“Today is 8 days of the Omer”
Part of my husband’s legacy is that I remember to count the Omer starting from the second day of Pesach until Shavuot. I didn’t always remember to fulfill this mitzvah when he was alive, but now I do my best to continue what was important to him, and what has become important for me – to count, and to remember. I find it comforting.
After counting, my brother phoned. Sunday evening phone calls are generally from my brother in New York. It’s our weekly connection, keeping up with the latest developments among our tribes, and an opportunity to chew over current events. Between family news and global news, I hear my mother’s admonishing tone dating back some sixty years, “Hang up already; it costs a fortune!”
My mother would be surprised to know that I don’t “hang up” anymore; I swipe a finger over my smartphone. She would surely be pleased to know that overseas and intercity phone calls are no longer prohibitively expensive. Today an overseas call costs less than the price of a local phone call did over half a century ago. Well, maybe not less, but not significantly more.
We talked for ten minutes, twenty minutes, maybe half an hour. It’s no longer a matter of dollars and cents, so it doesn’t matter how long we spoke. What counts is content, issues that grow more worrisome each week. Another violent attack on Jews; another synagogue shooting; another group of anti-Israel, BDS, or self-hating Jews pelting away at Israel. And then the rockets. Hundreds of rockets fired from Gaza that exploded in Israel, wounding 150 and killing four Israelis.
“Didn’t they see the handwriting on the wall?” An old question commonly asked of Europe’s Jews during and after World War II.
“Does the handwriting have to be on a wall to be ominous?” I asked my brother. “Don’t you think a finger blown off a rabbi’s hand so that he can’t point to what is written on the wall signals the same timely concern?”
Dark days seem to loom ahead, yet there is plenty of blue/white color that appears on the horizon, particularly in Israel. And it’s that time of year again, time to remember, and time to tell the story. Time to give thanks. Nissan, the month of redemption, of deliverance from Egyptian slavery thousands of years ago, celebrated every year in the spring, on Pesach.
In between Nissan’s celebrations of freedom and Iyar’s celebration of Israel’s Independence Day, we observe Holocaust Remembrance Day, when we memorialize the murder of six million Jews, the destruction of European Jewry and their communities across Europe. Unlike past years, today every survivor is a hero.
“Today is 11 days of the Omer”
Shopping for Shabbat in the supermarket on Holocaust Memorial Day, I faced huge bins overflowing with beautiful Israeli tomatoes and cucumbers, cabbage and squash, watermelon and grapes. Re-stocking after Pesach, I bumped into Bracha, an old friend and neighbor. After initial greetings, Bracha and I discussed the overwhelming events of the day while filling our shopping carts with top quality Israeli produce, a sign that, “tova haaretz meod” – the Land is very good.
“Why are Holocaust stories seemingly more intense, more tragic this year than other years? Is it because we are aging, getting older, maybe more sensitive?” I asked Bracha.
“Aging?” An elderly stranger filling her cart with bags of fruits and vegetables chimed in.
“You don’t look so old. Do you feel old?”
So now there were three of us discussing the overpowering tragic events of the day, the tales voiced by aging Holocaust survivors, until another stranger joined the conversation.
“Today’s survivors were infants and children, or young adults when tragedy struck. Their heart rending stories are on our screens, our smartphones, on social media,” he added.
Bracha explained that we have a greater understanding of the terrible events of World War II. “Survivors are telling their stories, survivors are filming their stories, sharing their tragic past – something earlier survivors did not do.”
Holocaust tales cause heartbeats to race, pounding away into the month of Iyar, directly into another memorial day, Yom Hazikaron, this time for Israel’s fallen soldiers on battle fields, and for citizens at bus stops, on roads, and in shops, killed in terrorist attacks. The tears flow easily through the night and on to Remembrance Day.
“Today is 18 days of the Omer”
I remember a ride I shared with a few yeshiva boys in a cab after a flight from Chicago to New York. It was before Pesach, shortly after the Gulf War. American soldiers were returning home from the front. There were flags hanging on every doorpost, in front of every shul and beis medrash in Brooklyn, and yellow ribbons were tied around trees along the route. Tiny American flags were pinned to lapels worn as identification with America. Jews in Orthodox neighborhoods were so proud of America, so proud to be American.
I asked the fellow sitting behind me in the cab, “If you lived in England or France and the same victory had taken place would you hang a British or French flag from your window?”
“Of course!” He answered.
“And in Holland? Would you hang a Dutch flag?”
“And what if you lived in Germany?”
He thought a moment before he answered, “Yes, in Germany too!”
“And what if you lived in Israel? Would you hang an Israeli flag?”
“Absolutely NOT! Never! Israel is a Medina shel Gehennom!”
After counting the Omer on the eve of Israel’s Yom Hazikaron, I stepped out onto my softly lit balcony to hang the blue and white Israeli flag.
I phoned my brother and asked, “Did you ever notice the small flat stone on the ground next to Poppa’s kever on Har Hamenuchot?”
I reminded my brother that it is the kever of an Israeli soldier, Nachman Goldman, who died in 1954 and was buried on Har Hamenuchot.
I often wonder why my father, mother, and grandfather are buried on the plot adjacent to this soldier. Who was Nachman Goldman ben Yechezkel and Tzipah? Seeking an answer, my son discovered that Nachman Goldman was a young man, orphaned, and brought up in the Diskin Orphanage in Jerusalem. The name Goldman is that of Chassidut Zvhill, a long line of holy Rebbe’s, members of this soldier’s family. The Zvhiller Rebbe eulogized Nachman in 1954. When the two minute siren sounded on Yom Hazikaron, I remembered Nachman ben Yechezkel and Tzipah and said a perek of Tehillim in his memory.
“Today is 19 days of the Omer”
It is Yom Haatzmaut, a national day of celebration, Israel’s 71st birthday, and a happy, exciting day for Jews in Israel. It’s a holiday without any restrictions, and no particular mitzvot to be performed, except for what is always a mitzvah: to thank Hashem for His graciousness; to thank Him for returning us to our Land.
On the 33rd day of the Omer, Lag B’Omer, tens of thousands will rejoice at the kever of Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron, as well as all over Israel, lighting campfires and barbecues, celebrating the day when the plague of death ceased for Rabi Akiva’s students.
As a youngster, the period from Pesach to Shavuot always seemed long, and sad. No weddings, no celebrations, no music, no haircuts, except for a one-day break on Lag B’Omer. Yet today, more light and joy seeps in throughout this period, and beckons us to rejoice on other days too.
I look forward to counting forty-three days. Yom Yerushalayim, the day on which Hashem wrought miracles for us, a historical day, gifted to us fifty-two years ago. History evolves slowly. Miracles are not always visible, and some choose to shut down, to ignore, refusing to accept an extraordinary happening. Acknowledging the miracles showered upon us by the Almighty during the Six-Day War is like perceiving a bright light that casts off dark shadows as we count and climb that spiritual ladder, preparing for forty-nine days of the Omer.
The Ramban’s vision of the Omer period (Vayikra 23:36) upheld 49 days of chol hamoed, approaching the fiftieth day, when all of Israel will be ready to receive the Torah once again. Surely that day of ultimate joy will happen. May it be in our lifetime.