During the 49-day buildup from the second day of Passover to Shavuot known as the counting of the omer, Rachel Kosowsky has found meaning in listening to episodes of the podcast “Counting Towards Sinai.” In each five-minute episode, a female scholar explores an element of Jewish prayer, or tefillah.”
Kosowsky, who chairs the Tanach department at Berman Hebrew Academy, in Rockville, says she binge-listens to a few while doing laundry or cooking. “[I] have appreciated hearing the different voices of women giving insight into our tefillot,” she says.
She also recorded an episode of her own for the series. So did Baltimore educator Shira Hochheimer, the director of instructional technology for the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. Each shared their message with more than 1,500 listeners to promote personal growth at a time of global uncertainty.
Counting Towards Sinai was launched two years ago by the Orthodox Union as a conventional scholar-in-residence program. This year, Adina Shmidman, founding director of the OU Women’s Initiative, converted the program into a 49-day podcast series. Kosowsky and Hochheimer were scheduled for the original scholar-in-residence format, but eagerly agreed when Shmidman asked them to join the podcast.
For her episode (Day 29), Kosowsky selected the prayer Gevurot for its discussion of power and strength, or gevurah. “It seems that what God is modeling for us in terms of strength is the ethical use of power,” she says. “What’s being described is strength which is used to help people.”
Hochheimer and Kosowsky unpack their respective prayers phrase-by-phrase and infuse personal anecdotes and rabbinic commentaries into their episodes.
For Day 35, Hochheimer chose the prayer Al Hatzaddikim (About the Righteous) for its applicability to our present moment.
“Al Hatzaddikim speaks about our prayers for people who are holy, for people who have devoted themselves to the community,” she says. “The biggest impact [of the coronavirus] has really been on the elderly, our leadership, the people who have really given their lives to the community. What hat we can do for them is we can pray for them.”
Hochheimer says the podcast has affected her. “It has helped me out to focus on prayer in particular at this time to keep me in the flow that I’m moving toward something and that I’m infusing my day with something positive,” she says. “Teaching and learning Torah gives us a lot of energy that makes the day go better.”
Kosowsky hopes people will incorporate lessons from the episodes into their daily lives. “The goal of being reflective is to act in the best way possible,” she says.
For Shmidman, the omer period represents both a physical and mental journey from Egypt to Mount Sinai, with Jews readying themselves spiritually to relive the day their ancestors received the Torah. But while the podcast will end on Shavuot, which falls on Thursday at sunset, Shmidman’s podcasting projects will not.
These virtual programs have tremendous opportunity to connect with the technology that we have and to use that,” she says.
Both Kosowsky and Hochheimer say they’d be happy to contribute again. Says Hochheimer, “It’s just a very special gift to be able to teach and to be able to give to other people in the comfort of their own homes.”