As I write this article, we are in the midst of counting the S’firat Haomer. So often, we count down – the days to a birthday (especially for our children), the minutes until the half-time or the seconds before the launch of a rocket or when a new secular year begins. 10-9-8-7…. There are even apps on our phones that can count down for us.
But the S’firat Haomer – the seven weeks between the second day of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot – reminds us to instead “count up.” In our Jewish tradition, it is during the counting of the Omer when we move from the confined narrowness of Egypt towards the revelatory promise of Mt. Sinai.
In a year that has had so much counting-up and counting-down – days in quarantines, days until we could get the vaccine and then counting when our vaccines were most effective, days until our kids could go back to school – we have learned a thing or two about the meaning behind the counting. Each day matters. Each note and text message matters. Each letter of sidewalk chalk and homemade goodies matter. Each walk outside, as we witness the changing of the seasons, matters. This is a year of counting. We count the blessings in our lives. We count the ways that a loving community and grow and flourish. We count the ways that we have persevered and been resilient. Count up, as Rabbi Karyn Kedar writes, because all things are possible right in the palm of our hands – hands that extend out in kindness, hope, and love.
One of the things I’ve been counting this year has been books. During the pandemic, reading has helped to discover new ideas, challenge my internal thinking, transport me to new worlds (and get my travel-fix). Summer is the perfect time to escape into the pages of a book, to be challenged by new ideas, to imagine, and to reflect. We can also use the opportunity to deepen and enhance our Jewish learning.
In all the counting this summer – consider counting the pages of a book or two or three. Here are some of my suggestions for your summer reading. These books have given me new insights into my life and our world.
- Friendly Fire: How Israel Became Its Own Worst Enemy and Its Hope for the Future by Ami Ayalon. Former head of Shin Bet security agency, Ayalon shares a brutally honest assessment of what’s Israel must do to achieve peace.
- Caste: The Origins of our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson. If you don’t trust Oprah or the NY Times, please trust me…this is perhaps the most important book you could read all summer, especially in light of what’s happening in our country. Push through this book and learn from this extraordinary teacher.
- I Want You To Know We Are Still Here: A Post Holocaust Memoir by Esther Safran Foer. A deeply moving story about the author’s trip back to Ukraine to find the shtetel and a family that saved her father. It is also a deeply personal story of discovery and memory.
- Judaism for the World by Arthur Green – Engaging with the Hasidic masters and mystical traditions of Judaism, Rabbi Green gives a religious language of cultivating the Divine Spark in each person.
- Florence Adler Swims Forever: A Novel by Rachel Beanland. This is a perfect beach-read, even if you aren’t at the beach. Beautifully written, the book will make you smile as you read about the slightly dysfunctional Jewish family. A great escape!