The Omer Is For The Birds: Some Words for Lag b'Omer
Tonight is the 33rd day of the counting of the omer, which is 4 weeks and 5 days of the omer. The 33rd day is also called Lag B’Omer and you can read this good piece on Lag B'Omer by Francine Klagsbrun about this special day, a day that breaks out of the mournful overlay of the omer counting period, the sephira.
To break out, I thought I’d tell you about the birds. Kathryn and I have been counting the omer each night, during this period, for many years. We have used various books, online guides and reminders, poetry, and more. This year, we wanted something new. I asked, “What can be counted as 49 or 50 (since the omer count is 7 times 7, or 49 days, and the 50th is Shavuot)? “ Kathryn’s reply? “State poems.”
Well, have you ever read state poems? There are in fact not very many of them, and they are not very good.
Back to the drawing board, in this case the list of state symbols.
I love birds. I go to the Monastery in New Mexico every year because a beautiful blue bird flew across my path the first time I went there and I knew I had to return. Hawks swooping past our porch in the county have brought me to tears, and so can a blue heron any time I see one.
So we are counting state birds, one each night. After the blessing and the counting, we look at the pictures and read about each bird. Its colors and habits, eating, mating, nesting. Who helps make the nest? (Some male birds do and some don’t) Which birds repeat, are claimed by more than one state? (the cardinal, the blue bird, the mockingbird, and more). Some are distinct to their state: the pelican in Louisiana, the road runner in New Mexico. Some eat berries and nuts, some eat worms, one or two even eat smaller birds (!).
Something about this counting makes us smile every night, and move away for a moment from the day’s tensions, and learn something new, and connect to the wider world, which is after all inhabited by more creatures than just humans, and all created by God. What a wonder!
And in some way, isn’t that the point of the omer? To remind ourselves of wonder, as we draw closer to Sinai? If when my beloved is away, I count the days until her return, why not with my Beloved? I count the days until our encounter at that humble mountain.
A few years ago, Cantor Segal wrote this about her trip to Masada when in Israel with a group from her seminary: At the top we wandered about a bit, caught our breath, and found a great spot overlooking the Dead Sea, facing the quickly rising sun, where we set up for our Shaharit service. As we started praying and singing, a flock of little black birds alighted nearby on the stone walls of Masada. They sang and chirped...and prayed? on the wall above us from the moment we started to the moment we stopped. As soon as we were done, they flew off.
This year, we at Kolot Chayeinu are bringing in Shavuot on top of the high hill in Prospect Park, our highest point, standing in for Sinai. I have this little fantasy that all 50 state birds will surround us, accompanying us in prayer and study, and when we are done, flying off.
Happy Lag B’Omer.
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