Hadassah-Brandeis Institute

HBI By-the-Numbers: The Importance of Counting

June 3, 2022

By Terri Brown Preuss

calendarMy youngest daughter spent the last three months in Israel with her high school graduating class. While she had a wonderful experience, she was so ready to come home near the end of the trip that she was counting down the Shabbats until she was home. As we're in the period of counting the omer, I've wondered what it is about counting that resonates so strongly — just as I found my daughter's own counting so endearing. To learn more, I turned to the books.

The literal injunction to count the omer in the Torah relates to agricultural pursuits, as is so often the case:

Leviticus 23:15-16 states: (15) And from the day on which you bring the sheaf (Omer) of elevation offering — the day after the sabbath — you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: (16) you must count until the day after the seventh week — 50 days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs notes that as the holiday of Shavuot "became associated with the giving of the Torah, and not only with a celebration of agricultural bounty, the omer period began to symbolize the thematic link between Passover and Shavuot."

But still, why do we count the days? What is it about the act of counting that brings meaning?

There are several reasons, the most well-known being the anticipation of a beloved encounter (this one lines up with my daughter's counting). According to Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) 3:43: "Shavuot is the time of the Giving of the Torah. In order to honor and elevate this day we count the days from the previous festival until it [arrives], like someone who is waiting for a loved one to arrive, who counts the days by the hours" (emphasis added).

Other meaningful reasons to count the omer have come to include: making the most of every day, practicing mindfulness, and promoting personal and spiritual growth.

It was these last reasons that sparked an idea — along with counting the omer, HBI itself would count its contributions to Jewish gender studies to be mindful of its work, to promote more impactful growth, and along the way to share all of this with our social media community.

Taking a deep dive into the depth and breadth of HBI's work of the last 25 years has been a humbling and empowering experience. That said, the work must continue as the necessity to explore, understand, question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Judaism, women and gender is as great as ever

HBI by the numbers

1 — Organization, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute , was opened in 1997 to fill the gap in research about Jewish women's history, lives and culture.

2 — Cutting-edge scholarly series this semester: (1) Gender, Reproductive Rights and Jewish law: Israeli and American Perspectives (2-part series); and (2) Using New Criminal Laws Against Coercive Control to Combat Get Abuse: Lessons from the Field (3-part series)

3 — Now in its third year, the online HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series has engaged with over 5,000 people to explore Jewish women's lives through new and thought-provoking literary fiction, memoir and more.

4 – HBI's Scholars in Residence are the backbone of the Institute. Meet our four Spring 2022 Scholars: Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, Schechter Institute, Noya Rimalt, University of Haifa, Ayelet Brinn, University of Pennsylvania, and Miriam Udel, Emory University.

5 — HBI Research Awards make an impact on the world of Jewish literature. Five authors in this year’s HBI Silberman Conversations Series were supported by HBI Research Awards: Judy Batalion, Judy Bolton-Fasman, Marcia Falk, Carole Kessner, and Laura Arnold Leibman.

6 — Team HBI’s six colleagues have a depth of experience in promoting scholars and work at the intersection of Jewish studies and women’s and gender studies.

8 Studio Israel events to date — a look at Israeli culture and diversity through the lens of contemporary Israeli artists and creatives. In partnership with Jewish Arts Collaborative, The Vilna Shul, The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, with generous funding from CJP.

9 — Books in the Reuben/Rifkin Jewish Women Writers Series of works that embodied Jewish women’s experiences, speaking for many whose names and stories are now lost. Series editors: Elaine Reuben, Shulamit Reinharz, Gloria Jacobs.

10 — Books in the Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion, and Law (GCRL). This HBI series fosters dialogue about conflicts between women’s claims to gender equality and practices justified in terms of religious and cultural tradition.

11 Diane Markowicz Memorial Lectures on Gender and Human Rights. This Lecture Series, created in memory of Diane Markowicz by Sylvia Neil and her husband Dan Fischel, features internationally renowned scholars, judges and activists discussing ways of negotiating the tensions between gender equality and religious or cultural norms.

14 — For 14 years, the HBI Artist Program has provided artists whose work develops fresh ideas about Jews and gender the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Kniznick Gallery at Brandeis University. Artists are awarded funds, provided both a physical and online exhibition, and receive an accompanying printed exhibition catalog.

23 — HBI has granted an average of 23 Research Awards per year since 1998 enabling exciting, cutting-edge research on Jews and gender.

25 — For 25 years, HBI has emboldened those who seek to explore, understand, question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Jews and gender.

26 — HBI'S 26 Research Associates carry out projects that support the HBI's mission to explore, re-envision and develop fresh ideas about Jews and gender. They are provided academic oversight, access to HBI and the resources of Brandeis University.

38 — HBI has published 38 issues of "Nashim," an international, interdisciplinary academic journal — the only one of its kind — for innovative work being done in Jewish women’s and gender studies with articles on literature, text studies, anthropology, archeology, theology, contemporary thought, sociology, the arts and more.

42 — The HBI Series on Jewish Women publishes a wide range of books by and about Jewish women that fills major gaps in literature. There are 42 books in this series to date.

43 — HBI produced 43 programs this past year in pursuit of its mission to question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Judaism, women and gender.

49 — The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute awards grants to support research or artistic projects in Jewish women’s and gender studies across a range of disciplines. Research Awards are made to graduate students, early career, and established researchers. This year, HBI gave out 14 Research Awards totaling $49,000.

Terri Brown-PreussTerri Brown Preuss is the director of the HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series and the HBI Communications Coordinator.