Before being ordained, Rabbi Abi Weber was a dog walker.
Six years ago, she was studying at SVARA: the Traditionally Radical Yeshiva in Chicago and, to make money, working as a dog walker for the app Wag.
“Part of being a dog walker there is that you have to take lots of pictures of dogs. My phone was full of cute pics of pups that I walked every day,” Rabbi Weber tells me. “When the Omer rolled around, I thought it would be fun to post a picture of a dog for each of the 49 days. And #DogBaOmer was born.”
Through #DogBaOmer on her personal Facebook, a play on the name of the holiday Lag Ba’Omer, Rabbi Weber partook in the Jewish tradition of counting the Omer, or counting the 49 days between the second night of Passover and the next Jewish holiday, Shavuot. (As the Israelites were told they would receive the Torah 50 days after the exodus from Egypt, the counting of the Omer today serves as a historical connection to our ancestor’s eagerness to receive the Five Books of Moses.)
Her twist was, of course, that instead of just reciting the appropriate blessing and stating the day of the count, Rabbi Weber would also include a new photo of a dog for each day.
Six years later and a lot has changed: Weber is now the assistant rabbi at Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Philadelphia, she’s married to her wife Diana, and they have a young daughter, Yara.
And, as of last year, Rabbi Weber has taken #DogBaOmer public with her Instagram account @dogbaomer.
Through @dogbaomer, Rabbi Weber is essentially doing the same thing as she was before but with a growing audience. To be clear, the rabbi seems to have no penchant for becoming a Jew-fluencer (that’s Jewish influencer, obviously). But, it’s easy to see @dogbaomer’s growth potential and its ability to educate: come for the adorable pups, and stay to learn about the ancient Jewish tradition of counting the Omer.
As much fun as it is to scroll through @dogbaomer, it’s just as fun for Rabbi Weber to run it. “My favorite thing about this whole project is being forced to go out every day and find new dogs,” she emphasizes. “My friends and family can tell you that I will pet EVERY dog I meet (even more so now that I have a 16-month-old who loves doggies). People are usually delighted when their pets get attention and are happy to pose their doggo for a pic.”
And, for those pet parents wondering: Yes, Rabbi Weber takes submissions. While she stated that she sources dog photos from friends on days when she can’t find time to take her own pictures, she also told me, “I always ask for the same thing from people who want to submit: a cute pic and a few fun facts about their pooch.”
Interestingly, the period when Jews count the Omer can be considered a mournful time due to certain historical deaths and catastrophes that occurred during this period. Still, Rabbi Weber finds her more light-hearted way of counting the Omer apt. “There are many different traditions when it comes to the appropriate mood for the Omer,” she said, adding, “In reality, the counting is a biblical commandment that has much more to do with ancient agricultural practice and keeping track of the Jewish calendar than any sort of mourning. The mitzvah to count the Omer long predates its association with sadness.”
While more secular Jews typically do not count the Omer, Rabbi Weber thinks there are important lessons any Jew can learn from it.
“The power of Judaism, in my view, is that it is a religion that ritualizes our day-to-day experiences and marks the passage of time,” she explains. “Each day has its set times for prayer; each week ends with the rest of Shabbat; and each season is marked by particular culinary, liturgical, musical and physical experiences. These visceral traditions allow us to feel time in our bodies and differentiate one moment from the next.”
Rabbi Weber continues, “Counting the Omer is a practice that forces us to sit up and pay attention to each day so that it does not pass unnoticed. ‘Teach us to number our days,’ psalm 91 says, ‘that we may attain a heart of wisdom.’ I hope that by doing something as simple as looking at dog pics each day, people consider taking on this ritual of marking time.”