Zvika Krieger, the new spiritual leader of Chochmat HaLev, has brought Jewish spirituality to many milieus — including leading Shabbat services at Burning Man in 2018. (Background photo/Sasha Juliard)
Zvika Krieger, the new spiritual leader of Chochmat HaLev, has brought Jewish spirituality to many milieus — including leading Shabbat services at Burning Man in 2018. (Background photo/Sasha Juliard)

WhatsApp group from new Chochmat leader brings Counting Omer to local and global audience

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“Today is Day 31 of the Omer, an opportunity to connect with the divine energy of Tif’eret in Hod. Both of these attributes are related to beauty. When paired together, I see an invitation to look for the beauty within the beauty —  to dig deeper when beauty may not be readily apparent.”

Reading this message, sent via text, is how the 100-plus members of Zvika Krieger’s Counting the Omer WhatsApp group started their morning last week.

Screenshot of a message from Krieger to the WhatsApp group. The message reads: "Today is Day 18 of the Omer, an opportunity to channel the divine energy of Netzach in Tiferet. As Pam mentioned yesterday, Tiferet is often defined as "beauty." Netzach carries the qualities of longevity. With this pairing, I see an invitation to appreciate the kinds of beauty in our lives that are long-lasting rather than ephemeral. We certainly live in a culture that prays at the "fountain of youth." We are bombarded with ways to hide wrinkles, firm our drooping skin, manage our gray hairs. How can we celebrate on the parts of ourselves that get more beautiful with age? It would be easier to focus on the non-physical parts of ourselves that get more "beautiful" as we get older — our wisdom, our emotional maturity, our inner confidence, our deep relationships. But let's not forget the outer beauty too. What are the blessings of Tiferet beauty in your life that you see blossoming on a longer Netzach timeline?"
Click image to enlarge

Krieger, 38, the new spiritual leader at Chochmat HaLev, came to the Renewal synagogue in Berkeley after two years working on tech ethics at Meta, the parent company of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. Naturally, one of the first things he did was start a chat group.

Counting the Omer, or Sefirat HaOmer, is the traditional counting of the 49 days between the second night of Passover and the beginning of Shavuot, a holiday that celebrates the grain harvest and receiving the Torah.

In Kabbalah, the Jewish mystical tradition, each of the 49 days represents a unique combination of two Divine attributes, which include Gevurah (might), Tiferet (beauty) and Chesed (lovingkindness). Each of these combinations provides a subject for meditation, introspection and study.

“For some people, they don’t have time, or they’re not interested in showing up at a prayer service,” Krieger said. “Particularly, millennials and Gen Z consume information and communicate in different ways.”

Krieger went into the project expecting maybe 10 or 20 members to read his morning messages. A month in, the group had some 120 members, and there are dozens of responses every day.

What has surprised him the most, he said, is that people are showing vulnerability by sharing their struggles and celebrating their accomplishments.

He said it’s “pretty cool” that “these sort of spiritual energies that we’re channeling” via the WhatsApp group “really resonate with people to the extent that they’re sharing deeply” with others in the group.

While most participants come from Chochmat HaLev, others in the group are spread across the globe. One is hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Another is in Australia, another in Israel. There are even some non-Jews on board.

Jericho Vincent, a rabbinical student in Brooklyn, New York, called the WhatsApp idea “innovative.”  When counting the Omer in the past, Vincent said, it didn’t feel as meaningful as it does now.

“I’m balancing a million things,” Vincent said, “and to be able to participate in a communal Omer practice with this thing just popping up on my phone — that’s so deep and digestible. And at the same time to feel like I’m in a community with an international cohort — I just really love that.”

With Shavuot coming up on June 4, the project will soon end, but for Krieger, this was just the first step.

“This was a bit of an experiment,” said Krieger, who began at Chochmat HaLev at the end of April. “Is our community open to more creative, different vehicles for connection for spiritual experiences, for learning Torah, for building community?

“It seems like the answer is a resounding yes,” he added.

Moving forward, he said Chochmat HaLev will create WhatsApp groups for connecting over a range of topics and interests. Shul leadership plans to survey the community to gauge interest and determine what kinds of groups to form.

For years, Chochmat HaLev has been a community open to new and innovative ideas, Krieger said. “I feel really blessed to be part of a community that has always been [at] the vanguard.”

To join the WhatsApp group “Counting the Omer w/ CHL,” click here.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.