Columns - 2002

    Nothing particular

    By Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    Thanks to the United States Postal Service (motto: neither rain, nor snow, nor postage increase), by the time you read this you will have successfully made it through the most anticipated part of the Jewish calendar: the month of Cheshvan.

    Didn't realize you were anticipating it? I anticipated that. Don't know Cheshvan from a minivan? I anticipated that, too.

    Also known in Hebrew as "mar Cheshvan", this is the one month of the year in which nothing happens. Neither holiday, nor fast day, nor summer reruns.

    Every fall we stagger through an action-packed month full of such strains as the imparting of good will on Rosh Hashanah, the diet of Yom Kippur, the late summer construction boost of Sukkot, the perennial forgetting of Shemini Atzeret, and the migraine-inducing revelry of Simchat Torah.

    After that, we need a month off before we can cope with anything beyond the normal, low-impact, effortless facets of Judaism such as Shabbat, keeping kosher, and missing the first quarter every Saturday because the Rabbi won't cut his sermon short to accommodate ESPN forcing kickoff an hour earlier.

    Some ancient rabbinical sources, quoted here on condition of anonymity because none would answer our phone calls for an interview, say that they intentionally left Cheshvan clear of holidays in the hope that people would have plenty of time to take down their sukkahs. In modern practice, this seems like an unlikely explanation.

    While nothing extraordinary occurs on the Jewish calendar in Cheshvan, Jews in America often encounter Halloween, Thanksgiving, or both during this month.

    For those of you who just looked at your calendars to confirm that October 31 and the fourth Thursday of November are not, in fact, in the same month, I'm still talking about Cheshvan. It's a month on the lunar calendar, whose timing each year is as predictable as a Chicago Bulls season ticket holder in a china shop after Michael Jordan retired for the second time.

    However, these two secular festivities don't really get in the way of a nice relaxing month unless your kids are determined to get that last Harry Potter costume.

    In fact, to give people a few mild things to do, over time certain optional activities have arisen during this time for people to voluntarily partake in. Primary of these is Jewish book month. You have the time off, why not spend it reading? This was a work of genius by the ancients. Who else would have predicted that the primetime shows in November sweeps just wouldn't be worth it these days?

    Fitting in with the theme of nothing of consequence occurring during this month, the American government scheduled this time for election season. While it is hard to avoid the campaign advertising that is hurled from all sides, the historic level of voter turnout indicates that most people do not let politics distract them from their Cheshvan siestas.

    Because this column is about Cheshvan, a month in which nothing in particular happens, this column honors Cheshvan by not saying anything particular about anyone else for the rest of this column. Therefore, you will not read anything from here on that criticizes such deserving targets as Barry Manilow, Microsoft, daytime talk shows, corporate managers, or Barry Manilow.

    Make no mistake, we need a month like Cheshvan. Okay, I realize it's too much to ask someone to make no mistakes, but try not to make this one at least. As I'm sure you found this year, it is a great time off to ponder those elusive life-changing puzzles that one can only tackle when free from the distraction of cooking for (or, for the non-culinary, sitting at the table with) twenty.

    Here are a few of the things I was pondering. Same as yours, I'm sure. If you came up with any good answers, please send them along.

    If you're aboard the space shuttle in a non-geosynchronous orbit, and it's time for minyan, which way do you face? If you're over the Middle East at that point, do you face down?

    If you're a mission specialist on the forementioned shuttle and you have to go on a spacewalk, how do you kiss the mezuzah on the airlock with your space suit on?

    If seven of this season's New York Mets were smoking marijuana all summer, what's the other 18 players' excuse?

    Should I wait and install that new side door for the garage myself, or pay a contractor $500 so I don't have to deal with it sitting in the corner for another year? (This is a dilemma explained by Baba Gump's Theory of the Nuisance Fee--where the money you spend is less of a hit than the time it would take to do it yourself.)

    If a train leaves Phoenix headed east carrying 200 pounds of bluefish, and another leaves Chicago two hours later going five miles per hour faster, do you know if bluefish is kosher?

    And the most disturbing theological question to cross my table in months: What is a gefilte, anyway?

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley. His play Retrograde, which is in the 8 Tens @ 8 Festival anthology, is getting its professional New York premiere this month with Streetlight Players on 42nd Street. For more information, including ticket purchasing, and for past columns, other writings, and other current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.