Jews customarily count the Omer during the seven weeks between the second day of Passover and the beginning of Shavuot, a process dating back to when ancient Israelites would offer an omer (an ancient Hebrew measure of grain) as a Temple sacrifice before consuming any of their crop. (Lev. 23:9-11, 15-16). After the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., Jews began reciting a blessing for each of these 49 nights instead, but for some Jews today, this process may seem outdated or cumbersome.
However, like every aspect of Judaism, there is an esoteric mystical component of counting the Omer that can deeply inspire Jews today. According to Rabbi Daniel Syme, Jewish mystics “[see] the period as joining the Jewish people's physical (Pesach) and spiritual (Shavuot) redemption.” Shari Berkowitz and Steve Silbert embraced this mystical component by creating Color the Omer, a coloring book filled with illustrations and Jewish wisdom designed to engage Jews during this period with mindfulness and artistic expression.
Shari, Steve, and editor Rabbi Rachel Barenblat spoke with us about their new release and what they hope readers can glean from it this season.
ReformJudaism.org: Where did the idea for this book come from?
Shari Berkowitz: When the pandemic started, I took an online mysticism class with my rabbi, David Markus, and learned about counting the Omer as a spiritual practice. It was hard to keep track of time, and I needed a way to settle my mind, so I printed a grid of Stars of David and started coloring one section a night. That's where I got the idea for an Omer coloring book.
I brought the idea to Bayit and am grateful that they took on the project. Working together with Rabbi Barenblat and Steve to connect deep text and creative visuals has helped all of us to learn and innovate Judaically.
What can people expect from this book?
Berkowitz: The combination of a focused prompt and accompanying image that pushes creativity will help the colorer connect with the ideas around the Omer in ways that are meaningful to them. The book explains how to count and offers 49 visual and textual prompts, and some of the drawings have 49 elements, like the fish swimming in the Sea of Reeds.
We hope each colorer will find meaning and beauty as they co-create each illustrated page with us by bringing it to life.
What are the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of counting the Omer?
Rabbi Rachel Barenblat: Contemplative coloring is an increasingly popular mindfulness practice, with good reason. Bringing color to a page can focus the mind, calm the heart, and bring joy to the soul. We've paired each illustration with kavanot (intentions/questions/thoughts) so that the colorer reflects on a spiritual question that will enrich their Omer journey.
From your perspective, how do self-care and Judaism intersect as a whole?
Steve Silbert: Much like keeping Shabbat is a deep form of self-care, hiddur mitzvah (beautifying a mitzvah) is another. Through contemplative coloring, we hope to bring a taste of Shabbat-like calm to each day of the Omer, and through making each page beautiful, we can practice hiddur mitzvah every day. And if any colorer turns this into a self-care practice that extends beyond the Omer, we will be very happy indeed!
How can this book serve and empower people, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Silbert: Isolation is a real challenge during this second pandemic spring. We hope that Color the Omer helps bring stability and comfort to those feeling isolated by establishing an engaging framework for study, introspection, and creativity.
We invite users to share their colored-in pages on social media with #ColorTheOmer and comment on each other’s work in the hope that we can build and deepen connectivity with each other.
What else do you want readers to know?
Silbert: Shari and I would like to thank Rabbi Barenblat for her editorial skills, but more importantly, for being a great partner in forming and re-forming ideas and visuals. We’re very excited to share this labor of our love of Judaism out in the world! We have ideas for other multimodal projects to bring to life and are already refining them.