How to Teach the Omer

Growing up, I never heard about the omer. I wasn’t aware of the ritual of counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot, or that there was a meaning to it beyond simply marking the time. And in many ways, I understand why it’s an often overlooked part of the arc of the Jewish year. It falls as the academic year comes to a close, and in between Passover exploration, the modern Yomim of Yom HaShoah, Yom HaZikaron, and Yom HaAtzmaut, graduations, Mother’s Day, and countless other important ways to use our precious teaching time, it makes sense that this practice isn’t necessarily front and center. After all, it can be seen as just counting, which may not be compelling, or as an esoteric, Kabbalistic ritual, which can be well beyond the scope of what we feel confident in talking about with our students. But, as someone who is committed to counting each day and reflecting on it, I of course am not advocating for taking the easy way out and skipping over this ritual.

Teaching the ritual of the omer gives us a chance to engage our students in an ongoing aspect of Jewish tradition and personal practice.

With that, here are my top picks for how to teach the omer to otherwise uninitiated learners:

  1. Middot - each week of the omer has its own theme, and each day within each week has a theme as well, meaning that for every day, we have a specific lens through which to reflect on ourselves and the world. It starts with hesed (lovingkindness) within hesed, and stretches through 49 different iterations. Each time you see your students, whether it’s daily, weekly, monthly, or at random intervals, take a moment to have them contemplate the sefirot of the day. How can they be integrated into your lessons? Or into their lives?

  2. Art - speaking from personal experience, if you go on Pinterest and search for omer counters, what comes up is a preponderance of Advent-related posts. While there are some beautiful options out there, both omer-specific and that can be made applicable, I highly encourage you to work with your students at any age/stage to make counters that reflect the messages they’re drawing from the ritual, and the time of year.

  3. Time - there’s definitely something to be said for taking literally just one minute out of every day to pause, reflect, and repeat. Building a habit around this, for any reason, is a good thing, so why not make it an omer thing? There are countless options out there for alarms, apps, reminders, daily emails and texts, to keep omer counters on track. Share them with your students, and reflect on what it feels like to be held accountable to a daily ritual.

  4. Bringing it Home - unlike many Jewish rituals, the omer can easily be a solitary pursuit. It doesn’t require a minyan to count, or any special objects, or even massive know-how. The blessing is said every day after sunset, when most people are either at home, or with their personal communities, or otherwise going about their lives. What does it mean for our learners to bring Judaism into their home? To have it be something they do wherever they are, regardless of whether or not it’s a ‘Jewish’ space?

Do you teach the omer? How do you integrate it into your practice, either individually or as an educator?

Please share any tips in the comments below, and don’t forget to follow along with my Omer Challenge on Instagram @Sam_Vinokor!