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Counting Up: A Jewish Spin on "The Countdown"
By Gabi Cohn, ISJL Education Fellow
We all start to feel it as the school year drags on and on. Students and teachers alike begin to count down the days until it is over.
“Just six more Sundays,” we may find ourselves muttering as we hear our early alarm on Sunday morning.
But what would happen if instead of counting down the sessions, looking at the end of the year as the goal, we count up, celebrating each session as a success?
After Passover it can be hard to avoid focusing on a countdown and, coincidentally, at the second night seder we begin counting the Omer. The Omer is the period between Passover and Shavu-ot. During this time, the Ancient Israelites are free from Egypt, but do not yet have the Torah in their possession; they wander the desert trying to find the Promised Land. On Shavu-ot we celebrate receiving the Torah. This moment is so special that, rather than a countdown of the days until it happens, we count up. We even celebrate in the middle of the counting because we have successfully gotten so far. On the 33rd day of the Omer we celebrate Lag b’Omer.
In Judaism, we find that when counting the days to a special event we count up rather than counting down, celebrating each day as a completion and success towards the long term goal. What would it look like if we did the same for religious school?
Rather than saying, “At least there are only four more Sundays left,” we said, “Wow! We have already had 25 Sundays this year!” Each one of those sessions taught the children something new and helped to build their Jewish identity. While the work we do may feel exhausting, if we focus on what has been done so far, it can also be quite rewarding. The celebration of each session, not on the fact that it is over, but the fact that we had the opportunity to experience it, can help to make the last several sessions of the school year easier to get through.
An omer is not simply one of the days in the counting of the Omer, rather it is a unit of measurement. The counting came about because Passover is the beginning of the harvesting season for grain, and during biblical times the Israelites brought an omer of grain to the Temple as an offering each day. In current measurements, an omer is close to the amount of four liters. To help us count up to the end of the school year, rather than count down, we can work to focus on all our accomplishments and what we (teachers and students alike) learn each session.
We can create a system similar to a fundraising thermometer, adding something new as we get closer. One fun way to challenge students and teachers is to try and collect a whole omer of things they have learned this year. If you have a small school, you can do this activity using popsicle sticks and have people write what they learned on the popsicle stick. If you have a larger school, you can use pieces of paper to write on so it takes the appropriate amount of time. Challenge the school to find an omer of information, and celebrate the success of reaching a goal. Each step is important and deserves celebration.
So this year, rather than counting down after Passover, try and follow the traditions of the Omer and count up!