Last Friday after sunset, Jewish worshipers recited the traditional prayer over the counting of the Omer, the seven-week period between the second day of Passover and Shavuot. The count that night was 42. Or it could have been Jackie Robinson, Ronnie Lott or Connie Hawkins, depending on if you were a baseball, football or basketball fan.
Those star athletes wore uniform No. 42 during their careers, and Alan Steinberg, a Monmouth University political science professor and political activist from West Orange, N.J., has been using such numbers as one of the latest ways to remind members of the Jewish community of the often-overlooked mitzvah of counting the Omer.
E-mail messages of each day’s count routinely go forth from such predictable sources as Chabad.org, Yeshiva.org.il and Torah.org. There’s a Count The Homer reminder, based on the cartoon character Homer Simpson, which helps in observance of the seasonal “Bart Mitzvah.” An Ultimate Omer app plays an alarm sound on a user’s phone. Meanwhile, Seth and Isaac Galena of BangItOut.com have created a Movie Lover’s Omer Counter and their own app based on sports numbers.
“Omer counting devices and special Omer calendars have long been relied upon to help individuals remember the correct count, but in the Digital Age there are websites and apps and text message reminders to help keep the counting correct,” Rabbi Jason Miller wrote recently on The Jewish Week’s “Jewish Techs” blog.
Steinberg started his daily e-mail reminders — for a Saturday night count, he’ll issue two messages on Friday, or send out one after Havdalah — five years ago, after someone in shul asked about that night’s count. “Tonight is the Roberto Clemente Omer,” he answered. Fellow baseball fans knew that the late Pittsburgh Pirates baseball star (Steinberg, a “sports fanatic,” is a Pittsburgh native) wore uniform 21.
A tradition was born. Steinberg began sending out daily Omer updates, complete with a brief bio of that day’s selection, to friends; more than 100 people are on his e-mail list now. He bases his choices on “my personal preference” of athletes who were great players and outstanding individuals. “It’s an in-house minyan joke. It’s a lot of fun. It stimulates interest in the Omer.”
Criticism that his sports-themed reminders are irreverent? “None whatsoever,” Steinberg says; even rabbis join in.
Steinberg will issue his last reminder in this year’s Omer cycle this Friday, the day before Shavuot begins. The count Friday night will be 49. Or it’s Ron Guidry or Bobby Mitchell or …