Columns - 2003

    Motley Jue Crue

    by Doug Brook
    Deep South Jewish Voice Columnist

    I recently went on my first cruise (no relation to Tom or Penelope, and not an endorsement for Bustamante). I spent seven days and three nights on a luxury liner off the shores of Alaska.

    How was it seven days but only three nights? The sun gets very little downtime there this time of year. Do the math.

    Like many kids my age, I had a regular routine after breaking Shabbat. I'd sneak into the next room and hope nobody realized what I'd done, and figure out how to blame my brother. Wait, sorry. That was my regular routine after breaking a lamp.

    After the end of the holiest day of the week, I'd spend Saturday evening watching The Love Boat. And the start of Fantasy Island, just to hear, "de plane! De plane!". Well, the Love Boat was actually the Pacific Princess, which I was definitely not on (couldn't find Gopher anywhere). I was on the brand new, eight-weeks-old reincarnation of her original sister ship, the Island Princess.

    I was also one of the youngest people aboard. Alaska cruises are notorious for appealing to the same crowd as weekend theatre matinees.

    While on board, I saw a comedian called The Sarge. He had a routine about how he was a black (Aramaic for "African American", albeit alliteratively) child raised in Mississippi by a Jewish family. Intrigued (and having laughed my posterior into oblivion, which is important on a cruise with a 24-hour buffet), I asked him after the show if it was true. He said, "no, I grew up in Staten Island." Thus ended his Deep South Jewish Voice exclusive interview.

    Anyway, like so many of you, September is a time of year for me in which I must quickly find something wrong to do. Otherwise, I'd have nothing from the past year to atone for on Yom Kippur.

    This year, however, I found that I needed to do something good before the ink dries on the 5764 edition of the Book of Life. (For the three of you who read my column, that's obvious.) As many high school seniors will tell you, it's no fun to be waitlisted.

    This cruise might not be frequented by the most religiously observant among us, because it departs and arrives on consecutive Saturdays. However, since I've been accused by several of my exes as being a disturbingly unobservant person, I felt qualified to go.

    Despite the Saturday quandry, the cruise tries to provide a religious experience. And I don't just mean people saying, "god, look at that iceberg." When I received the daily listing of activities for Friday, I noticed an entry that said "5 p.m. Jewish Sabbath Service, to be conducted by a passenger."

    Perhaps they knew my grandmother, because the service was to be held in the bridgetable-laden Card Room.

    Here was my chance to do a good thing this year! After all, on a luxury liner with 2000 passengers, I was stereotypically certain that a conservative estimate would put at least ten percent of them as Jewish. (According to my Statistics class in college, a reform or orthodox estimate would only differ by up to two percent. Though, according to my transcript, I got a C- in Statistics... Hey, you try to be clever while avoiding the obvious joke about the number of Jews that would be on a "Princess" cruise.)

    Anyway, assured that there were at least a couple hundred Jews aboard, I figured I'd go to this service since they'd probably need a tenth person to make a minyan.

    I was wrong. I was the seventh person.

    For the unfamiliar among you, a minyan is an ancient biblical object, the exact nature of which has been lost through the centuries. All we know is that it takes ten people to make one. In modern practice, an exceedingly small percentage of Jews worldwide gather in groups of ten or more, three times a day, to pray for someone to finally tell us what a minyan is.

    This service was, seriously, a wonderful experience. I arrived and found six people. An eighth came in, said he'd drag his wife from their cabin (she was getting ready for the cruise's last supper). Their eventual return gave us nine.

    The ship provided two candles, three fresh challahs, two bottles of Manischewitz Concord 2003 (which was surprisingly absent at the Reserve Winetasting the day before), black and white beanies (though no black and white cookies), and eighteen page pamphlets with service excerpts. Aside from putting the welcoming Shalom Aleichem on page 17, it was nice.

    I ended up leading the service, sometimes restarting when it was obvious nobody knew my Southern/NewEngland/Pittsburgh/California melodies. We looked out the window to figure out the ship's course, so we'd know which way was east.

    I've worked at temples that would count a Torah scroll as the tenth person so people could say kaddish. We decided two candles could count as one person. But just in time, three more wandered in anyway.

    Two people said kaddish. I met someone who knew my temple's education director when I was growing up from his previous city. We had people from Illinois, New York, and its suburbs (Connecticut and south Florida).

    I took a leftover challah to dinner, to show the goyim I was with what good bread can be. They liked it. To further foster a good image, I refrained from bringing the leftover Manischewitz.

    I also went to Passenger Services to thank them on behalf of the congregation, and to tell them that in the interest of not killing 3000 passengers and crew, we blew out the candles. The guy looked at me like I had two heads, which I can only assume I looked like because I'd just been a rabbi and cantor all in one.

    As a side note, I must share that I just saw the beginning of Chabad L'Chaim, the Chabad of California annual telethon (254 digital channels, and I found this). It's seven hours, the first dedicated entirely to proving that the Jews do own Hollywood by listing all the Jews who will appear, including Martin Sheen, Magic Johnson, Serena Williams, and the cast of Friends.

    I've now heard every possible pronunciation of "l'chaim." I don't even remember which is right anymore. I could write a whole column on this show, but suffice to say they are NOT kidding. Wow.

    Doug Brook is a technical writer in Silicon Valley, who still asks for your vote in the upcoming election in California. If elected, his first official act will be... to wring his hands diabolically while engaging in random bursts of laughter. His second act will be to introduce one of his citizens, Winona Ryder, to a nice Jewish boy her age that he knows real well who still thinks she's the bomb. (Winona, call me!... I mean, "him!") For more information, past columns, other writing, and other current events, visit his website at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.