Southern & Jewish
Southern & Jewish celebrates the stories, people, and experiences – past and present – of Jewish life in the American South. Hosted by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, posts come from educators, students, rabbis, parents, artists, and many other “visitors-to and daily-livers-of” the Southern Jewish experience. From road trips to recipes to reflections, we’ll explore a little bit of everything – well, at least all things Southern and/or Jewish. Shalom, y’all!
Counting is a big part of our lives. We count the hours, the days, the months, or years, always counting down to the next thing: a deadline, a vacation, a celebration, or a new stage in life. It is easy to get wrapped up in constantly looking ahead at the next thing and forget to focus on our accomplishments and the milestones we hit along the way.
In Jewish tradition, the counting of the omer is not a count down, but rather a count up. We build in excitement and energy the closer we get to the receiving of the Ten Commandments and as our energy builds so does the size of the number we count. We are still marking each day, but as a successful step towards our goal.
Every year during Passover we begin the count of the omer. We count up to 49 days, when we reach Shavuot. We count these days, remembering the time between leaving Egypt and receiving the Ten Commandments. Because of this commemoration of the Israelites wandering in the desert and many tragedies occurring during this time, the time of the omer is somber. Traditionally, people do not cut their hair, hold big celebrations, or get married until the count is complete. However, Lag Ba’Omer marks a point of partial completion during the counting. It is the 33rd day of the omer and is celebrated as a day to give a child their first haircut, get married, and just take a break from mourning.
The mark of partial completion often falls during a very timely point in the academic year for religious schools, especially in the South, as it is the end of the school year. Each year we celebrate being done with our learning and ready for summer. In Judaism, we teach that our learning is never over. We are encouraged to study Torah, engage in Jewish texts, and question from an early age until we physically or mentally can no longer do so. We think of the end of the school year as an end, but in reality it is just a partial completion. We come back to our education. We return time and time again.
Partial completion can be a moment of celebration. If we focus only on the far future, it might be difficult to stick it out for the long haul. Judaism perfectly embodies this realization by providing holidays such as Lag Ba’Omer. In school we celebrate partial completions through graduations from preschool, elementary school, middle school, confirmation (as pictured, my own midway-through-secular-high Jewish milestone!) high school and beyond. Each year we may also award perfect attendance, top math student, and more. Celebrations of accomplishments keep spirits up and encourage further learning.
As school years come to an end and Lag Ba’Omer arrives we can celebrate the partial completion of our education and the partial completion of working toward Shavuot. Each step in our journey, the hard ones and the easy ones, are worth celebrating as a step we have taken. Rather than focus on what is left still, we can celebrate these partial completions, each little milestone and year. We can celebrate the end of the school year and still look forward to the many years of Jewish learning to come.