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Apping the Omer

Posted By Brian Blum On May 3, 2012 @ 2:57 pm In | 1 Comment

The "Sefiros" iPhone app

From the second day of Passover until the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, observant Jews perform a ritual called “counting the Omer.” Between those two dates, there are 49 days and, during evening prayers, one is commanded to say a few special phrases to mark each day (the “Omer” refers to a measure of barley offered as a sacrifice during Temple times).

There are Kabalistic connotations as well as historical/mythological ones: it’s said that a great plague that killed 24,000 followers of the first century CE luminary Rabbi Akiva abated on the 33rd day of the Omer. In Hebrew, it’s known as L’ag b’Omer, or more popularly in Israel, the “night of the bonfires” (ask any kid toting a rotted old bathroom door and you’ll quickly get the gist).

Counting the Omer is not terribly difficult in and of itself, but there’s a built in trick: if you miss counting for just a single day, you can’t say it with a blessing again for the remainder of the 49 days. For the frummer among us, that can be a big deal. It’s like Survivor or Big Brother, except the last one standing doesn’t win a million bucks, just the undying gratitude of a possible deity.

I can tell you that, when I was more religious myself, there wasn’t a single year that I got through until Shavuot intact. So I probably would have been delighted to have discovered a new iPhone app called “Sefiros” (that means “counting”) which is here to remind you to, well, count.

It’s really a very simple app: you set a timer and the app beeps to tell you it’s time to say the prayer. Sure you could do that with your regular iPhone calendar…but would you? A dedicated app with a repeating alarm that expires after 49 days is just that much easier.

To make it a bit more robust, the Sefiros app lets you add “action alerts” to your reminders; you can set them be with “with God,” “with others,” or “with yourself.” You can even reach out for a little social media feedback and post your success to Twitter. “Hey fellow frumsters, I made it to day #29. Nya, nya, nya.”

Not sure when sunset is? Never fear, Sefiros checks the time using GPS. The blessing you’re supposed to say is all there in punctuated prayer book Hebrew. And to beef it all up, the app includes a page of Kabalistic and personal growth insights for each day, written by Rabbi Yaakov Haber (his whole book is included in the app). Jerusalem-based AppStudio built the whole thing.

Can I recommend Sefiros? If you always lose the “did I remember to count” game like I once did, sure, why not? At $4.99, it’s not cheap, as far as apps go. But who’s counting anyway?

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