This issue of the Jewish Exponent came out on the 33rd day of the Omer, which is four weeks and five days of the Omer. Of course, these days, there’s an app to tell you that. Or, if you’re Rabbi Abi Weber, there’s a dog.
The Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel rabbi, 33, is the mind behind @dogbaomer, an Instagram account dedicated to posting a dog a day for each day of the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot.
The account, at first glance, requires no prior knowledge of Judaism to enjoy: Murphy the Australian Cattle Dog poses outside of Middle Child on day 24; Great Dane Wilson sits in Rittenhouse Square and cocks his head at the camera on day five.
But for Weber, who has amassed more than 750 followers on the account since 2021, it’s a labor of love, for both her friends and her own religious practice.
Before Weber was taking snapshots of Philly’s best canines, she was a dog walker six years ago for the app Wag in Chicago, where she attended SVARA: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva.
The app required that walkers take pictures of their charges as they walk and upload it to the app for the dogs’ owners to see as proof the dogs are in good hands. It also gave Weber a chance to fill her camera roll with dozens of happy canines.
“I was sort of perfecting my taking-cute-pictures-of-dogs skill,” Weber said.
It was during that spring when Weber came up with the pun “Dog BaOmer,” a derivation of Lag BaOmer, a celebration held on the 33rd day of the Omer to honor Kabbalah scholar Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.
Weber began posting the pictures to her Facebook, and a loyal group of friends happily supported the increase of dog pictures on their feeds.
In 2021, a friend egged Weber on, encouraging her to post the Dog BaOmer pictures on Instagram, where they could be seen by the public and a younger generation of Jews who preferred the app to Facebook.
A modest following after the 2021 Omer (combined with Weber’s admitted lack of commitment to Instagram tactics to gain popularity) made Weber — also a proud cat owner — reluctant to continue in 2022. Some more friendly encouragement changed her mind, and the pups made a return to the ‘gram on the fifth day of the Omer this year.
After Hey Alma published an article about the account on April 29, Weber received an influx of followers, as well as a flood of submissions which, after a few days of consideration, Weber decided against posting.
She enjoys going on evening walks every day with her wife and daughter through Center City. As the weather warms, dogs abound in the neighborhood.
While it’s traditional to meditate on each day of the Omer on a different aspect of God, Weber found similar spiritual significance in a meditation of looking for something new in her familiar neighborhood each day.
“It would be great if I could just sit every day and meditate on values or on aspects of God,” she said. “But that it’s much easier for people, myself included, to actually notice a physical thing in the world that’s new and different every day.”
Even an account such as Dog BaOmer can be indicative of changing spiritual technologies, Weber said. An Instagram account can allow a younger generation of not traditionally observant Jews to learn more about counting the Omer and other mitzvot.
Though the Omer is a time of spiritual reflection for many, Dog BaOmer, in its levity, can still provide spiritual meaning.
“It’s OK to be light about some things and to just lift up that lightness and that fun piece of religion, and to say Judaism can be just enjoyable and certain things can just be simple,” Weber said.
Weber has one friend who doesn’t count the Omer, but she likes Dog BaOmer’s Instagram post every evening. That’s not a mitzvah, Weber said, but it is the beginning of how to engage with Judaism.
“This is just one thing that, if it forces people to pay more attention in their daily lives and to notice their surroundings and to value something new each day,” Weber said, “then I think that’s completely in line with what Judaism is trying to teach.”