By Jenn Goldstone and Sarah Waxman
Counting the Omer, the methodical daily ritual of counting the days between Passover and Shavuot, is a ritual that’s brimming with spiritual promise for today’s Jews. This year, At The Well set out to connect more people to the spiritual power of this practice.
Our tradition offers us deep wisdom about how to live healthy and whole lives. Our purpose at At The Well is to unlock that ancient wellness wisdom, and bring it forward to meet women in their daily lives. One of the Jewish practices we live and breathe is the practice of marking time. That means feeling the cadence of the lunar months, the seasons and their holidays, and the cycles of our bodies.
And every spring, our tradition maps for us a radical tool for syncing with time – Counting the Omer. Torah commands that we count to connect with the land and its agricultural changes. Kabbalists teach that we count to climb incrementally towards inner growth and holiness. We count up, reaching towards the 49th day, awaiting the birth of the Torah and intentionally cultivating health, wellness, and spiritual transformation along the way.
Powerful stuff, right? Since we believe in doing personal growth alongside others, team At The Well wondered what this personal daily practice would look like if we counted together, as a global community.
To answer this question in our grassroots style, we dreamt up an experiment. Picture this: we’d send a text for each day of the Omer. Invite our network to count with us from their phones. Ask our network to invite their sisters and mothers and friends to do the same. We’d embark on this journey individually and together.
Our small team got to work. We searched for a reliable text platform, one that would integrate with our CRM and would be essentially free for our nonprofit budget (aka no budget). We designed a landing page on our site to explain the project, and planned to market the campaign a few weeks before the Omer. We studied, translated and meticulously crafted 49 distinct text messages to correlate with every day’s Kabbalistic themes, and did our best to walk the line between our deep purpose and a playful, relatable style. We sprinkled emotive emojis and did our own spiritual work to reflect on each day’s Kabbalistic themes. By the time Nissan came around, we were ready.
We estimated that we’d reach approximately three hundred of our highest engaged network members – those amazing women who regularly tap into our resources for guiding their Well Circles or for enriching their wellness or birth work – and calculated that the texting service would be free, thanks to a $500 nonprofit starter credit.
What happened far exceeded our dreams. On the first day of the Omer, 500 people joined us to count. By the fifth day, 800 people were counting. By day ten, we were steadily reaching 1,000 people. On the 49th day, we culminated our count with 1200 people. People counted across the wide swath of religious denominations. People joined us via Whatsapp from Israel, India, Hong Kong, South Africa, Australia, Colombia, Peru, England, Germany, France, and Amsterdam.
We checked our text inbox and found messages from people who were showing up tell us how the Omer campaign was landing in their lives. “Just want to let you know that each of these messages 100% correlates with what’s going on in my life.” “Thanks again for this wise, phenomenally well-written gift.” “Love receiving these. This is my first time really counting the Omer.” “It is so grounding to have this deep wisdom come right to my hand every morning, been looking forward to my text everyday!”
As Shavuot came and our Omer experiment came to a close, we gathered key learnings for our small but vibrant team. First, there is energy and a hunger for marking Jewish time – individually, in groups and as a global community. In our post-campaign survey, we learned that over half of our counters had never counted the Omer before this year. 98% regularly thought about the ideas introduced, and 70% shared their learnings with friends and family. Most notably, 96% of the people want to keep counting time with us. At The Well is energized and situated to meet that spiritual need.
Second, we have an opportunity to create a self sustaining model. The overwhelming interest in our project blew our $500 free credit out the window. With 1200 people counting, the total cost of the texting tool reached $30 a day, plus the cost of staff capacity. In order to replicate and scale in the future, we now have a realistic sense of how to think about our strategy, our impact and our ask of potential donors.
Lastly, we are immensely thankful for the generations before us who have passed us the wisdom, whispered it into our ears, and handed us a tradition that has a powerful impact on our inner lives, our spiritual connection, and even the health of our bodies. In a time of deep disconnectedness and loneliness, looking to our ritual is healing and transformative. It’s right before our eyes, if only we knew what time it was in Jewish Time!
Jenn Goldstone is Board Chair and Sarah Waxman is Founder and Executive Director, At The Well.