Omer Day Thirty-Four
This day got counted on an airplane last night, somewhere in the sky between Queens and Milwaukee, where I came to visit Mom and celebrate her birthday with her today. Happy Birthday, Ma! We're planning a drive up to Madison for lunch and then back in Milwaukee for dinner tonight. The day is beautiful, lots of sunshine, and Lake Michigan looks glorious. I love this city.
So as I counted out the 34th day of the Omer last night, just after my daily re-read of a chapter of Pirke Avot (we're in the fifth week, for those folks engaging in this practice) I realized how NOT into numbers and gematria I am. Chapter five of Pirke Avot is a collection of the Sages' lists--tens, sevens, fours, threes--and while there certainly is an order to the material, there's just no meat on those bones for yours truly. And it had me reflecting on the process of counting in general, what it's meant to me this year, when, for a variety of reasons, I am so cognizant of what it means to count our days.
There's family members' health; there's the steady number of cancer diagnoses inside our community; with 50% growth in our membership the last four years, there's actually a similar increase in the number of burials I'm doing (I figured this out without Google analytics, by the way). On the bright side, there are more bnai mitzvahs, more baby namings, more brises, more weddings and anniversaries--all sources of tremendous meaning and joy. But the numbers don't mean anything to me. In fact, the numbers, to a degree, feel like a guilty pleasure at best or an odd neurosis at worst.
I remember once sitting at a conference of leaders in the revitalization of the synagogue in North America and one young man was talking about his innovative techniques in reaching the holy grail of Jewish life--Jews in their twenties and thirties. "We've seen an increase in participation in our Friday night services of 12% the first year and then 15% the second year. The growth is very exciting." When I asked him how many people that represents he said, "Three."
That IS exciting!
Three are the Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Four are the Mothers, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. And?
Someone recently suggested that I install Google Analytics to see how many people read this blog, what browsers they come from, how long they stay, and what continents they're sitting in when they decide to read my words. I found out some very interesting information. Most of my daily readers of 90-100 people are from North America and stay for an average of 1:04 minutes. This month my readership increased by 5.26%. Canada, the UK, South America, the Netherlands, Germany. A few read me from Israel. I have a couple readers in Finland, apparently. When there's an argument about Israel in the blog, there are more readers. Some days 40 people read me. Other days it's 136.
Every month a new study comes out in the Jewish community, hopelessly obsessed with numbers, the new idol of Jewish life that I'd like to encourage the aspiring Abrahams out there to wield a moral hammer against and take some pleasure in breaking. To the best of my knowledge, we are obsessed with numbers for three reasons.
One: Some of the philanthropists who support Jewish life come from a business background and they're used to using numbers as a tool for charting investment, accountability, success and failure. No problem there--it's their money. I'm not convinced, however, that human progress (and certainly Jewish progress) can be charted statistically. We're more than three thousand years and running at not yet perfecting our observance of the TEN commandments. So before we get all statistically nutty, let's just count to TEN without tripping all over ourselves.
Two: It's the digital age. Everything can be reduced to its numerical essence. Really? Have sex, make a baby, change a diaper. Then get back to me on that. Rosa Parks represented a 100% increase in the number of Black women willing to be arrested for riding the front of the bus. I'm sure she was aware of that when she looked in the mirror that morning to fix her gaze on the moral choice she was making.
Three: Numbers lie, even when they're telling the truth. They create illusions--illusions of failure and illusions of success. If I need to explain this to you, then you need to go outside, lay in the grass, stare at the sky for one hour, and report back to me. And God willing, you'll lose track of time when you go do that.
I gotta go--it's Mom's birthday. I lost track of how old she is but that's not what we're celebrating. It's that she's here that's the source of joy.