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49 Days to Sinai: Making these Days Count 

The Daily Omer Emails are back for 2023! Register to receive a brief, daily email from B’nai Israel clergy, staff, or members during the counting of the Omer! During Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer, we mark the period between Passover and Shavuot by counting each of the individual days. We mark this time between the Israelites’ departure from Egypt and their arrival at the foot of Mount Sinai. The Daily Omer Email is an opportunity to pause for reflection on themes appropriate to this period of time, this ultimate transformation from redemption to revelation.

Days 1–32: The first thirty-two days of the Omer are imbued with a semi-mournful tone, recalling the Talmudic narrative in which many of Rabbi Akiva’s students are killed by a plague. For the Israelites who departed from Egypt, those first few weeks in the wilderness must have been overwhelming. During this time, perhaps some of them looked back and began to process their enslavement in Egypt. What did it mean for them to be enslaved, and what could it mean to now be free? During these first few weeks of the Omer, the daily reflections will answer the question: What is your Mitzrayim (Egypt)? What have you left behind, or from what are you trying to liberate yourself

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. The journey towards Sinai continues, but now with a hopeful and promising tone. As we look towards Sinai, we reflect upon an aspiration for the near future. What is your Sinai? What are you working towards? What do you hope to accomplish? And, more importantly, how are you planning to do it? 

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Omer Reflections

The Forty-ninth Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, May 24 (5th of Sivan)
Anonymous

My Sinai is in the little moments. Sitting in my driveway in the spring sun watching my daughter ride her hobby horses over jumps she built with my dad. Giggling at silly videos I watch with the kiddo. First dive of the summer off the board into a crystal clear pool, reflecting the sun. The feeling of the sand on my toes when I get to the beach after almost a year away from it. The pleasure of laying down in my bed surrounded by pillows at the end of a long day. The satisfaction of binding off a knitting project I’ve been working on forever. The thrill of learning how to read haftarah - at age 44. The experience and taste of biting into a perfectly ripe mango. Mitzrayim still exists for me amongst these day-to-day experiences of Har Sinai. Seeing the destination from the path can be both motivating and discouraging, but knowing what is there makes the struggle to leave behind the enslavement worthwhile. Mitzrayim as a state of mind is ever present, but so is Har Sinai. And the only way to Har Sinai is out of Mitzrayim. May you find meaning in your journey to Har Sinai. 

The Forty-eighth Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, May 23 (4th of Sivan)
Anonymous

My late husband was a relentless chronicler of his life and of the lives of his family and friends. Ten years after his death—after successfully donating his clothes and other so-called “low-hanging fruit”—I found myself face-to-face again with the realities of his life, as expressed in the stacks of personal diaries he left behind in a four-drawer file cabinet. The traditional decluttering strategies won’t work for me in this case, because a diary is not a pair of socks to be discarded or donated to charity. Each volume contains all that he was thinking and feeling and experiencing at a particular moment in time. As I read some of the entries—he never meant them to be secret—I can picture him sitting down very late at night to write by hand in his journal, rarely missing a day. Sometimes the entries are about what we discussed at dinner, what movie we saw, or the times we argued about money, or whether to set curfews for teenage children, or any number of issues that could, and often did, cause disagreements in our marriage. But every once in a while, the diaries contain profound reflections on how to live a life with meaning, what lessons to pass on to the children, and how to deal with illness and death, which he recognized he was facing after several bouts with cancer. My Sinai moment came when I finally stopped saying, “I’ll deal with these later,” and sat down to read, keenly feeling the loss of the person who wrote the journals but also finding pleasure in, and sometimes amazement at, the power of his writing and the memories, good, bad and sad, that the diaries brought back to me.

The Forty-seventh Day of the Omer, Monday evening, May 22 (3rd of Sivan)
Larry Kravitz

Mitzrayim, Egypt, is the place from which the Israelites escaped, and began their travel to the Promised Land. They never got there, but their descendants did. And that is how I see the parallel between the Torah’s telling of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers and the American Jewish experience of which I am the product. To understand this parallel, look at the Torah’s narrative: After escaping from Mitzrayim, the Israelites traveled across foreign land, living on manna from heaven until they reached Sinai. At Sinai they became a community of laws with community rituals. Then they set out for the Promised Land. But they hadn’t gone far before the adults who escaped from Egypt died, leaving their second-generation descendants to carry on, bringing the laws and rituals from Sinai to the Promised Land. But, as we learn in Numbers, the natives they encountered were not friendly. The Second Generation had to wage many battles to gain their passage to the Promised Land. Now let’s look at the American Jewish Experience: My parents, and many thousands of other Jews, escaped from their European “Mitzrayim” in the years about 1900. They brought with them the body of laws, traditions, and community rituals that had been handed down by the generations since Sinai. As new immigrants to America, they struggled to survive, without manna from heaven. Like the Second Generation Israelites after Sinai, hostility from the natives hindered their economic progress. And when these immigrant Jews passed away, their descendants were left to secure the Jewish community and to pass on the basic laws and rituals. They were challenged by native prejudice, the Great Depression, and a world war, but, like the Israelites of Exodus, they prevailed. Two generations of their descendants managed to grow their economic power and maintain the inherited rituals and traditions…until now. Now, when I look at my life, and my family I see, in my mind’s eye, all of the people who had the initiative and courage to leave their European “Mitzrayim” and strike out for America. I see how the narrative of Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers was played out again in the American Jewish Experience. I am the product of that experience. Now, as I watch my grandchildren begin to marry, and start another generation, I wonder how that generation will transmit all of our people’s history and tradition to the next. 

The Forty-sixth Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, May 21 (2nd of Sivan)
Anonymous

I have been a teacher or mentor throughout my life. That is my Sinai, helping others learn and be their best selves. I have taught every age group from preschool through graduate school and my greatest role as a teacher has been being a parent. Many of my students have had either obvious or hidden disabilities. I look for the strength in each person and help them use their strengths to learn and overcome their weaknesses both real and perceived. Watching a person or class grow confidence and skills they need to succeed gives me joy. We are all teachers, and this starts at a very young age. Walk into any preschool classroom and you will see the bossy 3-year-old instructing their peers (and sometimes teachers) and the quiet child building a structure while other children look on and imitate. These skills continue throughout life, and we all have an inner teacher within us. So, join me on my road to Sinai to instill confidence and knowledge in others. 

The Forty-fifth Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, May 20 (1st of Sivan)
Sarit Scott

It has been 4 years since I retired after 25 years as a law enforcement officer. I spent almost half my life as a police officer/detective and it is/was a huge part of my identity. Transitioning to a new line of work was challenging. Transitioning away from the law enforcement environment, belonging to a special group, the camaraderie, the mindset, and so much more was sad, frustrating, and a feeling of homesickness. I tried a new job for a year and a half and found it difficult with my high expectations of others and adjusting to a “civilian” job. I found another job and have been adjusting. The positive change has been that my schedule and working from home have allowed me to do things I wasn’t able to do before or didn’t take the time to do for myself. Though my job keeps me very busy, I prioritize my physical and mental health by meeting with a trainer, playing on a sports team, and playing in a recreational league. I look forward to these new opportunities to get together with other women and stay healthy. The workouts/games are a much-needed physical and mental outlet for me. Though I feel like I have lost a big part of myself, I feel like I am creating another part of my identity during this second half of my life, and I hope to continue this.

The Forty-fourth Day of the Omer, Friday evening, May 19 (29th of Iyar)
Rabbi Penina Alexander, Talmud Torah Director

The omer is a powerful time because I appreciate the journey from slavery to freedom, from the narrow place of Mitzrayim to the expanse of Torah. Going through that experience made the Israelites into a nation as did all the wandering they needed to do in the desert before making it to the Land of Israel. Our lives are like that too. Our Sinai is still out there, ahead of us, because life in the desert is where we try and fail, we connect and we detach, we love and we lose. As a child, the period of the omer was a sad one as my teachers focused on the plague that killed Rabbi Akiva’s students. As an adult, I have enjoyed the kabbalistic overlay on this period, matching each week and then each day with a divine attribute that offers us the opportunity to emulate them and bring additional holiness to our lives. Despite really relishing this time, I am a bit embarrassed to say (especially as a rabbi) that I simply cannot keep up with the regular counting. Some years, I start strong and count nightly until something interrupts the flow and I lose it. Other years, like this one, I somehow missed the count at the seder and started off behind. In general, I tend to have a hard time keeping numbers in my head and so it feels rather organic to me to lose track of the omer counting each year. Thankfully, we have emails like these to remind me of where I am on the path, and I always make my way back. This year, I really don’t mind that I keep forgetting the day. I am in the process of completing my time working with the Education Department at B’nai, and while I am looking forward to spending more with my family, it is bittersweet to say goodbye to the staff, the teachers, the students and families who have made the last six years so meaningful. Though this chapter of my professional life is closing, I see it as vital juncture on my life’s journey that has made me the person and the rabbi and educator that I am today. Thank you to all of you who have made my time at B’nai so incredibly impactful, energizing and of course, fun! 

The Forty-third Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, May 18 (28th of Iyar)
Uriel Lin, Congregational Shlicha

I remember myself at the age of 8, sitting in front of the white, clunky desktop computer that we shared as a family, spending hours traveling the world using the archaic version of Google Earth. I would try to locate the great wall of China from space and explore what residential areas look like in Kyrgyzstan. That passion for the greater world that awaits outside of my small village accompanied me throughout my adolescence. I learned English very young and was always excited to meet people who visited from abroad. After moving to an international boarding school, and traveling the world for a bit, I am learning that this yearning to discover the world and get to know locals from different cultures just grew. Being a young adult is an exciting time where I have minimal responsibilities and maximum capacity to travel by myself and let that journey transform me. Moving to the States was the first part, but my aspiration is to continue and travel to distant places. Not to have an Instagram-worthy selfie in front of Machu Picchu, but to get to know the local community, speak their language, and immerse in their customs. In the end, my aspiration to travel is driven by a desire for self-discovery, personal growth, and a genuine appreciation for the beauty of our planet. I am curious to see how it will change me.

The Forty-second Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, May 17 (27th of Iyar)
Mayer Adelberg, Director of Youth Engagement

I’ve been a filmmaker for about 12 years. My first film I ever made was an explanatory documentary of sorts called “Teva Tasks,” in which my religious school principal described all the various ways to be environmentally friendly. I used a Nikon camera and a tripod my mom bought me from Sears. The film. Was. Terrible. But it got my foot in the metaphoric door, and since then I’ve been obsessed with making movies. I helped on projects in my teen years and made a terrible web series, and then pivoted into location sound mixing and worked with amazing people, big names, and wonderful crews. Recently, I released my latest short film, The Rock Collection, showing a girl’s never-ending journey through grief. It showed in several Jewish film festivals across the country and is currently available to watch online. Since releasing it, I’ve constantly been thinking of what my next film will be. This is my Sinai. I am now focused mostly on people and their interactions with each other and the world, and I’m in the pre-production process of a documentary about a local group of women who have all lost their husbands. I am dedicated now to telling the stories of people that matter. As for how I’m planning on doing it, I’m still working on that! But for the first time, I plan on making this movie all by myself, and I’m excited for the challenge. More stories need to be told, and I want to tell as many as I can. 

The Forty-first Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, May 16 (26th of Iyar)
Allison Karasik, Assistant to the Cantors

For the past seventeen years, I have kept a compost pile, or as I like to call it “my fruit and veggie scraps” pile. I keep a bowl on my countertop and collect orange peels, apple cores, carrot peels, etc. Every few days I walk to the corner of my backyard and turn the bowl upside down and dump it. In the fall I blow my leaves into the pile. Every few months I stick a pitchfork in the pile to turn it. I let the sun and the rain and the air do their work. In the spring I spread the wonderfully scented decomposed material into my vegetable garden. I am very proud of my fruit and veggies scraps pile. A few months ago, the City of Rockville dropped off a compost pail at my door. The City of Rockville is now offering the service of recycling meat scraps. But unlike my simple at-home compost system, I would have to drive the meat scraps to a City of Rockville composting center; I can’t put meat scraps in my backyard because of unwanted animals. City of Rockville, why are you doing this to me! I work full time, I exercise, I walk my dogs, I cook and clean and organize constantly. I volunteer and help at-risk students apply to college. I have enough going on in my life, and I don’t have time to be driving around my meat scraps to your destination. City of Rockville, why are making me think way too much about my meat scraps! I want to save the planet. I want to be environmentally friendly…But I have decided to let this one go, and my meat scraps will go in the trash guilt-free.

The Fortieth Day of the Omer, Monday evening, May 15 (25th of Iyar)
Laura Wallace, Chair, Ritual Committee

On May 15, 2022, one year ago today, the Montgomery County law that limited rent increases during the pandemic expired. Over the past year, rents have skyrocketed. Since more than a third of residents in our county are renters, the impact ripples throughout our community. My own family experienced a double-digit rent increase this summer, which makes it harder for us to continue living in the neighborhood we love, right near B’nai Israel and many of our fellow congregants. I am part of Jews United for Justice (JUFJ), which organizes over 2,000 Jews and allies from across Montgomery County who act on our shared values to advance social and economic justice and racial equity in our local community. Through JUFJ, I have heard with depressing regularity story after story from teachers, nurses, social workers, bus drivers, and service providers who can no longer afford rent and are forced to uproot their families, often moving out of Montgomery County altogether. Our rent court volunteers have met many of the hundreds of families facing eviction each week. And homelessness is on the rise – it has increased over 50% in Montgomery County in the last year. To address this crisis, the Montgomery County Council is considering a bill called the HOME Act, which would keep rents from spiking and create predictability for renters and landlords. I am heartened by the dozens of organizations and thousands of people who have already expressed their support for the HOME Act. After leaving Mitzrayim, the Jewish people went in search of a home and a place to belong, where they could build a community rooted in the Torah received at Sinai. So many people who live in our county are also searching for a safe and stable home. I look to a future where renters, including my family, have the long-term housing stability we and all of our neighbors need and deserve.

The Thirty-ninth Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, May 14 (24th of Iyar)
Joel Schwarz

As odd as this might sound, my Sinai – my aspiration - is doing less, little or even nothing. Let me explain. As a high energy person, I’m interminably overcommitted. Working a fulltime job, plus teaching law school masters students, sitting on the board of a local charity and regularly volunteering to deliver food to homes throughout Montgomery County. Then throw in editing a forthcoming book and running a student data privacy consortium with an all-volunteer staff and Board, and you have one seriously over-committed individual. Oh, and did I mention that I have 4 young children?. . . that’s where my Sinai aspiration begins. With all these commitments, I’m not often present for my kids. Even when physically there, my mind is working overtime, worried about what needs to get done. So, my commitment is to doing less, little or even nothing, meaning finishing this semester’s course and taking time off from teaching. Finishing the book and stop accepting new speaking engagements. In short, my Sinai is to get to the end of the Summer, and be less engaged in work and more engaged with my children and family. I want to be there, in the moment, when I’m spending time with them. And I want to attend more sporting practices, take more evening trips for ice cream, and perhaps re-invigorate my long-lost Spanish by helping my kids with their Spanish homework. During the days after the Israelites left Egypt and looked towards Sinai, they were most certainly living in the moment, absorbing the grandeur of the miracles g-d had unveiled before their eyes. While g-d’s face (and his miracles) are hidden from us today, that grandeur still exists in the eyes of our children, who see the world with a clear, fresh and untainted perspective. If I’m lucky and fortunate enough, by spending more time in the moment with my children, I too will be able to capture a small glimpse of that grandeur. And at that point, I will have truly arrived at my Sinai.

The Thirty-eighth Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, May 13 (23rd of Iyar)
Nechama Fellner, Art Teacher in the Dr. Stuart Lessans Talmud Torah

Recently, one Sunday morning in the art room at the B'nai Israel Dr. Stuart Lessans Talmud Torah, one of my students asked, “Morah Nechama, what is your favorite Jewish holiday and what do you love about being Jewish?” I had to smile nostalgically for in that moment I was immediately was transported to 1983 and can remember vividly learning about “Yetziyat Mitzrayim” and the journey to receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. It invoked such an exhilarating spirit of connection. I was there too!?! We all were!! We are all connected to one another in time and history. Past, present, and future. This was an amazing concept to process as an eight year old and as much so today so many decades later. With vivid memories of my parents meticulously cleaning the house, filling the pantries with kosher for Passover foods, and changing all the dishes in our cabinets...”Passover!” I exclaimed. “My favorite holiday is Passover...but also counting the omer to Shavuot. Wait...I really like Rosh Hashanah, and Sukkot, Simchat Torah, Chanukah, Tu BiShvat, Purim and Yom HaAtzmaut...!” He sweetly challenged, “Morah Nechama, you love them all! But what if you had to choose one?” In step with him I posited back, “How do you choose just one, when they are all so amazingly special, important, incredible and meaningful?” “That's true!” he said, excitedly scooping up a big handful of homemade gems and stickers for his self-expressive glow in the dark art project: “Judaism makes me shine.” Before I could ask, “How about you?” he said from the heart, “I love coming here and creating art. You always have so many great things and I have such a great time! It's the best.” “THAT.” I answered. “THAT is what I love about being Jewish.” Being your Jewish Art Teacher. Spending Sunday mornings here, having amazing conversations with you and your classmates. Watching you all create. I always say I won't peek and wait for the ‘big reveal’ at the end of class. It is always a dazzling moment! I may come up with an idea for a project, bring in the supplies, but then it's all you. It's an amazing process to see you carefully connect, choose and create. You are walking ‘B'tzelem Hashem’ (In G-d's image). You are creating and giving something magical and brilliant to your family, the Jewish people to cherish. It is precious. It is timeless. Like receiving the Torah at Har Sinai.” 

The Thirty-seventh Day of the Omer, Friday evening, May 12 (22nd of Iyar)
Heidi Isenberg Feig

“If we are on a journey to becoming better as individuals then the whole Jewish people will be on a journey to becoming a better example to the world and then the whole world will become a better place because of us.” - Interview of Rabbi Leo Dee, father and husband of terrorist attack victims in Israel during Pesach. I traveled to Israel during Pesach with my mother to visit my eldest daughter, who is spending a gap year there before starting college. We planned our multigenerational “girls trip” over six months ago since my mom wanted to visit her grandchild while she was there. We had the privilege of traveling to both Mitzpe Ramon in the Negev and up to the Carmel Forest near Haifa, as my daughter is living and teaching at a youth village nearby. This was my third trip to Israel in the past six years. Each time I visit, I feel more connected to the only place in the world where being Jewish is the norm and where keeping kosher is easier than anywhere else. Unfortunately, during our visit there were two terrorist attacks - one involving a car ramming into a crowd of people in Tel Aviv and another a shooting while a British Israeli family was taking a holiday during Hol Hamoed Pesach. Rabbi Leo Dee, the father and husband of the three women who were killed in the shooting, even in his grief, spoke eloquently of his encounter with a young IDF soldier who separated from his ultra-religious Haredi background and did not consider himself to be religious, or dati in Hebrew. In one of the many press interviews that Rabbi Dee gave in the immediate aftermath of losing his daughters and wife, he spoke of his belief that, despite the frequent debate regarding Jewish identity among groups within Israel, all Jews are either dati or “working on becoming more dati,” and no one person or group is  more worthy than any other of being a Jew. So, as I reflect on this prompt about “my Sinai,” I think that one of them is my desire to be a better human being and a better Jew every day. I can become more dati in ways that  Rabbi Dee describes. The thing about my personal Sinai is that I can work toward being dati every day when I remind all three of my kids to be kind and keep a kosher kitchen, every week when I make challah and bless my children, and every time I visit Israel and share my love of the country with my friends and family. As I continue to practice these small and large ways of being dati, I  continue my work of becoming the Jew I strive to be.

The Thirty-sixth Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, May 11 (21st of Iyar)
Ilana Bernstein

There’s a lyric from the musical Waitress that goes “What I thought was so permanent fades/In the blink of an eye, there's a new life in front in my face/And I know in due time, every right thing will find its right place." As many of you know, I lost my dad suddenly a couple of years ago. It is the hardest thing I have ever been through and yet, from that experience came one of the most beautiful parts of my life today. The year following my loss, I said Kaddish every evening for the 11 months. Through that experience, I built wonderful friendships with folks who I would have never gotten to know well otherwise and in turn those relationships have impacted my life for the better. In fact, one of those friends introduced me to my boyfriend, someone I would have never crossed paths with had it not been for an introduction. As we continue counting the Omer, I aspire to create more space to look for the good that can come out of hard situations. While Mitzrayim was one of the harder chapters of our collective history, we were able to make it to Sinai. I hope for all of us that we find our Sinais after leaving our Mitzrayims. I like to think that my dad played a role in helping me find mine.

The Thirty-fifth Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, May 10 (20th of Iyar)
Leah Tulin

As new parents, we were constantly told that “the days are long and the years are short.”  Intuitively I always understood that this old adage must be true. But when our children were little I felt like the days were not just long, but unbearably exhausting. Trying to balance a full-time job, the responsibilities of parenting, and managing a household left me feeling depleted. I barely had enough energy to take a shower, so paying due attention to the miraculous pace at which our children were growing and developing usually felt entirely out of reach. (Thankfully, between my longstanding love of photography and the ubiquity of smart phones, I have tens of thousands of pictures documenting this journey). At some point in the last few years my perspective has begun to shift. Perhaps it is that my son’s feet are already significantly larger than mine and that my days of “height supremacy” (the doctor’s phrase, not mine) are dangerously numbered. Or perhaps it is the near-daily reminders that we’re inching closer and closer to bnai mitzvah and drivers’ ed. Either way, I have finally come to appreciate just how quickly the years pass. Do I still find myself frustrated and exasperated at how much parenting can feel like being stuck in Mitzrayim or wandering in the desert? Of course. But I am also more cognizant than ever that being fully present in each moment I get to spend watching my children grow and change is a miracle every bit as precious as our arrival at Sinai.

The Thirty-fourth Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, May 9 (19th of Iyar)
Robin Wind-Faillace

The story of Passover teaches us some history, that our ancestors traveled on a safe journey out of Egypt, a land that had become oppressive to Jews. We are reminded by counting the Omer that if we stay close to G-d’s laws we will have a better life. My Mitzrayim is to find beauty in all things. As I travel my physical and spiritual journey, I find comfort in writing. When we were living in a world new to the Covid Pandemic. My words:

LOVE    

            Love is light in your eyes

            your smile

            Love is breakfast together

            sharing ideas

            Love is a calm wind

            rustling trees

            birds sharing their daily tune

            Love is our cat rubbing legs

            smiling when he has eaten

            Love  is warming the heart 

            on seeing family photos

            talking with family and friends

            Love is a walk in the rain

            A picnic dinner under an umbrella

After our cat passed away. My words:

Dear Midnight

            You enjoyed every day

            began with your joyful good morning

            waited patiently while showering affection

            We ate meals together

            You enjoyed riding on my shoulder

            You stayed close at hands through our days

            Enjoyed traveling with family

            You welcomed most people into our home

            and made sure we were all safe

            You took a grave illness in stride

            and let us know when your time had come

            To say good-bye..

The Thirty-third Day of the Omer, Monday evening, May 8 (18th of Iyar)
Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz, Associate Rabbi

I attended a leadership conference as a college student where I was told that I should have a Five Year Plan: Where do you see yourself in five years? I cannot find that Five Year Plan, and I have no idea what, if anything, I wrote down at that time. What I do remember is that most of us were annoyed by, even a little resentful of the prompt—How am I supposed to know where I’ll be in five years? Will I have failed if my life deviates dramatically from my Five Year Plan? Although nobody made this explicit to us, I don’t think the purpose of the exercise was to set some lofty goal for the distant future and to hold ourselves accountable for reaching it. Rather, the goal of the exercise was to give us a sense of purpose and direction in the short term. I may not know where I will be in five years, but I have a pretty good sense of where I want to be in five days, and you can only do that if you have a plan. The Five Year Plan is Sinai—it is imaging what your Jewish life and engagement will look like years from now, and taking those first few steps towards that destination. You will undoubtedly encounter unexpected twists and turns along the way, and these will take you on a new route. You may not ever reach that original designation, but that doesn’t mean you won’t reach Sinai. Sinai is our hope for what will be, our dream that may never be realized, but that shouldn’t stop us from working towards it. So, what is your Five Year Plan? What is your Sinai? Don’t fret too much over the question—the most important thing is to begin the journey.

The Thirty-second Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, May 7 (17th of Iyar)
Joey Barke

I’m typing this on the way to an exam, unfortunately. Trudging through a muddy McKeldin Mall with my head down and airpods firmly implanted, I’m reminded of the similarly muddy trek of Reuven and Shimon. It’s a midrash about Jews complaining, reminiscent of a Mel Brooks skit. Two guys are crossing the newly-parted Red Sea and lamenting the cold, sticky seafloor they have to walk through. “This is just like the slime pits of Egypt,” says Reuven. “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same,” replies Shimon. When they get to the other shore, they can’t figure out why everyone is celebrating. They escaped Mitzrayim, but remained trapped in a narrow place. I wonder if I’m making the same mistake as those two kvetches. The University of Maryland has given me the opportunity to host my own radio show, write for the school newspaper and head a fraternity, yet here I am, moping through the end of the semester. Mitzrayim is a prison of our own creation, but we hold the key to escaping. My socks may be wet and my exam may be daunting, but I know that it will be over soon and the sun will shine again. I’ll see my friends later, get some coffee and enjoy the day. Best of all, I’m alive! I get to wake up every day in this wonderful place and do wonderful things with people who are, you guessed it, wonderful. To all the Reuvens and Shimons today, it’ll get better. It always does.

The Thirty-first Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, May 6 (16th of Iyar)
Diane Saltzman

I can never know what it must have felt like for the Israelites as they navigated, emotionally and physically, a very complicated existence. Slavery was horrific, as everything about their lives was so difficult and determined by someone else, but it was what they knew. Could they even imagine what a new life would be like when they would be able to make decisions for themselves, their families, and their community? How they would manage their time once out of mitzrayim would be so different. This past year, in just ten months, I witnessed and experienced the illness and death of my stepmother of 34 years, my father, and then my mother, who had been ill for so long. My schedule every week was punctuated by visits to doctors, hospitals and their homes to spend time with each of them. On the one hand, it was incredibly challenging, and yet on the other, there were blessings in having so much time with them. Stopping that schedule meant I would be saying goodbye, something I couldn’t imagine. That year was their mitzrayim, and mine. Today, we are all in a different place. My parents are finally at peace. My weeks now are punctuated by twice daily minyanim, with a virtual and in-person community that has provided great comfort. Reciting the mourner’s kaddish keeps my parents very present in my life, as their memory bookends every day. It’s still hard, but I am on a new journey to another reality--one that will have its own challenges, and also many blessings.

The Thirtieth Day of the Omer, Friday evening, May 5 (15th of Iyar)
Lisa Isenberg, Co-President, Sisterhood

In November of 2020 my daughter in law Stacy decided to do genetic testing due to her mom dying (at age 51) of ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, Stacy tested positive for the BRCA2 gene. Our mitzrayim was the fear of losing our wonderful “daughter” to cancer. She had an 87% chance of getting breast cancer and a 47% chance of getting ovarian cancer. Stacy and my son Adam made the brave decision to move forward and in October 2021 Stacy had her ovaries and tubes removed which put her body into immediate menopause. She rebuilt her strength and in November of 2022 she had a double mastectomy at age 42! After the surgery she cried with relief that she would be okay. In March 2023 she finished with reconstructive surgery. Through this whole ordeal, Stacy persevered with a smile and positive outlook. She is the bravest, strongest, most amazing woman I know. Our family can now move forward without fear of losing Stacy to ovarian or breast cancer. We feel truly blessed.

The Twenty-ninth Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, May 4 (14th of Iyar)
Rabbi Michael Safra, Senior Rabbi

I like the interpretation of “Mitzrayim/Egypt” as “Bein Ha-Metzarim/In a Narrow Space.” Mitrzrayim is a place where we are stuck, a moment when we encounter the world and determine: this is not how things should be, but it is what it is. Leaving Egypt means resolving to change from the World As It Is to the World As It Should Be. The trouble is, though, that the freed slaves never make it to the promised land. And neither do we. The moment we tell ourselves we have arrived, meaning the world we encounter is acceptable, we find ourselves back in Mitzrayim. Thinking we have “made it” is the definition of being stuck. Israel is integral to my identity, but it doesn’t always live up to its ideals as a land of promise. The state is on a journey. America is on a journey as well – an “unfinished nation.” The dreams of liberty and equality for all have not been realized, in part because the definition of “all” continues to expand – as it should. Psychologist Kenneth B. Clark reminisces about examining cells through a microscope in high school: “And what I took out of that ninth-grade class was that the cell is constantly in a state of struggle. Looking at the amoeba and the paramecium, I saw they were constantly active.” And so are we – continually active, consistently struggling, on a constant journey towards the promised land. But at least we aren’t stuck back in Egypt. 

The Twenty-eighth Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, May 3 (13th of Iyar)
Tom Sudow

I recently served as a delegate to the special World Zionist Congress celebrating 75 years of the State of Israel last month in Jerusalem as part of the Mercaz Delegation. Mercaz is the Zionist arm of the Conservative Movement. My experience may not have been what I was expecting, but it was an impactful experience to engage with Israel and fight for its future as a pluralistic, Jewish, and democratic state. Allies of the far right in Israel played dirty tricks to try and stop the condemnation of their extremist agenda. But they ultimately failed. Because of the power, influence, and coordination between MERCAZ and its centrist partners and allies, these resolutions will pass. Israel’s government will receive a clear message from the representative body of Jews of all stripes from around the world: Israel must remain a Jewish and democratic state that’s a home for each and every Jew. This victory was only possible because of the power MERCAZ and its coalition. In two short years, we will face even more determined opposition and it is crucial we all work to strengthen our representation in the next World Zionist Congress in 2025. As Jews who care about Israel’s future as a vibrant Jewish and democratic state, we must start to plan for 2025 and succeed in electing even more delegates who represent our views. I have made over 45 trips to Israel and this may have been one of the most difficult ones, for at the Congress I also got a first-hand look at the battle for Israel’s democracy that has overtaken the country in recent months. I was proud to stand with Jews from Israel and around the world, from all backgrounds, to help forge Israel’s next 75 years. My time at the Congress served as a reminder that politics - while sometimes pushing us outside of our own comfort zones - are the way we make our voices heard in democratic systems. After all, from its very founding by Theodore Herzl 126 years ago, the Zionist Movement has been a political movement. As Israelis take their battle for a democratic Israel to the streets, I joined over 125,000 on Yom HaAtzmaut on the streets in protest. It’s time we all join their battle by working to strengthen our representation in the World Zionist Congress in 2025 as a tangible way to make our voices heard. 

The Twenty-seventh Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, May 2 (12th of Iyar)
Stacy Immerman

Sunday anxiety. End of weekend dread. The Mitzrayim of the schedule of the week…Did I get everything done over the weekend to make it through the week? Did I spend too much time relaxing? Not enough time? Have I unwound enough to be refreshed to tackle the work week anew? Did I unwind too much and now I’m behind before the week even started? Maybe I over planned the week. Or under planned. Do I have everything I need to pack school lunches and snacks? What was it the kid said she needed to wear for that spirit day this week? Did I check the right boxes on the permission slip? Will that late Tuesday meeting end in enough time for me to get dinner started before we’re out the door to get to Talmud Torah? Sunday anxiety and the Mitzrayim of the work week can be hectic and overwhelming and stressful and exhausting and...Even though it can have its own challenges, there’s always Shabbat at the end of the week to recharge again. And to start strategizing for the next round ahead!

The Twenty-sixth Day of the Omer, Monday evening, May 1 (11th of Iyar)
Carol April

Israel is celebrating its 75th Birthday! Israel became a state in 1948, the year after I was born. When you retire at 72 after working since you were sixteen, you are ready to enjoy life, travel, volunteer and spend time with your children and grandchildren. When I retired on January 31, 2000, none of that happened. Six weeks later we were in lockdown. Going anywhere was scary. If that was not enough, fast forward to November when my husband was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma. The next six months consisted of chemotherapy, emergency hospital stays, and keeping track of medications. In April of 2021, my husband was declared to be in remission which was wonderful. He was such a trooper. Now we wanted to celebrate but there was no place to go. He was immuno-compromised and COVID was still raging. Our Mitzrayim is leaving the confines of COVID and Hugh’s cancer behind. I am happy to report that this August to celebrate our 34th Anniversary we are flying to Barcelona and going on a 7-night cruise covering Spain and Italy. We Jews are strong people. Our faith and positive attitudes brought us to this point, and we feel so blessed.

The Twenty-fifth Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, April 30 (10th of Iyar)
Jonathan Salant, Co-President, Men’s Club

This summer definitely will be a time to look back at what we left behind. My son Izzy’s semi-autobiographical play on the death of his mother, Rite of Passage, has its theater premiere in Massachusetts for two weeks in July. Some of you may have seen the reading at B’nai Israel but this will be the first time the play will be performed on stage. The play focuses on a boy studying for his bar mitzvah after his mother passes away, and how he, his father, other relatives and the rabbi preparing him for his big day cope with the aftermath. One of the characters is based on me, and it stirred up memories of how I married late in life, how we were the only couple who married in our 40s who were able to conceive, and how we went through all the highs and lows of parenthood. And of course the low of widowhood. It also reminded me of how supportive B’nai’s clergy and congregation was to us. I feel like I’m paying it forward as I’m more active in the synagogue than I ever was before. But perhaps Izzy should have written this reflection because  for him, I think the play was a form of therapy. He could come up with his own answers to questions that we couldn’t answer at the time. It allows him to liberate himself from any remaining negativity caused by the loss of his mother at such a young age.

The Twenty-fourth Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, April 29 (9th of Iyar)
Carren Oler

Last year I set a goal for myself to read 12 books during the year, one a month, in various categories - novels, biography, history, plays, poetry - and I felt some personal satisfaction in completing my assignment just before Pesach. I learned so much that was new to me, like why Shakespeare’s plays have limited lines in 5 acts. (That’s because in his time there was no electricity and the stage was lit by candles which needed to be replaced as they burned low by the end of each act.) There are 24 books in the TANACH (Hebrew Bible). And TANACH is an acronym for Torah (Law), Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings). So this time I am setting a two year goal for myself – to read (or at least peruse) one book a month of the TANACH, in English. I own several translated versions of the Chumash and have located several translations of the work of some of the Prophets and I personally own a translation of the Five Megillot. Part of the enjoyment of this project is the treasure hunt to find the books in English. I anticipate that our wonderful librarian, Jill Gendelman, at B’nai Israel will be able to help me. While in the past I have found the tradition of the OMER to be obscure, this year it has become meaningful for me as each day as I spend a little time researching and preparing my project which I plan to begin in May. I commend observing the Omer to you by daily furthering a project or activity of your own!

The Twenty-third Day of the Omer, Friday evening, April 28 (8th of Iyar)
Peggy Pearlstein

This past fall was a wonderful time for me. In August, a grandson entered Georgetown University as a freshman. It has been a delight to see him every now and then, hear about what he is studying, and watch him become a young adult. In November, another grandson got married. I was filled with such joy watching his parents bring him to the huppah to his lovely bride. In December, I celebrated my 80th birthday at a dinner with my children, grandchildren, and Seymour Hepner, my significant other of almost 20 years. How fortunate I am! Yet I too, have my Mitzrayims. Last week was the 25th anniversary of the passing of my beloved husband, Rabbi Aaron (Arky) Pearlstein, who died April 25, 1998 (29 Nissan). This Mitzrayim will always be part of me. I do not want to forget the good and loving husband, father, grandfather, colleague, and friend that he was. The annual yahrzeit, the Mitzrayim, is an appropriate way to honor his memory and to help us to continue on with our lives knowing that he is not forgotten. The other Mitzrayim is one that has not been left behind. Rather it is catching up with me as I age. And that is the Mitzrayim of good health. In early March I had a total knee replacement. I am well on the road to recovery, but I am impatient at how long it is taking. Two congregants had knee replacements right before I did; others have far greater challenges to their health . I am grateful to the clergy at B'nai, including our retired clergy, for their concern and support as I navigate the steps and stamina needed to stay healthy. Looking toward the future, there are more reasons to be grateful: In May, a granddaughter receives her MBA from Wharton, and another grandson receives his MA from Tulane. I am very thankful to be able to celebrate these milestones with my family.

The Twenty-second Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, April 27 (7th of Iyar)
Rabbi Cheryl Stone, Assistant Rabbi/Chief Education Officer

In today’s world of instant gratification, it is hard to imagine that anything lasts. Judaism, however, believes that Chesed, Lovingkindness, is an attribute that can be cultivated within each of us and has the potential to endure. Lovingkindness can self-perpetuate. However, this is not a given and Chesed must be nurtured to develop and grow. When I lived in San Francisco I would occasionally ride the bus. I loved watching people and how they interacted with one another. Most co-journeyers had their nose in a book, were focused on their phone, or stared aimlessly into space. I devised a game. If I was able to catch the eye of a fellow passenger, I would smile at them. Most of the time people would look at me as if I was crazy, but occasionally, they would smile back. If timed just right, the smile would last as they disembarked from the bus. Then the most miraculous thing would occur. The next person to come onto the bus would be smiling. The person stepping off the bus smiled at the person stepping on and now the smile was transferred. Who knows how many people would share that smile? Who knows how many other people would have just a bit more joy in their lives because of one shared connection, one passing of a smile? Our actions have consequences. We often think of only great acts as having impact on the world. Our tradition says this is not so. It is true that we feel God’s might in powerful thunderstorms, but it is the details of the world that surround us that show us the exquisite miracle of existence. So too can our small acts carry tremendous weight, both for good and bad. It is thus incumbent upon us to be mindful, to pay attention to our actions, and cultivate Chesed. It is through small acts of kindness and generosity that we create enduring Lovingkindness. 

The Twenty-first Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, April 26 (6th of Iyar)
Adam Odesser

As we near the end of celebrating this year’s Yom Ha’Atzmaut, Israel’s 75th Independence Day, and as my 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son just finished watching Israel’s official Yom Ha’Atzmaut ceremony at Har Herzl, I pause to reflect on the last 4 years since I moved here from Israel with my wife Emily, and at the time 10-week-old daughter. What did I leave behind? A country that I love with all of its complexities, family that I now miss daily, friends that I look forward to seeing, years of experiences and memories. Ironically, my Mitzrayim is Israel. But have I really left all of this behind? As the story of Pesach and of Israel's independence shows, we do not forget the past, but rather we remember it, carry it with us and share our experiences. In my professional capacity, I am fortunate to be able to share my personal knowledge and experiences as an Israeli, and work to engage our community with Israel. In my personal life, my family and I are lucky to be a part of a community that is first and foremost like family, and holds Israel as a core part of their identity. So even though I physically left Israel, as Emily likes to tell me - “You can take the Israeli out of Israel, but you can’t take Israel out of the Israeli.” I look forward to continuing to be a part of this community, and am grateful to have two places I now call home. 

The Twentieth Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, April 25 (5th of Iyar)
Steve Kerbel

Min HaMeitzar Karati Yah - I call to God from a Tight Place. As a lifelong Zionist and a trained Israel educator, the anticipation for Israel's 75th Anniversary should have been a time of great excitement, and not cause me to feel like we're celebrating from narrow straits. Knowing that Israel is attacked and disrespected from the outside world is something we've gotten used to, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Knowing the current tensions within Israel, after months of protests and hand wringing, and tensions and discord in the Israel-Diaspora relationship are making this milestone what the Talmud calls Isurim shel Ahavah, struggles with the one you love. Just as the first four-and-a-half weeks of the Omer are mournful and challenging, let us hope that we emerge together from this painful period into a period of compromise, agreement and unity to a place of strength, confidence and hope in the State of Israel and for Am Yisrael.

The Nineteenth Day of the Omer, Monday evening, April 24 (4th of Iyar)
Rabbi Jim Michaels

Although my wife Karen and I have been to Israel many times, until 2012, we had never been there for a holiday. The previous year, my daughter had moved there with her husband and family. Karen and I decided we would join them there for Yom HaAtzmaut. The joyous day is preceded by the somber Yom HaZikaron—Israel’s Memorial Day. As our 7-year old granddaughter Maya was preparing for bed, sirens sounded throughout the country. Maya immediately stopped, stood at attention with her hands held together while she looked down in solemn reflection, and said nothing for two minutes. She had learned in school that this was the way Israelis pay tribute to those who have fallen in defense of their country. She wanted to be a part of it. The journey from Mitzrayim to Sinai isn’t a direct path. There are times of sadness and times of joy experienced along the way. Maya’s demonstration of memory and sadness demonstrated that she had internalized this lesson. She also taught me to appreciate the sacrifices of others who have made my journey possible.

The Eighteenth Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, April 23 (3rd of Iyar)
Lew Gertz

My Mitzrayim occurs every morning, and I realize it will never go away until the Moshiach comes. Let me explain: Every morning for the past ten years, since I started going to morning minyan, I have said misheberach during services for my loved ones. We all realize that the only two ways you remove someone’s name is either because they get well, or they pass away. This past year, my misheberach list lost six names, and those six were because of the latter. Lynn and I lost three first cousins and three close friends. The first was the only son of our best friends who died after a brief bout with cancer. Three months later, his father passed away from dementia, and we are sure the loss of his son caused him to lose his will to live anymore. And in Israel, an old friend of Lynn’s lost his fight with cancer. What can we do in situations like this? How can we end these “Mitzrayims?” The Yizkor service gives us the answer: “In loving testimony, I (we) pledge charity to help perpetuate the ideals important to them. Through such deeds, and through prayer and remembrance…May these moments of meditation strengthen the ties…” This time of the year, between Passover and Shavuot, it is customary to recite passages of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), which deals with ethical and moral principles. And we preface each study with the Mishnaic saying, “All Israel has a share in the World to Come.” How can we guarantee this will happen? By remembering our loved ones every day of the year. As Shimon Ha-Tzadik taught his followers during the end of the Great Assembly, and as we are now reading: “The world rests on three things – Torah, service of God, and deeds of love.” If we remember to do these things EVERY DAY (repeat, repeat, repeat, and repeat again!) and not just on the days of Yizkor, my Mitzrayim, and yours, will finally come to an end!

The Seventeenth Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, April 22 (2nd of Iyar)
Arlene Polangin

I look forward to leaving behind the past 5 lost years; 2 years with an Autoimmune Disease, now in remission, and 3 years due to Covid lockdowns. Now as year 5 begins, I’m grateful I avoided getting Covid. I look forward to “stepping back into the world,” being able to see family and friends, enjoying restaurants, museums, theatre and films, as well as feeling comfortable with a semblance of a more normal life. At some point, I’d like to no longer feel the need to wear a mask. I’m exploring teaching English to Ukrainians via Zoom. I look forward to the CDC coming up with the next “booster.”

The Sixteenth Day of the Omer, Friday evening, April 21 (1st of Iyar)
Ben Willcher

The cherry trees in our backyard were bare limbs just last week. Soon the grass will be blanketed in a layer of pink petals. During this short window when the trees are in bloom, I spend a few minutes each day enjoying nature’s brilliant display of color. I am able to forget the dark, cold winter months and appreciate the blossoms as the best indication that spring has arrived. For the Israelites departing Mitzrayim, they were not just leaving a physical place, but they were also leaving behind their past selves. It would not serve them well on their journey to the Promised Land if they still considered themselves to be slaves. They had to shake off that slave mentality and embrace their newly established status as free people. I am approaching the 21st anniversary of my 21st birthday, meaning I am legally allowed to have two drinks, which happens to be about as much as I can handle these days. (I certainly cannot eat the same way that I did in college either!) My days of long-distance running have given way to chasing my kids down the street. Though I am not trying to escape anything like slavery, my Mitzrayim is to avoid comparisons to my younger self. Instead, I want to grateful for what I am able to do now, and be the best version of my present self. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.”

The Fifteenth Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, April 20 (30th of Nisan)
Haidee Bernstein, Vice President Religious Affairs

As we all know, life is a series of transitions. At this point in time, I am living alone and lost my career job, which gave me a lot of social interaction, because I could no longer sit long hours at the computer. My Mitzrayim is fighting loneliness. Loneliness is very different than being alone. There are plenty of instances where I am completely happy being alone, reading, quilting, lazily gardening, or even organizing my house. At other moments, I fight the feeling of loneliness. The converse is also true, I can be among a group of people and feel either lonely or happy. So how do I fight my Mitzrayim? I keep my calendar moderately busy. I exercise 4 days a week with two different friends, each one twice a week. I do a lot of volunteer work at B’nai Israel and engage in a fair number of classes at B’nai Israel as well as teach in the Lessans Talmud Torah. I also make sure that I either host or go to someone for Friday night Shabbat dinner. It takes planning and energy to achieve a balance. I am still experimenting with finding activities that work for me, ways to meet new people, and develop new skill sets. I have confidence that my efforts will continue to be successful most of the time.

The Fourteenth Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, April 19 (29th of Nisan)
Marge Kravitz

This year my son Steve surprised me by asking me to lead the second seder at his home. I immediately objected, “It's your house, you should lead.” But he said he couldn't as he'd be back and forth to the kitchen and he was confident I could do it. I wasn't so sure but I accepted the honor and the challenge. As I planned the seder, I thought about who would be at our seder table this year. The grandkids are all adults, so there would be no kids to keep entertained or prompted to show what they learned. When I looked around our seder table, I saw that everyone but Steve and my husband Larry was surprised to learn that I would be leading the seder. Since the seder is about memories and traditions, I asked everyone to share memories about seders of their childhood. Then I began with the ceremonies, prayers, and songs that Jews all over the world use to celebrate Pesach. I asked the youngest in each family - that included me - to join together in the Four Questions. One of my favorite songs is Echod Mi Yodeah. I said we would go around the table, with each person in turn answering "Ani Yodeah” (yoda'at for women), making sure I got the Arbah Imahot, since after all, I'm a matriarch. As the seder drew to its joyous conclusion, I felt elated that I had successfully led my first seder at age 86 and grateful to Steve for giving me the opportunity and for his confidence in me. As for next year, Mi Yodeah?

The Thirteenth Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, April 18 (28th of Nisan)
Marion Haberman

“You sometimes think you want to disappear but all you really want is to be found” - Kid Cudi. When I made my 2023 New Year's Resolutions on December 31st last year, a few hours before midnight, I had one idea in my mind. This year I wanted to be authentically, recklessly, truthfully myself. Every year before this one I've always promised myself I would be “better.” I learned this is called “good girl” mentality—the idea that girls (especially young women raised in and before the 90s) like myself, were taught to always strive to be a nicer and more palatable version of themselves to please others. We were rewarded for being easygoing, for being polite, for being quiet, for not holding any strong opinions or clear boundaries that might upset others. This year, I decided I didn't want to be “better” for others. Honestly I was tired and also a little curious. Would anyone want to still be around me once I wasn't pretending to be “better” anymore? Would anyone want to be close to the raw, bruised and human-to-a-fault truth of how God made me? My “good girl” self was my Egypt, and the Pharaoh was my own fears, doubt and delusions of who people wanted in me. I gotta warn you though: once you stop pretending, it's really hard to start again. Why? The authentic connections you'll make based on your vulnerable honest self, are so dang precious and soul affirming you won't settle for surface level again.

The Twelfth Day of the Omer, Monday evening, April 17 (27th of Nisan)
Melissa Kutner

For reflections during the first 32 days of the Omer, we were prompted to think about the question: what is your Mitzrayim (Egypt)? Recently I have been mulling over the nostalgia the Israelites sometimes feel for Egypt after they leave—when they long for what seems to them in retrospect a place of abundant bread and security, where they did not have to endure warfare. These complex feelings make sense to me. Ancient Egypt was, after all, an agriculturally rich place of abundance, and what is known often feels safer than the unknown. I remind myself of this lately because I very often feel such strong nostalgia for my childhood and such fear of the future, especially now that I am responsible for my own small child. My childhood was happy and safe, and so nothing like the Israelites’ experience of slavery—except for the security they seem, paradoxically, to have also felt. The very intensity of that feeling of safety has sometimes made it hard for me to move on, especially because, by the time my own son was born, neither of my parents was able to help me. Sometimes I want to curl in a ball and hide under the covers to try to recapture the safe feeling I had as a child of the world being securely “out there.” It’s helpful to remember that freedom requires facing the unknown.

The Eleventh Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, April 16 (26th of Nisan)
Fonda Lowe

In November 2022, I had a recurrence of lung cancer. Following the initial diagnosis in March 2017, I had a partial lobectomy. Since the cancer was discovered at an early stage in 2017, surgery was sufficient and additional treatment was not recommended. After many CT scans and no signs of recurrence 5 years following my surgery, I considered myself extremely fortunate. When the cancer recurred in November, I was caught off guard. The tumor was larger this time and was greatly impacting my health. As I had experienced the loss of my father and sister to cancer in 1985 and 2001, I must admit that I was not hopeful. While I knew and was reminded by many that much progress has been made in cancer treatment over the last several decades, it was still hard for me to be optimistic. I was feeling so poorly physically and emotionally, seeing past this very personal Mitzrayim was difficult. But I quickly realized that I wasn’t alone in this journey; my family and friends were with me and continue to be every step of the way. Their love and support along with good medical care and physical therapy have allowed me to see Sinai in the distance. As I continue to work toward renewed health, I was so grateful to be able to celebrate and host the Seders with these special people.

The Tenth Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, April 15 (25th of Nisan)
Sharon Doner

This Pesach I am in Israel visiting many friends and staying through Yom Ha’atzmaut. For the end of the Chag, I am staying with my close Ethiopian friends, Shlomi and Bracha and their six children including a set of one year old twins! They live in Revava, a settlement near Ariel. Yes, it is in the West Bank over the Green Line with Arab villages surrounding their modest home. Am I nervous? I have to admit I slightly am in light of the recent two terrorist attacks that resulted in the murder of two sisters, their mother, and an Italian tourist and others who were seriously injured. It is one thing to hear of פיגוע טרור when I am sitting in my safe Bethesda home and another when I am only miles away. Bracha takes me to a scenic view on their 35 year old settlement and declares, “This is our Jewish homeland and we must be ‘right here’ to live our lives fully as Jews and Israelis. I feel and admire hers and Shlomi’s courage and determination.” I was raised in a Zionist home in Texas. I remember so clearly when my family visited Jerusalem in 1966. All we could see of the Old City was some buildings from a faraway lookout that our guide had taken us to. The very next year the Western Wall was ours again and the Jewish world rocked with tremendous pride. This trip I visited Ammunition Hill and its new Museum. I relived those moments of intense fighting by Jewish men in their 30s and 40s who thought of themselves as “regular not so special guys” but through unbelievable intense commitment and fighting took Ammunition Hill, an important military position. The outstanding moment in my experience was meeting 78 year old former paratrooper Arik. He told me his story of fighting within the walls of the Old City and standing at the Kotel when the Israeli flag was flown from above. I felt such tremendous pride hearing his accomplishment. Both meeting Arik and standing with my friends looking out at Eretz Yisroel intensified my commitment that Israel and my fellow Jews must always be supported and loved. Its existence is so closely connected with my Jewish identity. Even though I have chosen to be a Jew in the Diaspora, Israel will always be “home.”

The Ninth Day of the Omer, Friday evening, April 14 (24th of Nisan)
Harriet Stein

Ten years ago, my husband and I found ourselves in Mitzrayim. My husband's brain damage and spinal cord injury changed our vital retirement life of world travel, family occasions, and a variety of activities. We’ve traveled beyond The Sea of Reeds to a pleasant place. Many caregivers later and many occasional crises have challenged us. We have persevered. With great family support and amazing friends and community, we are managing well. We are forever thankful for our blessings and our safe arrival in this place.

The Eighth Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, April 13 (23rd of Nisan)
Lois Alperstein, Past President

While the last 3 years have been challenging for most due to covid, I had the additional challenge of taking care of my husband who was terminal ill and ultimately passed. In an effort to “move forward”, an expression that I don’t particularly care for, I decided to live at our new home in Palm Beach this winter. While it was an oasis in so many ways, the memories of my lost loved one was with me there. The freedom of a new environment, one that we had not lived in together, helped to ease my grief. And a love affair of more than 43 years would slowly morph into cherished memories.

The Seventh Day of the Omer, Wednesday evening, April 12 (22nd of Nisan)
Jeff Fredman, President Elect

The mournful mood of these early days of the Omer matches my sadness over the recent loss of my brother-in-law, Mark. Since I am not a primary mourner, Debra and I have tried to support my nieces and sister-in-law who truly miss their father and husband every day. But Debra and I still mourn ourselves at each event, whether Mark's birthday, as I prepared parts for the Seder, or as we think about summer plans. Also, just as the students of Rabbi Akiva were too young, so was my brother-in-law, making the loss even more piquant. When I hear music, forbidden during the Omer, it reminds me of Mark, his band, and the times we would hear him play. The Omer also represents a process, where we progress from Passover to the celebrations of Lag Ba’Omer and Shavuot, and mourning is definitely also a process that proceeds at its own pace. On this seventh day of the Omer, when we hope for ultimate redemption, I hope to remember the beautiful person I knew, and even wish that maybe in that time, we will all meet again in some way. 

The Sixth Day of the Omer, Tuesday evening, April 11 (21st of Nisan)
Judy Saks

In my circle, the over-70 set, we generally discuss two pressing topics during Canasta games: our failing bodies (as in, “I am scheduled for knee replacement next week,” or “My back really hurts today”); and neglect by our expertly parented but self-involved adult children. When we ask: “Why don’t you call me more often?” they respond: “Mom, you know how busy we are, with two jobs, three children, a dog, a tankful of tropical fish and four bonsai trees.” Although we long to blurt out, “So, what am I—chopped liver?” we forego all guilt-producing (but more effective) comments and, instead, say, “I understand. Just call me when you have a few minutes to talk.” And we conceal our annoyance when the call finally comes three or four weeks later. But, going forward, I have found a way to liberate myself from these pesky but persistent personal challenges. Is my answer meditation? An attitude of gratitude? Exercise? Blueberries? Nah. Most mornings, I tune into “Leave It to Beaver” on the Memorable Entertainment (ME) TV network. It’s so great to see the Cleavers, a family that never existed in real life but whose members, on screen, are respectful, courteous, humorous and capable of resolving their differences before the episode ends! So, I advise you to check out the Cleavers on ME TV and escape reality for 30 minutes. You’ll still have plenty of time to go to physical therapy and complain about your kids. 

The Fifth Day of the Omer, Monday evening, April 10 (20th of Nisan)
Ted Fredman

In Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, which is often studied between Passover and Shavuot, Ben Zoma addresses four questions: 1. Who is wise? 2. Who is mighty? 3. Who is rich? 4. Who is honored? I have always liked the third question: Who is rich? He who is happy with what he has. As it is stated: “If you eat what your hands have provided, fortunate are you, and good is to you.” Ben Zoma is citing Psalm 128, which indicates that a person must toil and produce results with one’s own two hands. Only then does God send a blessing. I feel that this applies to my own life. I worked for 39 years and have been retired for the past 18 years. I enjoy and am happy to have a loving family, a wonderful synagogue (B’nai Israel), and a very pleasant life. 

The Fourth Day of the Omer, Sunday evening, April 19 (19th of Nisan)
Harriet Fredman, Co-Chair, Hazak

Recently left behind for me is someone who mentored me for much of my life, my childhood rabbi. Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz passed away this past March 23, 2023. He was the assistant rabbi at Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, MN, when I was a young girl and also the director of Herzl Camp where I spent 6 summers as a camper, one summer as babysitter for the Dershowitzs’ children and one year as a counselor where I met my husband. Zvi and his wife Tova, of blessed memory, were more like additional beloved parents to me. At the end of the season when I was a counselor at Herzl Camp, Zvi, as he was known by everyone, took Ted aside and asked him what his intentions were in his relationship with me. At that time, I’m sure Ted was not thinking of future intentions, but Zvi wanted to make clear his feelings on the subject. In college, I wrote a paper for a psychology class on the relationship between Tova and Zvi. I decided that if I got a good grade, I’d give them a copy; luckily they did get a copy and have remembered that for many years. Besides talking with Zvi on the phone most weeks, we had the opportunity to spend a day with him on February 22, 2023, when we were in CA. Temple Sinai was planning to celebrate his 50th year with the synagogue on this coming April 15. Like Moses, he didn’t get to relish in the glory of his amazing accomplishments. As Rabbi Wolpe said in his eulogy, Rabbi Dershowitz was a gadol, a giant among rabbis. We also are blessed with exceptional rabbis at B’nai Israel and I hope you will cherish them as I have cherished my relationship with Zvi.  

The Third Day of the Omer, Saturday evening, April 8 (18th of Nisan)
Jill Gendelman, Librarian, B’nai Israel

In the time of Covid, so much has changed. Many people we know have lost friends and relatives, including us, some due to Covid, some not. My husband lost his father last August and I lost my mother This past August. It was tempting to wallow in my sorrow, wonderful things that took place in my life as well. One of my adult children moved home for 9 months and I got to spend more time with him then I probably had in the last 10 years, and that was a real joy. Because of the limited ability to travel, my youngest child went to Israel where she could quarantine and then participate in life there. 18+ months later she has made Aliyah and rediscovered her Jewish identity. My oldest daughter, who lives in DC, worked from home. For a change of environment, she worked at our home, in order to be with us. She also got married to her Bashert. Because we only met people in very small groups during Covid, we became much closer with several of our friends, having more quality time together. Everyone is now healthy, vaccinated and starting to enjoy a greater freedom than they had in the last 3 years. For all this and so much more, I am thankful. Wishing everyone a happy Pesach and a year filled with good health and joy! 

The Second Day of the Omer, Friday evening, April 7 (17th of Nisan)
Rabbi Mitchell Berkowitz

I often joke with Rebecca that the first thing I will do when I retire is delete my email address. (Yes, I know that retirement for me is decades away, but it is never too soon to start thinking about these things!) Email has become the most ubiquitous form of communication in the workplace, used to correspond with fellow B’nai Israel staff and clergy, colleagues in the field, and community members. In many ways, emails are an effective means of sharing information and connecting with others. I write to you when I have time, and you reply when you have time. But unwritten rules of email etiquette, tendencies to write in an email what could (or should) have been a phone call, and the sheer number that are exchanged each day make it such that my inbox really feels like Mitzrayim—it is a narrow, all-consuming place. It has the potential to drain my time, energy, and patience. If there was something from which I would like to be liberated, it would certainly be my email inbox! And yet the irony is not lost on me that you are most likely reading this very reflection in an email, which is the reminder that, when used effectively, email is a tool to share Torah, to exchange ideas, and to connect with one another. That is, of course, also the goal of the Passover sedarim, and one that I hope we all attain in the next few days. From my family to yours, hag kasher v’sameah!

The First Day of the Omer, Thursday evening, April 6 (16th of Nisan)
Anonymous

Pesach holds special meaning for me. Mitzrayim is symbolic. We all have a Mitzrayim, sometimes more than one. One of my biggest was my marriage. In the many years since I married, separated, divorced, began navigating coparenting, I’ve learned much. I am the survivor of intimate partner abuse. It left no visible scars, it is not illegal in the eyes of the government, it was still abuse. It was trauma. That is my Mitzrayim. The last few wandering years on my healing journey have been uncharted. With much fear, despair, sadness, pain. Many missteps, mistakes, heartache, feelings of losing and of being lost. As I journey towards Sinai, one of the things that motivates me to keep going along my path, and to own my voice and my strength is the others who are watching me. The kind guides who share their experiences with me, the other lost travelers I encounter who are taking the same journey either on my path or along the way, my child – who sees things that I don’t always realize they see. Like Moses and the children of Israel, I am being watched by my child. My actions matter to them, even when I don’t see or notice they are watching me. My child takes their cues from me most times. How do I address daily challenges, interpersonal challenges, work challenges, family challenges, doing what I don’t want to do challenges? Some days continuing on the convoluted path is too much of a struggle, so I stop to rest, before I press on – my child sees that too.

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784