What’s new in instructional support for fall 2020?

Welcome to the fall 2020 semester! Although this semester might look different than other semesters in the past, the support that the Touro College Libraries can provide hasn’t wavered. We are excited to assist students and faculty with their learning, teaching, and research, and we invite you to contact a librarian to learn more about any of the resources listed below.

a sketch of a square figure drawing a lightbulb on an easel
Image by Manfred Steger from Pixabay

Do you have readings you’d like to make available to your students online?

Sharing in Canvas: If you are sharing a journal article or book chapter from outside of the Touro College Libraries databases with your class this semester, you may need to get copyright clearance to include the material in your Canvas course. This applies to electronic and scanned materials. The Libraries are available to assist you with determining whether you need to secure copyright clearance, and, if you do, with requesting permission to share. Please contact Marina Zilberman for more information.

eBooks and Databases: If you’re looking for easily accessible and low-cost materials for your classes, our eBook collections and electronic databases are a great resource. In Canvas, you can link directly to most books and articles.

Open Educational Resources: You can use many free resources in your class, including high-quality, peer-reviewed textbooks with instructor materials. Tell us which commercial textbook you would like to replace, and we will show you what’s available for your discipline. Contact georgia.westbrook@touro.edu for more about OER.

Do you want to use documentaries and educational films to support your instruction?

Streaming videos: For increased convenience and access by students outside of class, the Libraries offer a growing collection of online streaming videos, including Education in Video, Films on Demand, Kanopy and more. Most titles are also discoverable by searching in the library catalog by “Location: TC E-Videos.”

Are you teaching an online course?

Ask a Librarian: Students have ready access to assistance with research and library resources via chat, email or phone with our Ask A Librarian service.

Embedded librarians: This program matches you with a dedicated librarian to provide customized library instruction for your students. Learn more by contacting Sara Tabaei, Library Information Literacy Director.

Remote orientations: All of our library instruction classes can be held via Zoom video conferences, accessible by students from home, or can be shared as a recorded video for students to watch outside of class time.

Do your students have trouble finding the kinds of information you want them to use in their papers and projects?

Instruction: We offer both general library orientations and specialized research classes, customized to prepare students for the particular assignments in your course. Contact your campus library for information or to schedule a session.

LibGuides: These research guides are organized by subject to bring together the best resources for each topic. Additional guides are available on research skills and library services and we are happy to create one for your course upon request.

Do your students have trouble with writing and/or citing sources correctly?

Citing Sources guide: This guide includes presentations, videos, and quizzes to help you discuss academic integrity with your students. Additionally, you’ll find tools to assist with creating citations and detailed information on a variety of citation styles.

RefWorks: Refworks is a citation and research manager available to students and faculty with their @touro.edu email address. Import, organize and cite your research with this online tool. Training is available upon request.

College Writing guide: Our College Writing guide compiles the most helpful resources for composition, revision, and editing in academic writing.


We’re here to help with all of these resources and beyond! Contact the Touro College Libraries to learn more.

Welcome to a new semester!

Welcome to a new semester at Touro! The Touro College Libraries are thrilled to share this exciting time with you and have put together a short video to celebrate this new beginning. Whether you are new to Touro or a returning student, we hope you enjoy it!

The Touro College librarians are always here to help. Contact your campus librarians or start with some of our most popular resources:

Good luck!

Moving Forward During COVID-19

Many of my friends think that, since I work as an emergency manager, I have more information available to me than the average person, or that I don’t have the same fears as they do during emergency situations. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Like you, I have to deal with the fear of moving back to normal during the COVID-19 crisis, and I rely on information from the same health authorities that you do. My job is in Manhattan, and while I may be able to continue working from home initially, at some point, I will have to venture onto the subway and be around crowds of people. While I’m not looking forward to it, I do believe it is best that we try to get back to a more normal way of living. We cannot hide out in our homes forever and there are precautions we can take while getting back to normal.

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Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

First, acknowledge that normal has changed. Some people have ventured into visiting friends and attending parties and group gatherings like nothing ever happened. We are still in the middle of a global pandemic. The “normal” we knew is gone for now. We have to accept that we need to curtail some of our activities and behaviors in order to avoid getting sick or getting others sick. It’s tempting to want to get back to weddings, parties, and other social gatherings, but the reality is that the more people you are around, the higher your risk of contracting COVID-19. Stay away from large gatherings.

a sign that reads "Caution: Maintain social distancing, at least 6 ft distance from others
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Next, follow the guidelines of health authorities and wear your mask. Acknowledge that no one is trying to curtail your right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Wearing a mask when you are around others is crucial to keeping the number of people who get sick down. Think of it this way: when the ban on cigarette smoking in public was introduced, most people were all for it. The ideas of the greater good and of not making others sick became rallying cries to end smoking in public places. Most people embraced it wholeheartedly, never once thinking about the rights of smokers or how difficult this would be on them. Wearing a mask goes along the same lines. Since you can be asymptomatic and still pass COVID-19 to others, you need to wear a mask. Your children need to wear a mask, and so do your friends. Instead of thinking about wearing a mask as a way to curtail your liberties, think of it as a sign of how much you care for your fellow humans.

By the way, make sure to teach your children that masks are not toys to be traded like Lego blocks. Kids may not understand the importance of masks and could very easily be persuaded to trade their Spiderman mask for their friend’s Batman one, for example. Swapping masks like this could put their health in danger, so make sure your kids understand why they are wearing a mask and how important it is to keep their mask to themselves.

a stack of fabric face masks
Photo by Vera Davidova on Unsplash

If you feel uncomfortable in an environment, say so. Just because your boss wants you to come back to work, doesn’t mean you have to do so if you are not comfortable with the safety precautions at your workplace. Don’t be afraid to ask pointed questions about cleaning schedules and disinfection. If you share an office or space with someone, make sure your employer has social distancing measures in place, and if they are not, speak to human resources. If you see too many people on an elevator, you can say something or wait for the next one.

If you feel more comfortable wearing a face shield and mask in your work environment, then by all means, do so — if people laugh or make fun of you, ignore them. I recently bought face shields to wear when I travel on the subway. While my husband thought it was overkill, using a face shield on the subway will make me more comfortable with the idea of traveling to and from Manhattan. People can laugh or look at me strangely if they want to, but I will feel better and more protected, so I will proudly wear it.

a person wearing a mask and a face shield looking out over a balcony
Photo by Ian Panelo from Pexels

Flu season is coming up, and we have no idea how the twin concerns of the coronavirus and influenza will affect this winter. All we can do is take the best precautions we can and be prepared for the worst. Check out the links below to get further information on how to prepare for going back to work and school. Our health authorities are doing their best to protect us, and we can help them — and ourselves — by following their advice.

For more information on returning to work: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/returning-to-work.html

For specific questions about the virus, see the CDC’s FAQ section: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/faq.html

This post was contributed by Shoshana Yehudah, Director of Emergency Preparedness, Touro College

The Art of Silence — and the Delightful Absence of It

Finding that silent time in which the world falls away and one can focus completely on work is the perfect moment of zen.

One would think working from home would allow for such moments to occur a lot and naturally. I suppose if you live alone, it might be possible. However, because I am sharing a space with a fiancé, four cats, and a future father-in-law, I am only able to reach such calm with the help of headphones white noise. Between the conference calls, the zoomies (the cats running around the house at top speed from room to room), and sharing an office, my moments of zen and silence are few and far between.

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Image by LUM3N from Pixabay

For most of the morning, I am monitoring the virtual library chat, keeping a keen ear out for the beep to let me know I have a message, while working on various other tasks. The headphones block out noise and keep me focused. They allow me to tune out the daily meetings my fiancé has and narrow my attention to my tasks at hand.

After chat, the headphones bring in music, which as a librarian is a rare treat. We are so used to working in silence, or with a low mummer of noise, that music is a rarity for us during work hours. I tend to find that music heightens my ability to immerse myself in my work. The world around me falls away and I can concentrate on my tasks.

However I miss it: I miss the murmurs, the questions, the interruptions (never truly an interruption, of course, for these queries are so much more important than what I was working on), and most of all, the people. Our students, professors, and staff who visit us in the library for help, and who always have a friendly smile on their faces, knowing we will do our best to help them.

two tou
Image by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

But we aren’t there yet — we cannot assist you face-to-face at our desk among the books. But the library is still “open” online, and we librarians still have a smile and are ready to help you. Please, “interrupt” our day and make it a wonderful one. We love to help!

Check out our Student Guide to Remote Library Resources: https://www.tourolib.org/student-remote-guide

This post was contributed by Heather Hilton, Librarian, Bay Shore

 

Teaching Information Literacy Online

For all of the talk about the treachery of moving to online teaching, there are some surprising benefits to teaching information literacy sessions online, too. In this post, Touro librarians Edlira Agalliu and Natasha Hollander share their experiences and offer tips for other instructors working online.

Edawork
Edlira Agalliu (provided photo)

Edlira Agalliu, Chief Librarian, Avenue J

Are these sessions very different from what you offered in the classes face-to-face? What are the differences?

For me personally, the transition have been very smooth and I feel very comfortable with online teaching, since I have been involved in teaching online via Zoom for a few years now (mainly internationally). However, I still can point out some differences:

  • The interpersonal aspect of face-to-face teaching is very different and hard to replicate in online teaching
  • The social aspect of students gathering in library for orientations gives a sense of community and sense of place that an online platform attempts to replicate with a digital community. The geographical location now is replaced with a virtual one, and students are sometimes spread nationally and internationally and spread across different time zones
  • The psychological aspect of face-to-face teaching makes it easier for extroverted personalities (both students and instructors) to take center stage, but the online platform also gives introverts the opportunity to make their voices heard
  • Although in the literature there is a distinction between synchronous and asynchronous teaching, I always have included asynchronous elements in my face-to-face teaching, so there are no major changes pedagogically

Are there any advantages to the online classes?

There are many advantages to teaching online, including the ability to access the course 24/7 and the flexibility that provides. Instructors can utilize innovative methods and be creative, while students benefit from a different kind of social presence and increased participation for introverts. Instructions for activities can be prepared and saved on the computer as video or Powerpoint presentation, and chat and discussion boards in Canvas can be used to engage students.

What are the disadvantages or challenges? 

There are some disadvantages and challenges as well, including self-discipline for students and teachers and the hurdle of using technology and learning new platforms for online teaching (Zoom, Canvas, WebEx, Google Classrooms etc.) It is hard to ensure that classes are accessible for students with disabilities (using closed captioning and adaptive technologies), although this is a problem in face-to-face teaching too.

Another challenge is taking into account the computer skills of different groups of students, especially the older students that are returning to classroom after years of being in workforce. We don’t have evidence to suggest that they are not involved at all in online learning, but it could be an argued that they might be underrepresented as a group of students and lead to a generation gap.

When teaching internationally or even with classes that have students outside of the eastern states, it is important to consider different time zones to accommodate students, so that might be another challenge. And, silence after asking a question is amplified in online teaching and creates an uncomfortable situation, but we can use it as a tool for critical thinking to reduce awkwardness.

What are some of the success stories you can share with us?

I would call it a success when students are engaged in the classroom and they ask questions — and when they interrupt you because they want to make sure they understand the steps. It also feels like a success when students share their appreciation for your efforts and are thankful for your work, and when they ask for a follow-up session with you to dig into the material more deeply.

How did you collaborate with faculty?

We had scheduled face-to-face orientation sessions before switching to online teaching because of the stay-at-home orders, so I had everything scheduled in my calendar and it was just a matter of reaching out to faculty to set up those instruction sessions online via Zoom. Some others were scheduled via email knowing their classes and interest from previous years.

How do you make it interactive/engage with students?

I try to ask questions during my teaching to make sure that students are following along and that they understand the process, and to make sure I am not going too fast. These might be questions about citations and citation styles, dealing with primary sources, or other research process questions. I also make sure that I reserve some quite time for critical thinking, so that students who need time can formulate their thoughts.

 

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Natasha Hollander (provided photo)

Natasha Hollander, Librarian, Lander College for Women; Adjunct Instructor, School for Lifelong Education

Are these sessions very different from what you offered in the classes face-to-face?

The sessions that I give during my Zoom are a bit different than what I give face-to-face because of the coronavirus. My students are in an area that is very affected by the pandemic, so the classes being offered reflect that.

What are the differences?

I changed the work expectations for my students to better reflect their situations. Now, they are only expected to complete their homework worksheets, a proposal for their final paper, their literature reviews, and a final paper. Normally, I would include a presentation as well, but that would just overwhelm them more. Also, it helped to focus my Zoom classes on a final goal, which I think made it easier for my students.

Are there any advantages to the online classes?

I think that teaching online during this time is nothing but an advantage to my students. My students seem to take more accountability for their own work and have more access to me as their professor online, in terms of asking questions or expressing confusion. I also found that, explaining concepts to the class using the shared screen feature felt more personal than being in our regular classroom, where it is sometimes hard for students to see the one screen. Additionally, the students seem to be a little bit more engaged in class discussions which makes the class feel more actively involved.

What are the disadvantages?

I do not really see disadvantages to teaching this class via Zoom. I am a big advocate of utilizing Zoom to teach classes and reach out to students during this time of social distancing.

What are some of the success stories you can share with us?

In one of my classes, my students opened up over Zoom and started asking me a lot of questions about graduate school and how their work can be improved to benefit them in their future education and careers.

How did you get the opportunity to teach a class?

I got the opportunity to teach this class when I was filling in last summer for the librarian at the Borough Park campus. After discussing my background, my experience, and responsibilities at LCW with the Director of SLE, she offered me the chance to teach this class — and I had to accept.

How do you make it interactive/engage with students?

I engage with my students every time we have class, and even more often now that we are not meeting physically, because when they have a question, they can also schedule a one-on-one meeting with me. This is beneficial to them and shows that the students are taking initiative and taking their learning into their own hands.

Note: this information was originally presented in a staff development webinar to other Touro College librarians in May 2020. These responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.

Write On: Journaling During a Pandemic

What were you doing the summer you turned 13?

I was on an American President Lines cruiseship, on a 26-day trip from Manila, Philippines (where I lived from 1966-1969) back to the United States, with stopovers in Japan and Hong Kong. I remember the ship had a swimming pool, and more than one restaurant, and a lot of kids around my age. I remember that I foolishly hung my three-quarters size guitar on the wall of my stateroom, where it got cracked on the voyage.

And I remember buying my first journal at an immense toy store in Hong Kong, beginning a lifelong habit of recording my thoughts and feelings and saving my memories of people I’d met, places I’d visited, events I’d witnessed, and experiences I’d had on my travels. My mom, a’h, suggested I buy the journal, as I was already a seasoned, intercontinental traveler, experiencing different cultures all over the world. Keeping a journal has become a cherished practice.

a person journaling
Image by free stock photos from www.picjumbo.com from Pixabay

Since we’re all living through a unique period in time, during this coronavirus pandemic, I thought I’d encourage each of you to take up journaling. Think of the stories you will have to tell your children and grandchildren! There are many ways to keep a journal, and I’ll share some ideas with you here.

Selecting a Journal

Yes, in my opinion, journaling involves writing with a pen—or sketching with a pen or pencil—on paper. What you write online requires electricity to access, and it may not be available to share the way your analog journal entries will be (although I do admit I sometimes print out letters I’ve typed and insert those loose pages into my handwritten journal). I promise you the experience will be well worth it! So, the first thing you’ll need to do is choose a journal.

fountain pen on paper
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

That first journal I bought in 1969 had a soft fabric cover in pastel plaid. The fabric cover stained easily, and I outgrew my fondness for plaids and pastels. My next journal had a plastic cover. That was even worse: it got hot and sticky. Now, I use a journal with a cover that has a pleasant feel and moves smoothly over a desk, table, or lap. My journals are always easy to carry with me, with a flexible binding, good quality paper that takes fountain-pen ink, and built-in pockets for ticket stubs or other small mementos. Some people use plain school notebooks, but I like the Moleskin Classic, lined, soft cover journals (they make unlined versions for those inclined to augment their words with pictures).

This year, I tried using an environmentally-friendly, stone paper journal. I love the idea of it, and the paper takes fountain pen ink beautifully, but it’s too heavy to lug around and has a fabric cover.

Once you’ve gone through the process of choosing a journal type, start writing!

Tips for Novice Journal Writers:

  • Keep your journal with you, so you’re ready to write or sketch at any time
  • Keep the first page blank; start writing on the second page (trust me on this)
  • Date every entry (day, month, year): you think you’ll remember later, but you won’t
  • Don’t edit your writing or feel you have to write beautifully, just jot down your thoughts
  • Write a little or a lot—it’s up to you
  • Write when you want to and don’t feel obligated to write every day (it’s not a chore)
  • If you have a hard time starting to write, just make a bullet list of the day’s events
  • Write lists of your favorite things, like books, quotes, films, or recipes
  • Although you don’t have to write everyday, try to make writing part of your routine as your get ready in the morning or wind down at night

You’re living through extraordinary times, on a personal and communal level. Consider sharing with your journal what you share in conversation with your friends and families—or the thoughts you’re thinking but not expressing.

Your journals are just for you. Don’t feel you have to make a compete record of your experiences, with photos, or pressed flowers, or theater tickets. Some days you might feel like scrapbooking; other days, you may want to use the bullet-point method of jotting down your day’s activities to use to jog your memory later. Your journal writing doesn’t have to be perfect, grammatically correct, or demonstrate your calligraphic handwriting skills.

Keeping a journal helps you articulate your thoughts and feelings and can be a therapeutic “safe space” to record your emotions, preserve your memories, and reflect honestly on how your life experiences are aligning with your life goals. The act of writing is a useful technique for self-awareness and personal growth. It’s true: sometimes you discover what you’re thinking or feeling as you write!

blank journal with flowers
Image by Monfocus from Pixabay

For inspiration, explore these diaries from famous authors and regular people, which can be found in the TCL catalog or for free online:

Happy reading—and journaling!

This post was contributed by Aviva Adler, Librarian, Touro College Israel

11 Reasons to Consider OER for Your Fall Courses

Open educational resources, or OER, are excellent materials to use for in-person, online, and hybrid classes. As you plan your courses for the fall semester, here are 11 reasons to consider OER.

neon sign that says open
CC-BY: Bill Smith

#1: OER are available on day one 

OER can be ready for students on the first day of a course, or even before. You no longer need to wait for students to acquire a textbook to get started with the material.

#2: OER are free forever 

Rather than renting a print copy of a book that needs to be returned or paying for an access code that will expire at the end of the semester, students can use an OER material for free forever. This is particularly helpful for academic programs that build on standard foundational courses; as students move to more advanced levels, they can continue to use their earlier texts for reference.

calculator with college spelled out
CC-BY: GotCredit

#3: OER can be accessed anywhere, anytime 

All students need to read an OER is a device that can connect to the internet. They can access OER materials on their phone, a tablet, or a computer, or they can print out sections or the whole text. Most OER can also be downloaded for offline access.

#4: OER can be adapted to fit your course 

If you are asking students to purchase an expensive textbook, you might be tempted to “teach to the textbook” so that students get their money’s worth. With an OER, you can teach what you want and craft your textbook to match your needs.

#5: OER can be adjusted to match a changing semester  

Whether the semester goes as planned or becomes shorter than you had planned for, OER can fit your timeline. You can adjust a textbook in the middle of the semester to remove units you will not be able to cover or to add in extra material if your class needs additional support on a topic.

smiling square with icons representing documents
Image by Manfred Steger from Pixabay

#6: OER go beyond textbooks 

Textbooks might be the most common form of OER, but they are not the only OER. There are free, open versions of test banks, lecture slides, and even whole Canvas course templates you can import. If you can imagine a course material, it is likely that there is an OER version of it.

#7: OER support student success and retention 

Colvard, Watson, and Park (2018) found that “students tend to perform better in course settings when OER textbooks were used in place of expensive, commercial textbooks.” And librarians at Montgomery College, a community college in Maryland, found that when they made the switch to online emergency teaching this semester, the retention rate for OER courses was 85%, higher than the retention rate for the college as a whole. This is consistent with retention rates for OER across the semesters there. Not only are OER contributing to keeping students in class, they are contributing to higher grades, too.

#8: OER can be made accessible for all learners

Accessible design is a central tenet of the open community, so finding or creating materials that can be used by students with different learning needs is easily done. Some OER platforms offer audio versions of the text, accessible formats that can be read by screen-readers, and fonts that can be changed to be easier to read. These aspects of good OER design benefit all users, not just those with disabilities.

#9: OER are an opportunity to publish 

Publishing an OER material can be a great way to add to your CV. For many departments, an OER project can count towards promotion, based on research, writing, or service done to contribute to your professional community.

lego figurines
CC-BY: Giulia Forsythe

#10: OER can lead to deeper learning 

Students and faculty can collaborate to publish OER, deepening the opportunity to learn. This is part of the idea behind open pedagogy, which “is the use of open educational resources (OER) to support learning, or the open sharing of teaching practices with a goal of improving education and training at the institutional, professional, and individual level” (BCCampus OpenEd). Students can engage in meaningful creation of educational matters by using OER as a jumping off point.

#11: OER connect us 

OER start a conversation between authors, faculty, students, and community users from around the world. You can use resources from South Africa and contribute materials that might be used in a classroom in Germany. The “open” community is a welcoming space for connection and collaboration.

This post was contributed by Georgia Westbrook, Open Educational Resources & Instruction Librarian

Finding Solace at an Animal Sanctuary

For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to animals, from gushing over the stray cats that my father used to bring home like some sort of Pied Piper, to having the distinct memory of rushing across the road as a teen to assist a jaywalking turtle. When, in 2014, I was presented with the opportunity to work directly with animals (many of which most people never get the chance to work with), I immediately accepted.

On my very first day volunteering, I was tasked with mucking up after a pair of alpacas, feeding over a dozen chickens, and brushing a big bovine beauty named Annabelle. While it was hard, physical work, it was also heavenly. I was completely in my element, surrounded by over fifty animals of all different shapes, sizes, and species, and learning as much as I could about them. Continue reading

I used to want to be a writer…

I used to want to be a writer,
Someone who gave knowledge and information,
Someone who built worlds,
Someone who fueled the mind.

I used to want to be a writer,
I dreamed of it,
I thrived for it,
I lived for it.

Then the words disappeared,
They dried up like a river bed in summer,
They flew my coop like a flock of birds,
They bled from my mind.

Oh how I mourned their loss,
I sought out the advice of others,
I lost my self in their knowledge and information,
I lost myself in their worlds,
I had my mind fueled and I decided I wanted to be just like them.

I used to want to give knowledge and information,
I used to want to build worlds,
I used to want to fuel minds,
So I did.

I became a librarian.

a hand writing with a quill
Image by andreas160578 from Pixabay

I became a librarian by choice. I chose to go back to school to get my undergraduate degree and then go straight to graduate school. I was a non-traditional student and proud of it. My love of knowledge, discovery, and research led me to this path. My adoration of words, their meanings, and what they can accomplish fueled it.

Why did I become an academic librarian? It wasn’t for money, nor for fame. It was to help others. The dissemination of information is one of the greatest gifts — or superpowers — I have. I can help others find and discover the information they were looking for, and I can help spread knowledge. The toughest lesson I have had to learn is how to say ‘I can’t find that information, but I can suggest new avenues for trying to discover it.’

Even in this time of uncertainty, we are here for you. The academic librarians of Touro College are here. We are here to help you find your facts, support your arguments, and find new avenues of research. Above all, we are here for you — period. Reach out and talk to your librarian today.

Contact a librarian: https://www.tourolib.org/ask-a-librarian

Review our remote access guide: https://www.tourolib.org/student-remote-guide

This post was contributed by Heather Hilton, Librarian, Bay Shore

The Joyous Holiday of Lag BaOmer

This year, on May 12, Jews will be celebrating the joyous holiday of Lag BaOmer.

typewrite with lag baomer typed out
Photo by Marco Verch (trendingtopics). CC BY 2.0.

What is Lag BaOmer?

Gematria, or Jewish numerology, is related to the philosophy of number and mathematics. ‘Lag’ stands for the Hebrew letters lamed — numerical value of 30 — and gimel — numerical value of 3 — with a sum of 33; this marks the 33 days of the Counting of the Omer in the Hebrew calendar. The Omer was a religious rite observed in the Temple on the second night of Passover.

There are some similarities between Lag BaOmer (sometimes spelled Lag B’omer) and the current quarantine and social distancing necessitated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Rabbi Akiba and the Plague

The 33rd day after the beginning of Passover is celebrated as Lag BaOmer, because it was on that day that the deaths of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased.

According to the Talmud, in the 2nd century CE, there was a plague that killed 40,000 disciples of the great Jewish mystic, Rabbi Akiba. The Talmud shares that this plague is a punishment for their not showing proper Jewish ethical respect, or derekh eretz (proper behavior and manners), towards each other, and for their lack of manifest proper ahavas yisrael (love of Israel) and love of all creatures (kavod ha-briut). Because of this tragic event, the weeks between Passover and Shavuot are observed as a mourning period, not only for the ethical failings of Rabbi Akiba’s disciples in the interhuman (bain adam li havaro/das zwischenmentshliche) and their lack of care and loving kindness (hesed) for each other, but also the destruction of the Temple that Rabbi Akiba merited to have witnessed. Significantly, it was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Akiba’s disciples ceased dying from the plague.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Rabbi Akiba had five disciples who actually survived the plague. One of them, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, also known as the Rashbi, was a great Jewish mystic who eventually went into a kind of quarantine by hiding in a cave to escape persecution by the Romans. In the cave, he lived ascetically, eating only carob, with his son to whom he transmitted esoteric mystical teachings of Kabbalah. It was on Lag BaOmer that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai felt that it was safe to leave the cave after many years; many years later, the Rashbi would pass away on Lag BaOmer, making that day his yahrtzeit, or anniversary of his death, a day of commemoration in Judaism. Thus, Lag BaOmer is considered a day of Kabbalistic significance in the Jewish calendar.

rashbi's cave
The site some identify as the Rashbi’s cave. Photo by Deror_avi.  CC-BY-SA 4.0

Beyond “Business as Usual”

Perhaps the being stuck at home now will spark us to devote more time to the quest for intellectual, spiritual, and moral virtue, rather than assuming a “business as usual” attitude.

Jacob Richman has organized links related to Lag BaOmer that you can explore from home this year, and the Chabad website offer a simple, introductory article on Lag BaOmer. As the power of music in the Jewish arts testifies, song epitomizes the transcendence of the spiritual over the physical, so I hope you may enjoy some music associated with Lag BaOmer, too.

This year, Lag BaOmer falls on May 12, which is coincidentally close to May 15, the target date to begin to lift some of the stay-at-home measures in New York. May we hope that, with the approach of Lag BaOmer, the tide of the novel coronavirus begins to turn.

This article was contributed by David B. Levy, Chief Librarian at the Lander College for Women