Forward Thinking

Counting the Omer and Nigeria's Kidnapped Girls

By Naomi Ackerman

  • Print
  • Share Share

Nigerian women call for the freedom of Chibok’s kidnapped girls / Getty Images

Last month, an Islamist armed group called Boko Haram abducted 276 girls from a school in Chibok, Nigeria. Presumably, these girls will be killed or sold into slavery and child marriages.

Even though I sit here in Los Angeles, this crisis affects me personally, deeply and immediately. You see, I am a Jewish mother of three daughters: Zohar, Ella and Hadar. And even though I do not know the names of the 276 girls, I know who they are. I see them clearly. They are my Zohar, my Ella, my Hadar.

I know what slavery means. I grew up reciting, every year at the Passover Seder, “In each generation, each person must envision being freed from slavery in Egypt.”

If I can imagine that, how can I not imagine what the mothers (and fathers and sisters and brothers) of those girls are feeling? And how can I not act upon my feelings of sadness, fear and outrage? After all, the Torah teaches, “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Lev. 19:34). Those girls and their families are not strangers to me. They are my family.

The period between Passover and Shavuot is called Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer. It connects the redemption from slavery and the granting of physical freedom of Passover to the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai and the acquisition of spiritual freedom, marked by Shavuot.

Each day is counted, as a way of asking what we are doing each and every day to walk toward freedom. By extension, we must ask, what are we doing to help others walk toward freedom?

This Sunday — Mother’s Day — I am flying to Washington, D.C. to participate in a Policy Summit organized by American Jewish World Service. I will be joining 150 Jewish activists and rabbis to urge our legislators to pass the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA) — a critical bipartisan piece of legislation that was just introduced by one of my state’s U.S. Senators, Barbara Boxer, on May 8.

IVAWA supports programs that have been shown to decrease violence against women and girls. Many of these programs help women and girls do things we so often take for granted — go to school, earn an income to help sustain families, collect food or water without fear of rape or harassment, and bring perpetrators of abuse to justice.

Upon explaining to my daughters why we will not be together this Mother’s Day, I told them I need to be a mommy for girls around the world who are in trouble; I need to make sure that girls can go to school, that they are not forced into early marriage, and that no one will hurt them.

My youngest looked at me in dismay. Why would someone hurt little girls? I looked at my sweet girl’s face, and I had no answer. When she curled up next to me so that I could read her a bedtime story, my heart broke for the hundreds of mothers who do not know where their girls are sleeping.

As I watched my child smile while she dreamed, I cried for the shattered dreams of 276 girls, whose only crime was going to school. And as my three daughters lay safe and sound in their beds, I knew that I cannot just stand idly by, sigh and lament this terrible situation in Nigeria. I must do more. We all must do more. These girls in Nigeria? They are our girls.

This Shabbat, Jews in synagogues around the world read a section of the Torah, Parashat Behar, which describes the Torah’s mechanism for freeing slaves. We heard the famous statement, “Proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family…” (Lev. 25:10).

These words, which are inscribed on the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia — an icon of American freedom — resonated deeply with me this Shabbat. I pray they can remind us that we are all created in the Divine image; that no one should be enslaved. I pray they can call us to act, to tell Congress to pass IVAWA, so that we are one step closer to realizing a world in which all girls will be safe, secure and free to live their lives.

I pray we can make this time of counting the Omer meaningful by asking ourselves and each other, “What am I doing to help others walk toward freedom?”

Naomi Ackerman is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project: Theatre For Transformation, and a Global Justice Fellow with American Jewish World Service.

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: kidnapped, Torah, Shavuot, Passover, Omer, Nigeria, Jewish, Boko Haram

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen.
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.