(Beyond 48)

This particular Omer journey was designed to move from Oppression — a place where Pharaoh does not know his own past and Israel and God have ye to honeymoon — through learning more about oppression and liberation to Sinai. The goal was to “reach Sinai more able to hear divine values, serve God’s liberation work.”

I was reminded by my study partner, Amy Brookman, this afternoon that Martin Buber describes Sinai as a “lowly” kind of place — not unlike the thorn bush where Moses met God earlier in the Exodus story. We learn from this that humility is absolutely key in gaining anything from Sinai.

We learn, too, from the Sinai narrative that communicating (with God) is not a simple or straightforward matter. Moreover, I believe we learned on this journey that communicating about racism and related issues is difficult: To really learn anything new about oppression and how it works in general, and how it is affecting people today, means letting go of old (probably more comfortable) perspectives. And that means experiencing some sense of loss and pain.

Amy also shared a piece of Torah from Gilah Langner, “Revisiting the Ten Commandments” (From Kerem 13):

The midrash tells us: God sent along two angels to each and every Israelite, one to lay a hand upon the heart to keep body and soul together, and the other to lift up the head of each Israelite to behold God.

It’s a beautiful image, especially if you like angels. But set aside the
angels for a moment, and notice that the midrash is keying in on the life-and-death quality of Sinai.

Who Counts 50?

I suggest we take these these thoughts with us as we enter the holiday of Shavuot:

1) humility to hear,
2) the challenge of real communication, with associated loss and pain,
3) the life-and-death quality of this communication.

I’ll add, too, a commentary relayed to Fabrangen West by David Blumenstein this month: We are told both to count 50 days and to count seven full weeks. We carefully count the 49 days and seven weeks, but what about that last day? That, midrash [sorry citation missing], suggests is counted by God.

So I close this 49-day journey with a prayer:

May what we have learned so far on this 49-day/seven-week journey bring us to where we need to be, individually and collectively, so that God can count in that last day. And may the angels holding us up give us strength to risk serious communication, with one another and with God.



Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

We counted 48 on the evening of May 21. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-nine days which are seven weeks in the Omer.
Hayom tish’ah v-arba’im yom shehaym shiv’ah shavuot la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.


God expresses concern that divine communication with “break forth upon them [פֶּן-יִפְרֹץ בָּהֶם יְהוָה]” (Exodus 19:22).

Even the priests have to exercise caution lest “[THE NAME] break forth upon them [אֶל-יְהוָה–פֶּן-יִפְרָץ-בָּם] (Exodus 19:24).

When God has already “said” the Ten Commandments, THEN we learn 1) that the People perceived a jumble and want Moses to speak with God in their stead, and 2) that God “already spoke to you [plural] דִּבַּרְתִּי עִמָּכֶם.”

And all the people perceived the thunderings, and the lightnings, and the voice of the horn, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled, and stood afar off. And they said unto Moses: ‘Speak thou with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.’ And Moses said unto the people: ‘Fear not; for God is come to prove you, and that His fear may be before you, that ye sin not.’ And the people stood afar off; but Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. And the LORD said unto Moses: Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel: Ye yourselves have seen that I have talked with you from heaven.
— Exodus 20:14-18

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Enough, yet? (Beyond 47)

Singing Dayenu [“enough for us”] is a 1000-year old Passover tradition. The 15-stanza poem thanks G-d for 15 blessings bestowed upon the Jews in the Exodus. Had G-d only parted the seas for us, “It would have been enough” we say for each miracle or divine act, thus humbly appreciating the immensity of the gifts. KB Frazier’s reworking of the poem addresses us, rather than G-d. It calls us to greater action for justice, saying “lo dayenu” (it would not have been enough) in recognition of the work still unfinished.

1. If we had sparked a human rights revolution that would unite people all over the world and not followed our present day Nachshons as they help us part the sea of white supremacy and institutional racism
Lo Dayenu
….

10. If we had truly listened to the stories, pain and triumphs of our brothers and sisters of color without feeling the need to correct, erase or discredit them and did not recognize the Pharaohs of this generation
Lo Dayenu
11. If we had worked to dismantle the reigns of today’s Pharoahs and had not joined the new civil rights movement
Lo Dayenu
12. If we had marched, chanted, listened, learned and engaged in this new civil rights movement and not realized that this story is our story, including our people and requiring our full participation
Lo Dayenu
jfrej_blm_cropped13. If we had concluded that our work is not done, that the story is still being written, that now is still the moment to be involved and that we haven’t yet brought our gifts and talents to the Black Lives Matter movement
Lo Dayenu

— from the #BlackLivesMatter Haggadah Supplement, Jews For Racial and Economic Justice


We counted 47 on the evening of May 20. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-eight days which are six weeks and six days in the Omer.
Hayom shmonah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot veshishah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

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Reaping the Omer (Beyond 46)

In her book, The Other Talmud, Rabbi Judith Abrams notes that “Nowadays, we count the days of the Omer, but in the days of the Temple, they reaped the omer.”

Let’s give Shavuot the makeover it deserves….

We can transform the Omer counting from the dolorous business it’s become to what it probably was before: a countdown that gets more and more raucous the closer we get to the holiday….It could be a celebration of our history, from biblical times right up to the present.
— Abrams, The Other Talmud: the Yerushalmi, Unlocking the Secrets of the Talmud of Israel for Judaism Today. (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2012), pp. 159-160

These weeks of “Making the Omer Count” have offered thoughts and resources designed to widen our reaping during the omer and our perspectives as we approach Sinai for the giving of the Torah.

Oftentimes, on this journey that makes so clear how much work is still to be done to make the harvest equitable to all, I think rather irritably: Aren’t we there yet?

As we get closer and closer to Shavuot this year, however, I appreciate the vision Judith Abrams presents: A countdown that becomes more raucous with every voice added to it, streets wider and wider as more and more perspectives are added.

If you’re ready….

We counted 46 on the evening of May 19. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-seven days which are six weeks and five days in the Omer.
Hayom shiv’ah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot vechamishah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

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Malcolm X and the Power of Small Things (Beyond 45)

“The fame we get from fighting for the freedom of others creates a prison for us,” Malcolm X wrote in 1964 to Azizah al-Hibri, then a college student at the American University in Beirut. Their brief in-person connection and subsequent correspondence are still treasured by Dr. al-Hibri, now retired as chair of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, the international organization she founded. Moreover, the papers and their story illustrate some important things about leadership, race, gender, and media.

from correspondence between Dr. Azizah al-Hibri and Malcolm X

from correspondence between Dr. Azizah al-Hibri and Malcolm X

As president of the college debating society, al-Hibri arranged for Malcolm to speak on campus while he was touring and also had the opportunity to get to know him during his brief visit. A shared ice cream at the airport launched a correspondence between the two that continued until his death in February 1965. At his request, al-Hibri kept her correspondence private for over 40 years.

In 2012, al-Hibri released a few pieces of correspondence and donated other papers (still private for now) to America’s Islamic Heritage Museum. She said then, in a speech at DC’s Masjid Muhammad, that she wanted to ensure that Muslims are “proud” and “happy” about connections with the slain leader and to forge bonds between the African American Muslim community, with historical connections to the Nation of Islam, and what many call the “immigrant” Muslim community, with different historical roots.

Here’s more from the July 2012 East of the River Magazine story:

From his correspondence it is clear that he already suspected that his life and work were coming to an end. But he knew, even though al-Hibri didn’t yet, that her future as a leader was ahead of her.

It was unusual in 1964, for a woman to be president of an organization like the college debating society, al-Hibri notes. And she, like many women of that decade, had not yet envisioned for herself anything like her role today as professor of U.S. law and international human rights advocate. It was similarly odd to consider that women might be leaders of Islam. But Malcolm X saw beyond the confines of his time, says al-Hibri, pointing to words of encouragement – to her as a woman and a Muslim leader – inscribed in a book he gave her: “You have and are everything it takes to create a new world – leadership is needed among women as well as among men…”
full article here


The Power of Small Things

Of all the stories I covered for East of the River Magazine, this is one that sticks with me as most fascinating and important —

  • the young al-Hibri’s not knowing about U.S. racial dynamics, what her college dean meant about “airing the country’s dirty laundry”
  • al-Hibri’s struggle to reconcile the man she met with the picture she later saw portrayed in the U.S. media
  • the race-sensitive context of her later decision to share her experience, while keeping most of the correspondence private
  • Malcolm X’s interest in corresponding with someone outside the “prison” of his work
  • his recognition of the need for women leaders in politics and in Islam, before many saw it in 1964

I share this today, in honor of Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (born Malcolm Little, 5/19/25-2/21/65). I share it in recognition of the work of Dr. al-Hibri and KARAMAH — a small, powerful organization. I share it as a shout out to the too-little-known Americas Islamic Heritage Museum. And I share it to acknowledge the hard and complex work of overcoming racism between religious brothers and sisters.

Perhaps most importantly, I return to this story again and again as an example of the power of small interactions to shape our world.

We counted 45 on the evening of May 18. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-six days which are six weeks and four days in the Omer.
Hayom shishah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ve-arba’ah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.


Race and Religion

I am sure many readers are aware, as I am, of anti-racism, police-brutality protests in Israel as well as in the U.S. and of the shameful legacy there; not being Israeli or particularly closely connected with Israeli culture, I have chosen to leave that topic for the better informed. I do believe, however, that Muslims and Jews face similar issues and can learn from one another on these issues, even as problems BETWEEN communities persist.
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Range of Possibilities (Beyond 44)

1

“The media we consume has a profound impact on the range of possibilities we can imagine. Therefore, centering Black female narratives in our reading habits should be a central practice for anyone trying to envision a world in which Black Women are respected, honored, supported and loved.” — So writes Aaron Goggans in his post, #ILoveBlackWomen Day One: Read, and I gratefully accept the suggestion.

from Aaron Goggans' "Well Examined Life"

from Aaron Goggans’ “Well Examined Life”

Important in its own right, focusing on women seems also a good antidote to this week’s all-male Torah portion (Bamidbar [“in the wilderness”], Numbers 1:1-4:20), and to the masculine-centered Sinai narrative of the upcoming holiday of Shavuot. (In which “the people” are told “don’t go near a woman” [Ex 19:15].)

Deep as erasure, sexism, and misogyny has been for Jewish women and women in Western culture generally, Black women face, in addition, misogynoir. It is, therefore, as Aaron Goggans points out, particularly important to “intentionally consume art, music and literature created by and about Black Trans* Women, Black Women and Black Girls” to counteract this reality.

half-bloodMoreover, any life missing out on Black female voices is simply deprived. And so, in the spirit of #ILoveBlackWomen: READ, I share a few favorites:

Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues. NY: Picador, 2011.
An engaging novel which also offers a glimpse into some often-overlooked bits of history, including the experience of Afro-Germans and France’s “Rhineland Bastards,” following WWI and through WWII. (See U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum for historical background.)

Issa Rae, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Personal reflections — too young, at 30, IMO for a “memoir” — from the creator of the web comedy series by the same name as well as a number of other comedy projects. Rae reports taking out some first-draft material in deference to family feeling, but the result is still honest and insightful, and — like her video work — humorous without cruelty.

Sonia Sanchez, Morning Haiku. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010.
A collection of “haiku” in the sense of spare, powerful verses (not necessarily of the 5-7-5 pattern). Verses are written for varied individuals, from Emmett Till to Ras Baraka, Sarah Vaughn to Oprah Winfrey. See below for an excerpt from 21 Haiku for (Odetta).

A number of other authors, filmmakers, and other powerful Black female voices have been mentioned over the course of this Omer journey from oppression to Revelation. Here is a sampling:

Rain to the Desert

You asked: is there
no song that will
bring rain to this desert?
— Sonia Sanchez (see below)

Thanks, again, to “The Well Examined Life” for the reminder of how many songs, with how much potential to bring rain, we might miss without making a conscious effort to hear from Black trans women, women, and girls. Check out the blog for additional #ILoveBlackWomen activities.


We counted 44 on the evening of May 17. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-five days which are six weeks and three days in the Omer.
Hayom chamishah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ushloshah yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

Misogynoir
Although the concept is not new to me, the word is. For more on this term — meaning “how racism and anti-Blackness alter the experience of misogyny for Black women, specifically” — see Gradient Lair and Wikipedia.

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21 Haiku (for Odetta)
from Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku

1.
the sound of
your voice thundering out
of the earth

2.
a drum
beat summoning us
to prayer

3.
behold
the smell of
your breathing

4.
dilated
by politics
you dare to love

5.
You opened
up your throat
to travelers

6.
exhaled
Lead Belly on Saturday
nites and Sunday mornings

7.
your music asked
has your song a father
or a mother?

…10. You asked: is there
no song that will
bring rain to this desert?

[fuller version at Google Books]
RETURN

(Beyond 43)

Honestly, I’m pretty much with Murray here in this 12-second commentary on…all of it, from the 1965 film, A Thousand Clowns with Jason Robards:

But I also share this tentative — and therefore, I think, fitting and inspiring at this point — sing-along “prayer-eoke” for the opening lines of Psalm 121 —

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains: from where will my help come?
My help comes from HASHEM, who made heaven and earth.

We counted 43 on the evening of May 16. Tonight, we count….

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me:

Let’s work together, as we count the Omer, to make this Omer count.

Thoughts and sources welcome.

JourneyOmer

Share this graphic to encourage others to participate.

A Meditation

Aware that we are on a journey toward knowing God — from liberation to revelation — I undertake to know more today than I did yesterday about the workings of oppression.

I bless and count [full Hebrew blessings in feminine and masculine address]:

Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.

Today is forty-four days which are six weeks and two days in the Omer.
Hayom arba’ah v-arba’im yom shehaym shishah shavuot ushnay yamim la-omer.

In the spirit of the Exodus, I pray for the release of all whose bodies and spirits remain captive, and pledge my own hands to help effect that liberation.

Toward Harvest, part 1 (Beyond 41)

Originally posted during the Omer 2015. References to the exact date of the count have been removed or placed in {{}} to avoid confusion. Also note that Behar, the Torah portion including Jubilee instructions, is read on its own in leap years (like 2019).

The Jewish calendar places us in several different moments simultaneously. We are just over a week away from Shavuot, our re-experiencing of Sinai; but we are also Behar [at the mountain] already, as we close out the reading of Leviticus in the annual Torah cycle (Behar, Lev 25:1-26:2, & Bechukotai, Lev 26:3-27:34). We have counted {{number of}} weeks already, and we have ALSO counted {{number of}} days so far — We are commanded (Lev 23:15-16) to count both 50 days and “seven complete weeks.”

We are also, as Rabbi Joel Mosbacher notes in his commentary on this week’s Torah reading, at a precarious moment in history, as well as in the agricultural cycle:

And since these holidays are also connected with the agricultural cycle, the counting of the omer is a time of trepidation—these days of spring will determine whether we have an abundant harvest or not. Will the hard work of planting and tending come to fruition, or will it be wiped away by drought or pests? It is a time of both fear and anticipation….

As we count the years since the great [Civil Rights] movement [of the 1960s] in our own nation, we also wonder if the planting that was done in the civil rights era will come to fruition, if we will reap the harvest of our predecessors’ hard work. Americans are being crushed once again, with violence and economic and racial inequality. We have not yet achieved the magical, transcendent moment of Sinai.
— see “Free At Last?” from T’ruah: the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
See also “Jubilee (Beyond 37)

One theme of this omer journey toward Revelation has been working to ensure that we widen our perspectives so that we can absorb more this year at Sinai than we might have in the past. In yet another aspect to the Jewish calendar, we are coming up on Shabbat, a time to set aside worries, take a “breath,” and celebrate being. And, in the spirit of all of the above, I offer links to “Ackee and Saltfish.”

 from film,

from film, “Ackee and Saltfish”, well worth the £3 ($4.53 US). Watch it now.

Ackee and Saltfish is a short film and webseries that both celebrate precious, ordinary moments between friends and offer an entertaining commentary on issues of diversity and cultural appropriation.

While set in England, the series’ themes are familiar to U.S. viewers. This picture of dismay, as the friends find Olivia’s favorite Jamaican take-out lost to gentrification, might easily be set on Martin Luther King Avenue in DC’s Ward 8 and in other locales across the U.S., as well as in London. Justin Simien, director of Dear White People — a full-length film you should also (re-)see sometime — says on a recent episode of Exhale on Aspire that part of his work is to “debunk the belief that people of color can’t be the everyman.” Cecile Emeke, creator of “Ackee and Saltfish,” brilliantly participates in this work as well.

The first five web episodes, all short and entertaining, are available free of charge (though support is welcomed); the short film is available for small donation ($4.53 or £3).

Making the Omer Count

from On the Road to Knowing: A Journey Away from Oppression
A key element in the journey from liberation to revelation is understanding the workings of oppression, and our part in them. We cannot work effectively to end what we do not comprehend.

So this year, moving from Passover to Shavuot, I commit to learning more about how oppression works and how liberation is accomplished. I invite others to join me.