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Saturday, April 20, 2024

How My Jewish Co-op Counted the Omer… with Cheesecake M&Ms



A few pink and white M&Ms, plus one pastel yellow one, scattered on a napkin.

Photograph by theimpulsivebuy, Flickr Artistic Commons



At the start of 2021, I used to be dwelling by means of a really unusual time in Washington, D.C. The COVID-19 pandemic was nonetheless raging. On January 6, I used to be despatched residence early from work and watched the horrifying assault on the Capitol play out only a few Metro stops away. By Could, D.C. residents had been instructed to anticipate one other apocalyptic occasion: the emergence of Brood X, a chirruping swarm of cicadas that blankets the area as soon as each seventeen years, paying homage to a biblical plague.

Throughout this tumultuous time, I used to be fortunate sufficient to stay in a neighborhood grounded by deep friendship and a need for non secular exploration. As a member of the Avodah Jewish Service Corps, I lived in a Jewish co-op with ten current school graduates. We had been all dedicated to anti-poverty and social justice work, plus constructing pluralistic Jewish communities.

Setting up our personal pluralistic family may very well be difficult as a result of we got here from various Jewish backgrounds. We had housemates who didn’t drive, prepare dinner meals, or spend cash on Shabbat. We had housemates who watched The Bachelor on Friday nights and ordered pork dumplings for dinner. We had a particular “kosher caucus” chargeable for conserving monitor of the ritual standing of our kitchenware. (I as soon as acquired a textual content that merely learn “non-kosher sponge alert!” with flashing pink siren emojis.) We taught one another the prayers, songs, and recipes that signified Jewishness in our households and residential communities. My favourite a part of dwelling on this Jewish co-op was the openness to each honoring and experimenting with our traditions.


A group of six young adults around a wooden kitchen table, some holding up plates of food.
My housemates on the Jeish co-op


Photograph by Francesca Rubinson



A young woman leans over a table, forming a piece of dough on a cutting board. She looks up at the camera, smiling.
And me!


Photograph by Francesca Rubinson


So within the spring of 2021, I used to be excited to have interaction in a Jewish observe that was new to me with my housemates’ help: counting the omer. The omer refers back to the forty-nine-day interval between the start of Passover and the vacation Shavuot, which commemorates the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai. The Hebrew phrase omer actually means “sheaf” of grain. Within the historical world, this time interval was related to the barley harvest and grain sacrifices on the Temple. Rabbinic Judaism retained the observe of reciting a particular omer prayer for forty-nine days. Counting the omer reminds us of the time it takes to maneuver from oppression to liberation, Egypt to Sinai.

A few of my housemates grew up counting the omer yearly, however my Reform Jewish household had by no means executed so. My housemates and I created a poster with the omer blessing written in Hebrew, English, and transliteration. We had been decided to say the blessing each night time after dinner for seven weeks.

After which one thing surprising occurred.

As we started to depend the omer, we acquired an odd grocery merchandise in our Instacart order. As a substitute of the big bag of M&Ms we had requested—somewhat deal with to get our distant staff by means of the day—the standard chocolate M&Ms had been changed with another: white chocolate, cheesecake-flavored M&Ms. I’m fairly certain they had been unsold merchandise left over from Valentine’s Day, and it was clear why. After we cracked open the bag curiously, we discovered the cheesecake M&Ms had been… disgusting. They had been dense and cloying with a chemical aftertaste. And we had a big bag of them, taunting us from the kitchen desk.

Then my housemate Charlie had an concept. Within the night, after we gathered to depend the omer, Charlie positioned a cheesecake M&M in every of our fingers. We laughed and made jokes about how Shavuot, the vacation we had been counting towards, is related to dairy meals in Ashkenazi communities. In reality, many Jews make cheese blintzes and even cheesecake to have fun the vacation! So, after we counted the omer, we choked the gross M&Ms down.

In some way, this tongue-in-cheek ritual of consuming a cheesecake M&M after we stated the omer blessing deepened and enriched my observe. The gargantuan bag on the kitchen desk reminded us to say our nightly prayer. It injected a notice of humor and modernity right into a rote recitation of Hebrew. May my ancestors have ever imagined that I’d mark the time between Passover and Shavuot by consuming a chocolate sweet, making an attempt and failing to style like cheesecake? Most likely not. However would they be proud that I used to be fascinated with the omer for the primary time in my life, reflecting on the gap between exodus and revelation, because the metallic aftertaste hit my tongue? I hoped so.

Within the spring of 2021, my housemates and I counted the omer all the best way to forty-nine days—and we completed the bag of M&Ms alongside the best way. The expertise will at all times remind me of the messiness, playfulness, and great thing about co-created ritual. What we style, prepare dinner, and create collectively opens new horizons in non secular life and has the ability to remodel and reinvigorate conventional practices.

Francesca Rubinson is a pupil at Harvard Divinity College, pursuing a Grasp of Divinity, an Avodah Jewish Service Corps member alumna, and a Tufts College graduate with levels in political science and faith. She is enterested in Jewish research, interfaith chaplaincy, and intersections of religion communities and social justice work.



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