Tikvat Israel counts on the ‘omer’ to stimulate spirituality

Tikvat Israel’s Rabbi Ben Shull



Tikvat Israel Congregation in Rockville is marking the omer period between Pesach and Shavuot with a series of spiritual, dance and music workshops.

“We are hoping take people on a journey that will touch their mind, body and soul,” says Rabbi Benjamin Shull. “We want to demonstrate that Judaism encourages us to integrate all three elements of our being in order to be a whole person, prepared to receive God’s Torah on Shavuot.”

The Conservative synagogue has planned 12 activities over the 49 days of the omer period, “incorporating holiday themes [Israel Independence Day, Lag B’Omer], and activities for the whole family, including family yoga and Jewish healing [exercises],” Shull says.

Shull hopes his metaphysical approach to counting the omer will enliven the practice at Tikvat Israel. “It will offer a new perspective on the traditional counting and mourning aspects of the omer,” he says.


The omer period came into being because the Torah commands Jews to count seven complete weeks from the second night of Passover. The 50th day is Shavuot. The days in between are an opportunity for self-discovery, the mending of broken souls and the opportunity to make changes in everyday life, according to Shull. The counting is a link between the Exodus story and Shavuot, the giving of the Torah.

“We want to emphasize the importance of commitment over the course of the omer [and the] commitment to attending to your own spiritual needs and commitment to attending to the material needs of others,” the rabbi says. “This echoes the words of the Rabbi Israel Salanter who said that we should be more worried about our soul and the stomach of others rather than visa versa.”

Salanter is considered the father of the Musar movement that developed in 19th century Eastern Europe, particularly among Lithuanian Jews. The Hebrew term “musar” means instruction, discipline or conduct.

“I’m new to the congregation, so I’m trying to get a sense of the community,” says Shull, who came to Tikvat Israel last summer. “There are number of artists in the area with a Jewish perspective, as well as people who are involved in meditation.

There has been a growing sense in the Conservative movement to [apply] the ideas of meditation and movement.”
Rabbi Shull believes that the synagogue should serve as a “spiritual Home Depot” by providing all congregants tools and information to build their own Jewish homes.

“My sense is that the congregation [could use] various modalities — in song and music,” he adds.
Among the events the congregation has scheduled are:

The Judische Kulturbund Project: Art and Resiliency of the Human Spirit to be held on May 5 — Yom HaShoah — at 7:30 p.m. will feature a slide presentation of Jewish artists and musicians who responded to Nazi Germany oppression through their art. Shull says the program will demonstrate that one can overcome great adversity.

Rabbi Simkha Weintraub, rabbinic director Board of Family and Children’s Services in New York, will speak on “Jewish Tradition and Healing” at 7:30 p.m. on May 9. Weintraub will emphasize body and soul as a “way of reaching out, reaching up, within the journey of Jewish healing,” Shull says.

Moving Our Feet: Israeli Dance is scheduled for May 12 at 6:30 p.m. to coincide with Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). Participants will be for all ages. The program will include a performance by the teen dance troupe Yesodot.

Stacy Lang, a licensed social worker and specialist,  will be leading the workshop entitled “Restoring Hope: Coping with Loss.”  The “Work of Our Hands” session will be lead by Shirley Waxman and Bobbi Gorban.  This is a series of art projects for adults and children 10 and older on May 22. Activities will run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and will include knitting, collage, quilting, felting, and wire-and-bead-kippot and embroidery.

The Rhythm of Life: A Drumming Circle, scheduled for May 26 at 7:30 p.m., will “connect Jewish songs from the Psalms and Torah,” the rabbi says, and will be led by Josh Milner, a prayer leader at Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue.

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