I imagine our ancestors, on the other side of the Sea of Reeds. They watch the waters collapse on the Egyptian chariots and realize that their enemy has been utterly vanquished. They sing, they dance, they celebrate. They must’ve felt like the end of the story. As it says in the Haggadah, once we were slaves, and now we are free.
But of course, the story isn’t over. Yes, we were redeemed, but much to the chagrin of the Israelites, the journey had just begun. We continued to March toward the Promised Land and en route, we received the Torah. Thus, our ancestors learned that with freedom comes responsibility. Lots of responsibility.
Since the Second Passover seder, we’ve been counting the Omer every night. Well, maybe we don’t count it every night, but we are aware that the tradition teaches us to count 50 days from Passover, ending in Shavuot when we received the Torah. The omer (“sheaf”) is an old Biblical measure of the volume of grain.
Being Jewish is not a static experience. It requires study and learning. It requires certain rituals and observances. It demands that we maintain a sense of family. It requires that we work toward a sense of connectedness that spans generations as well as class and socioeconomic differences.
To imagine that Judaism can flourish by asking someone else to do our Jewish practice in our name cannot work. It reminds me of the scams I see in the back of various Jewish magazines or online for that matter. It goes something like this: “Send us money and we will say the Mourner’s Kaddish for your relative.” That’s simply not how it’s done. If one wants to remember and honor a deceased loved one, paying someone off to do it in one’s stead is absurd and has no place in a Judaism of integrity.
Sometimes Jews who do not belong to synagogues will send lots of donations to Chabad. The thinking goes, “I don’t really want to take the time to live a Jewish life. But those guys, they do all the Orthodox practice and they look so Jewish, they’re the ones that will keep Judaism alive.”
Not that this is a competition, but the fact is that Judaism, at least Judaism in America, will only survive if Jews like us: Reform Jews, postmodern Jews, stake a claim for our own Judaism. We must commit not to maintaining a Judaism of the past, but nurturing a Jewish life that is about right now and about tomorrow. Otherwise, we become like the practitioners of the Druze religion, which is so secret that most people who call themselves Druze don’t know what the religion stands for.
TBA offers a prodigious set of tools that can be utilized to build a Jewish life of meaning. We provide opportunities to participate in Jewish learning. We provide the opportunity to engage in acts of social justice. We provide ways to better understand modern Israel and our connection to it. We provide a path to insight into identifying and cultivating Jewish ethics. And all of this, most importantly, in the context of being a part of a community.
None of these tools can be used without community. It is the medium that nourishes and shapes who we are, what we’ve been, and what we can be. While I fully believe in the principle of virtual community and the power of social media, there is something so profoundly powerful and necessary about people gathering together, seeing each other, acknowledging that we are part of some meta-family, some collective that spans over time.
This Jewish juggernaut only works when people share a common sense of why being Jewish is worth something. Because if it’s really not worth much, then why bother? And that, of course, is one of my biggest fears-that not enough younger people and not enough parents and grandparents will acknowledge the unique treasures of living a Jewish life.
Counting the Omer is a good metaphor to remind us that there’s always more to be found. There are always reasons to celebrate. There is so much to be learned. And it’s all there for us in our community, to learn together, to truly be a blessed people.