Forty Second Day of the Omer
“Streshin, a typical shtetl in Belarus, supported at least 15 charitable organisations. There was a Hevrei K’disha (burial society). The Shomrim society would provide guards to stay with the body from death to burial. The Hevrei Tehillim society came together to read psalms and raise money for charitable projects. The Gemilut Hesed society made interest free loans to those in need. The women’s Lechem Evyeynim society collected extra Challah loaves on Thursday mornings and distributed them to needy Jews in time for the Sabbath. The Bikkur Holim Society would raise money for families to travel to the city for medical care. They would also harvest ice from the Dnieper every winter and store it in an underground cellar; the rest of the year they delivered ice to those suffering from fever. There was a Jewish Book Society which raised money for the lending library and invited lecturers from nearby cities
At its height in the 1880’s, the Streshin Jewish population numbered 552”
I found this information on the CLAL website, and it fascinated me. It was in a section about volunteering, and, curiously (or maybe not) this section is in the ‘Ritual’ category of the website. Volunteering for the good of the community is understood by them – and us – to come into the category of mitzvah.
The tiny community in Streshin organised itself to care for itself. It understood its religious life to be expressed in the way the community worked, that the way to show love for God is to care for God’s creation; that whatever you might or might not believe, what is important is what you do.
We are in the period of the counting of the Omer that leads from Pesach to Shavuot – from the Exodus to the receiving of the Covenant and the creating of peoplehood at Sinai through the acceptance of the Covenant and its conditions – the mitzvot.
The purpose of the exodus from Egypt was the event that took place three months later – the organising of a group of frightened slaves and refugees into a people unified by that covenant and by the relationship with God that it was based upon. The peoplehood was defined not by blood, not by belief, but by what we did – what we thought was important and what showed our real values was embedded in the mitzvot, the behaviours that we took upon ourselves as an obligation, and which changed us and our thinking as we acted in accordance with their requirements