with challah, sourdough starter, cookies, and even some creative Passover desserts. I have even done some six-feet apart deliveries to some of my friends and family in D.C. The time in the kitchen has been amazing for me. It has been my creative outlet during this time and has been something I look forward to at the end of a long day. I hope to gather together with friends and colleagues soon and share a homemade cookie or two with them—and with you, if any are left.

The Twenty-Fourth Day of the Omer - May 2, 2020 / 9th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Sarit Scott

Due to the Coronavirus, I have a reduced work schedule at my job. I have found that since the expectations at work have lessened, that most of the time I can come home at a decent hour and I have an extra day off. This extra time has allowed me to eat dinner with my family, have family game nights, sit outside by a fire together, go on walks with my husband, jump on the trampoline with my son and work out with my daughter. These wonderful moments with my family have helped offset the worries about the global crisis. As I dealt with a personal crisis and good moment that followed, someone I know once told me, “Sometimes out of tsuris comes mazel.” In translation, sometimes out of suffering/troubles comes a little goodness.” A little mazel in these times of tsuris is very much a true joy.

The Twenty-Fifth Day of the Omer - May 3, 2020 / 10th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Lew Gertz

One year ago our family celebrated a most joyous occasion, the Bar Mitzvah of our oldest grandson, at the synagogue in St. Thomas. You would assume that’s where I would like to be right now but there’s no place I’d rather be than quarantined at home with my wife Lynn. Let me explain. In mid February I had to take Lynn to the hospital where she was promptly admitted, put into isolation and tested positive for the flu before there was testing tor the Coronavirus. But she had all the symptoms: very high fever and BP, vomiting, chest pain and low oxygen levels, all of which developed into pneumonia. Thank G-d she was able to fight it off and a week later we were able to go home where we have been self-quarantining since early March. So yes, at this moment in time there’s no other place I’d rather be than right here, in quarantine, with the person who gives me a reason to wake up every morning.

The Twenty-Sixth Day of the Omer - May 4, 2020 / 11th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Martha Nudel

Hail to the jokesters, the quipsters, the punsters and all those folks who make wacky videos — and to the people who send them to friends. In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the loss of normalcy and connection can be compared to grief—and when watering the houseplants might be the most entertaining part of the day (excluding Netflix and Amazon Prime, of course)—the jokes keep coming in emails, and keep a smile on my face.Then I pass them on, hoping they bring a sparkle to someone’s eye and a bit of an online conversation. Yup, some of the jokes are groaners. A few are genuinely funny. Some people have sent vintage video clips: Check out early Robin Williams doing a shtick on Passover. All are a little ray of light in the day and acknowledgement that people remember you, even when they don’t see you on Zoom or FaceTime. Keep ‘em coming! Have I told you this one: “A priest, a minister and a rabbit walk into a bar. The rabbit says, ‘I might be a typo.’” An editor friend sent that one!

The Twenty-Seven Day of the Omer - May 5, 2020 / 12th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Jill Gendelman, Librarian

Reading has always brought me joy, transporting me to places I’ve never been, teaching me about amazing people, and helping me to admire the many different ways authors use language. I learn so much from reading, which offers a person a broad, colorful, and realistic, though certainly not always a happy, picture of the world. I always read to my children, hoping they would one day share my love of reading. My son, who lives in North Carolina but has been staying with us and working remotely, generally reads only dry business and financial magazines and occasional books on these topics, and it worried me that he was missing out. I had just finished reading American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, a book about the immigrant experience, not an easy read. Imagine my joy when my son picked it up and started reading it. My older daughter, who works remotely from her home in Washington, D.C., told me she has already read 13 books this year and has set a goal of 40 books by the end of the year (more joy). So it offers me hope that my youngest, who does not share my love of reading, will someday surprise me and start reading for pleasure.

The Twenty-Eighth Day of the Omer - May 6, 2020 / 13th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Vicki Berman

All my grandchildren live far away and I am always craving connection with them. I approached them with the idea of doing an art project together, but only 12-year-old Lucy was interested. So every week we spend 1 ½ hours online doing something different. We have written Haikus and made animals from finger knitting while discussing what is Mussar. We talked about working on our character traits, especially patience, during this quarantine time. One week we painted with watercolors to decorate cards to send to Lucy’s great grandmothers. What an unexpected joy when I opened my mail to receive one of these cards for me. Inside was written, “Dear Grammy, surprise, I made you a card, too. I love doing our weekly art classes and I can’t wait for our next one. Spending time with you is always the best. Love, Lucy.”

The Twenty-Ninth Day of the Omer - May 7, 2020 / 14th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Robert Poli

May 1st was my Italian grandmother’s birthday. She always brought me unexpected joy. When my wife Randi and I were dating I liked to cook for her. One day I decided to make one of Nonnie’s dishes. I called Nonnie for the recipe and she told me she didn’t have one, she just made it. Disappointed, I told her I understood, told her I loved her and hung up and began to think about what to make. Two hours later my phone rang, it was Nonnie and she asked me if I had a pencil and paper. I got one and she began to dictate the recipe to me. I stopped her and asked how she got it. She explained that she just made some for her and my uncle and wrote down the recipe as she cooked. It was such a kind gesture. The kind of thing only a grandmother does. I think about her every time I cook and especially when I make that dish.

The Thirtieth Day of the Omer - May 8, 2020 / 15th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Allison Karasik, Assistant to the Cantors

A couple of days before Passover began, I learned that I had made a mistake in the 450 yahrzeit letters that went out for Hebrew month of Iyyar; I mismatched the Hebrew and English dates. Having worked at BIC for almost five years, I know how members and non-members look forward to and rely on these letters. I managed to get out a correction email just before Pesach, and the response from our community was overwhelming. Dozens responded within an hour, all thanking me for the correction, many wishing me and my family a lovely Passover, many asking how I was doing personally, and several commenting on what a great job BIC is doing during this challenging time. This was not an email that anyone even needed to respond to, yet they took the time and they did, and I was humbled to feel so valued on a personal level by people I serve.

The Thirty-First Day of the Omer - May 9, 2020 / 16th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Sherry Wachtel, Past President

As many of you, I have been basically homebound for more than a month now. Each day, I try to accomplish a task that has long been on my “to do” list. Last week, I decided to tackle the clutter in my garage. On a corner of the top shelf, I found a small long-forgotten box that I had stashed away long ago. Upon opening it, I discovered hundreds of letters that my parents, of blessed memory, had written to each other while courting. I’m still reading dozens of them each day, filled with their personal recollections from the early 1940s, abounding in love for each other and their families. In absorbing their words, I truly feel an even deeper connection with them than ever before. I am so grateful for the joy this unexpected find has sparked in my life—especially on this, the 25th anniversary of my mother’s yahrzeit. What a blessing!

The Thirty-Second Day of the Omer - May 10, 2020 / 17th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Unexpected Joy, by Avery Sudow, Communications and Development Director

Today is my husband’s birthday. However, unfortunately for him, it is also Mother’s Day. And in the hierarchy of celebrations, which one wins? Depends on who you ask, I guess. This isn’t the first time that Noah has had to share his birthday with this celebration of motherhood, but it has actually brought us some unexpected joy. With acknowledgment for our inherent privilege that allows us to have jobs that are possible to do from home, food in our refrigerator, and a stable roof over our heads, this time of pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges. The toddler and baby still need to be watched, and our jobs still need to get done. I know that this Mother’s Day is different from all others, as parents everywhere are now constant, daily witnesses to the hard work of their spouses. While our busy, pre-pandemic lives typically required me to describe many motherhood experiences to my husband, we are both present today to experience them together. To all women who nurture and care for children, biological or not, I hope you took some time for yourself on this Mother’s Day…And happy birthday to my wonderful husband Noah!

The Thirty-Third Day of the Omer - May 11, 2020 / 18th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Harvey Stein

Seven years ago, I had a sudden brain bleed, causing damage, of course, followed by a spinal stroke as well. I am LUCKY! I survived, and I turned 80 on May 4! Although I have mobility issues and have not been able to continue traveling, biking, hiking, or even boating, I am pretty good these days, not perfect, but pretty good. My life would be so different if it were not for my super family, devoted friends and our B’nai Israel community. Take it from me: Never give up and always give thanks.

The Thirty-Fourth Day of the Omer - May 12, 2020 / 19th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Dana Lande, Vice President, Membership

Over winter break, my husband and I shared with our three daughters our plans to move our family to Israel for a year. We anticipated that they would have mixed feelings--sadness about leaving their friends mixed with excitement for a cultural experience abroad. Wow, we were wrong! While our nine year old was calm, taking the news in stride, our two thirteen year olds were totally devastated. They cried, yelled, and then gave us the silent treatment. How dare we move them across the world, away from friends and family, Fast forward three months to March, when the COVID crisis hit. Our plans, sadly, had to completely change. We are no longer able to make the year in Israel happen. To our surprise, our kids said they were excited to experience the challenge of immersing in another language and culture and were sad at the lost opportunity. In three short months, they had come to relish the idea of living abroad and were disappointed that we have to cancel. Now, our girls are dealing not only with this disappointment, but also with lost school events, family visits, and seemingly unending time at home. But a silver lining for us as parents is seeing their growth and resilience in such a short time.

The Thirty-Fifth Day of the Omer - May 13, 2020 / 20th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Renee Lessans, Curriculum Specialist for the B'nai Israel Schilit Nursery School

It happened so quickly. We were in school….and then we were not. Our warm, loving and interactive community came to a screeching halt. And then, it picked right back up again. Our nursery school teachers were quick to act. They reached out to our families, letting them know how important they are to our community. Learning to teach with this new technology has been like learning a new language for both teachers and children. We all explored, discovered, and learned from our experiences. We knew we could be successful because our children are curious and competent. We have found a way to continue to weave the fabric of community, sharing happy moments together that exude love, delight, warmth and the beautiful aspects of our Jewish traditions and values. Our children are still “together.” There is a great lesson in learning how to be resilient. We see it in the children’s smiling faces.

The Thirty-Sixth Day of the Omer - May 14, 2020 / 21st of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Taibel bas Rachel Leah v’Shlomo Yehoshua

Two Texts that Help Me
צָפִיתָ לִישׁוּעָה
Tzafita Lishuah - Did you await salvation?
(Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 31a)
Ron Wolfson, Judaic educator extraordinaire (the one who says that until his bar mitzvah, he thought his religious name was “sheket” – “be quiet”), translates this loosely as, “Did you live with hope in your heart?” He tells us to shape our attitudes to see the glass as half-full.

מַכְרִיעוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת
Machrio L’Chaf Zichus
Who judges with the scales weighted in his favor.
(Pirkei Avot 6:6)
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov taught that one must judge everyone else favorably – that everyone no matter how wicked “should” be given the benefit of the doubt. Daily coronavirus news gives me lots of opportunities to focus on the first text and lots of challenges to apply the second. From someone who is at home until there is a reliable vaccine … wishing all safety and health during the virus siege.

The Thirty-Seventh Day of the Omer - May 15, 2020 / 22nd of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Jennifer Cohen, Education Communications Coordinator

When I was pregnant with my younger daughter, my father was dying from lung cancer. We were living in Chicago, and he was in Florida. I spoke with him on the phone daily while he was able to talk, but I was past the point of being able to travel. He died when my daughter Aviva was 22 hours old. The saddest and happiest moments of my life all happened within a single day. I learned so much from going through both emotions at the same time; I have carried that with me when facing other hard things. Resilience does not always mean bouncing back from something. It can also mean dealing with the ebb and flow of life. Grieving during what was supposed to be a joyful period showed me that being resilient can be a process that unfolds over time.

The Thirty-Eighth Day of the Omer - May 16, 2020 / 23rd of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Deedee Jacobsohn, Past President

It took about two weeks for my mother to go from blasé to zealot. First, she accepted being “stuck” in Florida for the duration. Now, she has fully embraced the contactless life. She has even discovered online mahjong with her friends; they play together every morning. But I was worried about my curmudgeonly dad. At 82 years old, he still helps my brother with the business that used to be his. Now, he has no way to return to the office. He cannot train with yoga and boxing to fight the challenges of Parkinson’s. Now, he groused, he has to talk to my mother because no one else is there! But he, too, has adapted. He started swimming short “laps” in their tiny pool. He pulled out the wii abandoned years ago by grandchildren and discovered yoga and boxing and other exercises he can do on the balance board. He is slowly completing some work projects. He is his normal crabby self. Resiliency is truly a blessing.

The Thirty-Ninth Day of the Omer - May 17, 2020 / 24th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Moshe Ben-Lev, Education Director

Having aging parents who live abroad during this time is anxiety provoking for us. As my wife and I call our parents every few days, we only hope that they remain vigilant and follow the protocols recommended in their countries (Greece and Israel). Both sets of parents grew up during World War II. My father, as a child, observed the bombs drop on London during the 1940’s blitz, and would often, as a small child, run to collect warm bomb fragments amongst the rubble. My father-in-law hid in a cellar for three years while Athens was occupied by the Nazis. Having them reflect on their own resilience during these Pandemic days and compare them to the dark days of the Holocaust reminds me that it’s important to remember that, as terrible as things are, we are, as human beings, by nature resilient and resourceful. Although we are faced with such tragedy and loss, we continue to survive and try our best to maintain a productive and meaningful life. I know, from talking with our parents, the dark days they lived through as children shaped their lives in ways that they could not have imagined but can reflect on today as we remain restricted in our homes with our own children. As an educator, I view these days as an opportunity to model for our children what resilience looks like and how caring about and for others is the most important action we can take.

The Fortieth Day of the Omer - May 18, 2020 / 25th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Dina Cohen Gruber, Secretary, Board of Governors

Jay and I have two children, one son in college and one daughter graduating from high school. A few months ago, my daughter and I went shopping for a prom dress. We found the perfect dress, made arrangements for hair and makeup, and made dinner reservations for her and her friends. Just as spring break was upon us, Governor Hogan announced that schools would be closed for several weeks. Then we got the news that schools would be closed through the end of the year, and prom and graduation would not take place as planned. As disappointing as I thought this news would be for my daughter, she said that while she was disappointed, she felt fortunate because so many others didn’t have what we have: a loving family, a stable home, food and everything she needed. She is okay with all of this, and she has reminded us of what is truly important in life.

The Forty-First Day of the Omer - May 19, 2020 / 26th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Gavriel Kleinwaks

During a difficult time like this, it is easy to feel helpless and lost. However, I discovered an opportunity to help the vaccine development effort by volunteering to test a vaccine for a COVID-19 challenge trial, should such a trial be approved. The volunteer coordination organization 1Day Sooner estimates that developing a vaccine even a single day sooner will save thousands of lives. Volunteering for the trial is daunting, but I was inspired by the principle of pikuach nefesh and other Jewish values imparted to me by my parents, synagogue, and school. I am also made more resilient by the love and support I’ve received from friends and family that I’ve told. There is no way to express how wonderful it is, and how lucky I am, to have the community I do. I hope we are all able to find resilience in community now.

The Forty-Second Day of the Omer - May 20, 2020 / 27th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Carren (Carey) Oler

May 20th would have been my husband Harley's A'H 74th birthday! As a way of managing my grief I have been writing poetry and submit one of my recent poems to be published in his memory:

The Pebble Between Your Toes

I’ve heard it said that it’s not the steep angle
Of the mountain you have to climb that’s hard,
It’s the pebble between your toes
That chafes and rubs and irritates.
And so it is at this time for me
During the pandemic
In the outside world at large.
My loving husband’s sudden death
Six weeks ago was unexpected
And not because his health was neglected.
It was a pulmonary embolism from which
His heart was not strong enough to recover.
And during these weeks of my deep grief
It’s the small things I discover
That prick and stab at my slowly recovering self.
Like going into the bathroom to find
That the toilet seat is always down.
I used to admonish him constantly to please
Put the toilet seat down when he would finish
In there and think of it like returning a chair.
We companionably shared a life together.
So when I was done in the bathroom earlier today
And it’s just me alone,
I put the seat up!

The Forty-Third Day of the Omer - May 21, 2020 / 28th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Benjamin Willcher

Unless we are tremendously fortunate, at some point most of us will experience something that threatens to alter the course of our lives. Whether this is a health issue, the loss of a loved one, a job, or even a way of life - we can allow a setback to shape our future action without letting it define what we can achieve. However, the achievement does not need to involve some grand new undertaking that matches the depth of the harm. After my dad died while I was still in college, I discovered that overcoming adversity can simply mean pursuing the life that I had already envisioned. Our response to the hardships of this pandemic can be to find the strength that allows us to return - hashivenu - to the paths we intended to follow. Stay the course. Or, as a modern sage explained: Just keep swimming.

The Forty-Fourth Day of the Omer - May 22, 2020 / 29th of Iyar, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Netta Asner-Minster, Congregational Shlicha

Tonight marks the end of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the 28th of the month of Iyar. It also happens to be a Friday night, which reminds me of a moment of resilience in my family. In 1949, my grandfather moved from England to Israel and to Jerusalem shortly thereafter. At that time, the old city and the Kotel (Western Wall) were under Jordanian jurisdiction and a dream to aspire to. In June 1967, during the Six Day War, he fought in the reserve unit in East Jerusalem. That Shabbat, he was lucky to be allowed to enter the Old City and attend services at the Kotel. During these services, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, the IDF Rabbi, blew the shofar and said the “Shehechiyanu” blessing. My grandfather always says, with tears in his eyes, that he truly felt the Shechina, the divine presence, showing him that persistence, resilience and strength bring incredible and awesome results.

The Forty-Fifth Day of the Omer - May 23, 2020 / 1st of Sivan, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by David Stein, Vice President, Development

The word Resiliency is from the Latin resilire – “to rebound, recoil.” In the midst of social distancing and lockdowns, I have been thinking a lot about how we will rebound. When it became apparent that things would worsen with Israel trips cancelled and schools closed, I remembered my grandmother’s stories about the Spanish Flu and how she was a very sick little girl in Ohio. But, she rebounded and recovered; she was resilient. The greatest source of resiliency for me has been the daily Zoom Minyan at 7:15 a.m. Each day, I join with others to bring structure, purpose, and hope, as we have now read the entire book of Leviticus during a pandemic. Through the Minyan, I think I now really understand the brilliance of Judaism. Regardless of location or circumstances, we remain cohesive and we remain resilient. Now, like our forefathers in the desert, we persevere, knowing that we will rebound and soon will find a better place.

The Forty-Sixth Day of the Omer - May 24, 2020 / 2nd of Sivan, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Arielle Katzel, Family Engagement Coordinator

On the 10th weekday of the stay at home order, my sons were asked by their school guidance counselor what was something reassuring about being home. My 8 year old, Julian answered having the family schedule to check. My 6 year old son, Zavy answered extra time to play with Legos. Julian quickly added Legos to his answer as well. The schedule and Legos are the two things that have kept us moving forward a little bit at a time. Every weeknight for the past 50 days I have sat down at night and written out a very detailed family schedule for the next day. It includes all of our meeting/class times, that days weather, even what is for lunch and dinner. I’ve always been a planner and I personally found it reassuring that while in the midst of the pandemic I may not be able to plan far ahead like I usually do, I can at least plan one day at a time. What I was not expecting was that the rest of my family would find it reassuring as well. The schedule helps us keep track and differentiate each day slightly, but it also keeps a rhythm to our days and weeks as I try to place recurring activities as close to the same time each day as possible. I recently learned that the word "Lego" is actually a combination of two Danish words "leg godt" that mean "play well”. Thankfully, both my boys have birthdays in May. Zavy’s was 2 weeks ago and Julian’s is today. There was a great deal of speculation and anticipation over which new Lego sets they would get as gifts. The one silver lining of the pandemic is that we don't have to rush out the door to school or to extra circulars: we have time to take part in the family Lego master challenges the boys have been dreaming up for each upcoming weekend (thankfully my husband, Danny, and I haven't had to take part in a 15 hour build yet!). The Lego master challenges each week keep the kids excited for tomorrow and help them forget the problems of the outside world. My boys can "leg godt" with their Legos for hours on end to their hearts content.

The Forty-Seventh Day of the Omer - May 25, 2020 / 3rd of Sivan, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Ryan Bauman

When my brother returned from his JDS trip to Israel, he couldn’t stop talking about it. He constantly talked about everything from getting up at the crack of dawn to climb Masada to watching the sunset over the beach in Netanya. After all those stories, I felt like I had been there too! I was thus incredibly excited to embark on my trip when the time came. Unfortunately, I found myself back home after only three short weeks. Forced to leave by the COVID-19 crisis, I wondered if I would ever see Israel in the same way my brother had. However, if my Jewish upbringing taught me anything, it is that Israel and her people are resilient beyond all measure. Hashem does not forget Israel, and neither will I; instead, I am looking forward to the day when I will have all the wonderful Israel experiences I could ever want.

The Forty-Eighth Day of the Omer - May 26, 2020 / 4th of Sivan, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Marc Levine, Parliamentarian, Board of Governors

I learned a lesson about resiliency young. My parents, concerned with my behavior, had me tested at NIH, where they diagnosed me with "Minimal Brain Dysfunction" and sent us home with a pamphlet and a referral to a child psychiatrist. Turns out that MDB is just what we would call ADHD, but it was the early 70s, so who knew? The psychiatrist gave me a parable that I have used my entire life: The story of the wall. Life, he said, is a wall. Long enough so you could not easily see where it ended, and tall enough that you could not easily discern the top. And our job is to get to the other side. The frustrating part for me was that I could see people approach the wall every day, and for many of them the door would open easily or with a little effort. For some, there would be no door, but a window or a ladder. For me - no door. No ladder. Not a window or a trampoline in sight. But I still had to get over the wall. He told me I was lucky, because, while I might try and fail many times to get over the wall, I had family to give me a leg up or to catch me when I fall. I had medicine to help me see the wall more clearly, and intellect to devise ways to dig under or make my way around. Others, he said, had it much easier, but others also had it much harder. And either way, we all needed to get to the other side.

The Forty-Ninth Day of the Omer - May 27, 2020 / 5th of Sivan, 5780
A Reflection about Resiliency, by Dr. Fred Messing, Gabbai

My grandmother, Mollie Speisman Messing, fled Warsaw at age 21 to Vienna then Rotterdam, arriving on Ellis Island March 21, 1906, alone and speaking no English. She never saw her parents again. Mollie raised four children while daily carrying her sewing machine on her shoulder from the Bronx to lower Manhattan to work in the sweat shops. My grandfather, Joseph, died November 1925 leaving Mollie to support her family alone. Mollie rose to factory forelady by 1930 and co-owner of International Underwear Corporation by 1931 when few women ran businesses. Mollie’s home became a waystation for family members immigrating from oppression in Europe. Mollie married her second husband Louis in 1931. Three years after Louis died, Mollie, then age 71, married her widowed brother-in-law Harry in 1955. Mollie was a warm and loving wife, mother, and grandmother. She pursued her personal and professional lives with energy and resilience.

Sun, April 14 2024 6 Nisan 5784