#OmerChallenge: 7 Weeks, 11 Women Rabbis, 49 Pounds

Co-written by Rabbi Yael Hammerman, Rabbi Rachel Ain and Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin

You may think that we’re an unnecessarily niche Facebook group: female Conservative rabbis doing Weight Watchers.

But, who else understands what it’s like to navigate the intricacies of shul kiddush, while famished from three hours of leading services and “working the room,” trying to feed our kids lunch before the lox is gone, while staying away from the whiskey that beckons and those brownies with the rich chocolate frosting?

Who else understands the unique stress of handling congregants who kindly drop off mishloach manot at shul and at home, brimming with homemade hamantashen — when we only have five pounds left until reaching our goal weight?

Who else understands the pull to stop into Starbucks for a Venti Caramel Frappuccino after officiating at a funeral — before picking up our child from daycare and needing to act “normal”?

Who else understands the stress eating that happens between Rosh Hashanah and Simchat Torah? And, between Purim and Pesach? Don’t get us started on Chanukkah latkes and sufganiyot. Even Tu B’Shevat isn’t safe with all those dried figs and grape juice. (Not to mention last week’s blintzes for Shavuot!)

And, who else understands that “just because we are rabbis” doesn’t mean we don’t care about our looks. We want to be serious and smart, but also feminine, and yes – attractive.

We span the country from New York to Los Angeles, from Florida to New England. We are carnivores and vegans. We are BFF and we have never met in real life. We are new rabbis, and we were ordained decades ago when JTS first opened its door to us. We have our own pulpits and we work with seniors; we teach your kids and we are SAHM’s. We still have over 50 pounds left to lose, and we have reached “lifetime” — in Weight Watchers parlance.

We are rabbis with a common goal: to gain control over the chaos of our lives by taking care of ourselves — in a profession which often calls for us to be selfless. We aspire to be role models for our communities via ethics and rituals, and the halacha we believe in mandates that we take care of our bodies. Maimonides teaches that “maintaining a healthy and whole body is an integral part of one’s Divine service.” Yet, we often overlook this teaching for ourselves, while we’re busy caring for others.

While Jews around the world counted down the 49 days of the Omer in unison, we counted as well. We tracked SmartPoints, and we recorded weekly weight losses (and gains). For the seven weeks of the Omer, we tried to put ourselves in the center, for seven weeks of accountable and communal weight loss, with the goal of losing 49 pounds as a team — one pound shed for each day of the Omer.

As the seven weeks marched on, we had weekly check-ins, focused not only on our physical well-being, but on our spiritual health as well, based on the Kabbalistic sefirot:

  • Chesed: How will you be kind to your body?
  • Gevurah: How will you show your strength?
  • Tipheret: How will you make yourself feel beautiful – inside or out?
  • Netzach: How will you demonstrate enduracne?
  • Hod: You’ve got the guts. Now, how will you go for the glory?
  • Yesod: How do your bonds strengthen you?
  • Malchut: How will you take control during this last week of the #OmerChallenge?

After seven weeks of weigh-ins, with many gains and losses, we made it to exactly 49 pounds, on Friday afternoon before Shavuot.

Divine intervention? Perhaps. Human will, sweat and tears? Definitely.

So what’s our prize? Not a rich piece of 14 point cheesecake on Shavuot.

The prize is being part of a group of kind, strong, beautiful, supportive, glorious women rabbis, who lift each other up along our sacred journeys, as we navigate daily life.

Like the journey from Egypt to Sinai, and then from Sinai to the Promised Land, this is not a linear journey. It has peaks and valleys. We go up and down, but the feeling of climbing the mountain together remains. Just as the celebration of Revelation on Shavuot is not the end of the Torah’s story, neither is this weight loss journey the pinnacle for us. We will continue to struggle and celebrate, learn from and with each other, and strive to live our lives in a way that reflects our being created in the image of God.

About the Author
Rabbi Robyn Fryer Bodzin is the spiritual leader of the Israel Center of Conservative Judaism in New York City, a member of the Rabbis Without Borders network, and the national Co Chair of Rabbis Against Gun Violence.
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