Columns - 1997

    Don't open before June 11

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Shofar Columnist

    As I write this, the sun shines on the morning after the moral landscape of this great nation was irreversibly changed. Last night, Ellen's sitcom character declared what most men have already known for years: Laura Dern is attractive.

    I was so inspired by her courage that I decided to do what Ellen did. Twice, in fact. Some people may be shocked by this revelation, but I felt a need to speak up while the hype is fresh. So, during a layover at the Dallas airport, in Dallas, I approached a man, took a deep breath, and told him that Ellen likes women.

    He nodded with understanding, then looked curiously at his wife. From this I learned that I should use Ellen's full name to avoid confusion. The next man I told about Ellen shrugged, summing up the bulk of American opinion by grunting, "And?"

    She likes women. So do I. On that, I agree with her. That was my first thought when the news that she came out came out. There's nothing wrong with the choice she made for herself. If you think otherwise, write your own column. But it would be nice if all the noise wasn't necessary. Hey, I'm a closet Mets fan, but you don't see me announcing it before a national audience...


    And I'm glad Ellen refrained from disparaging Birmingham as a whole because her show did not air there. It would have been disappointing for someone so boldly standing against persecution and stereotyping to make a blanket statement about an entire population because of how some people chose to run their television station. It's good she acknowledges that, right or wrong, it's their choice, just like it's hers...


    And this is well-timed to sit next to the many news articles jointly decrying Fuzzy Zoeller and Tiger Woods for their equally disparaging, yet intended without malice, remarks about different minorities in recent weeks...


    And this month, a columnist for The Southern Shofar wrote that he's happy he lives in a free country where we all just get along. Without any volatile issues raised by hyper-sensitivity or intolerance. Where people admit to their mistakes, shrug off meaningless words and disputes, and have learned how to just say...


    But enough about well-known religious issues. The subject today is the Omer. The Omer is a period of seven weeks beginning on the second day of Passover and ending with Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks. (And you thought the Seder was a long dinner...)

    The Omer, originally a strike until the Chicago Cubs would win their first game this season, was also conceived to teach numbers to the Simple Son and the Son Who Does Not Know How to Count.

    According to tradition, no joyful celebrations are held during the Omer. Weddings are not allowed, either. The Mishnah says we must also abstain from haircuts, shaving, and all senseless votes brought up at congregation board meetings. (The latter should be true year-round.) The concept of a period each year when we abstain from certain practices has also Lent itself to several other religions through the centuries.

    The Omer dates back several millennia. Why the Omer is a period of semi-mourning is lost to history, though some believe it recalls the unfortunate defeat of the forces of good, the Houston Rockets, in the 1986 NBA finals.

    Note: This was before Charles Barkley (a.k.a.: he who Dennis Rodman makes look good) joined the Rockets.

    Since we are to abstain from joyful activities during the Omer, you must stop reading this column now and save it until Shavuot.

    I mean it.

    Stop reading now.

    You could get in trouble for this.

    I don't want to contribute to anyone's inauthenticity.

    Since you're still here, I'll continue. Don't say I didn't warn you.

    Actually, you'll be fine. I searched for halachic discussion on this matter in various Mishnah tractates such as Baba Metziah and Baba Kama. I finally found an answer in the lesser known tractate, Baba Gump, which states that you must say four Hail Moishes at Yom Kippur: two for not stopping when I warned you, and two for reading this column in the first place.

    So, you're not supposed to have any fun during the Omer. As always, there is an exception. Joy and rapture, if done together, are allowed on Lag BaOmer (literally, "the 33rd day of the Omer"), which this year conveniently falls during the Omer. On the 33rd day.

    Included in this exception is a temporary reprieve from the ban on weddings. Therefore, if you are going to a wedding on Lag BaOmer, be sure to bring this column and read it aloud during the ceremony.

    Today, Lag BaOmer celebrates the end of the school year for synagogue Religious Schools around the world -- a day embraced by students with enthusiasm second only to that of the teachers. This dates back to the first century after the destruction of the Temple. Rabbi Akiva dismissed his students on Lag BaOmer so they could participate in the Bar Kochba rebellion against Rome as participants in the first ever accredited summer internship program.

    It is estimated (by me) that 7 percent of Jews this year will commemorate Lag BaOmer (whether they realize it or not) by studying, having a picnic, or simply throwing a few Lags on the fire and roasting marshmallows.

    The other 93 percent will let Lag BaOmer pass this year, due to the unfortunate timing of an ESPN special on the year of the Bar Kochba rebellion: The last time the Cubs won the World Series. Co-hosted by Fuzzy Zoeller and Tiger Woods.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley who is available to read his column during any authentic wedding on Lag BaOmer. Unless it's during "Ellen."

    For a complete transcript of this column, send $10 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to: Shofar Transcripts, P.O. Box 130052, Birmingham, AL 35213. Or you could just reread it. Still, send the $10. I need a haircut.

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.