The brighter side

This Rosh Hashanah, the shofars are blowing in the wind

A veteran ram’s hornist and a team of programmers are seeking blowing opportunities for New Year’s 5781

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Moshe Silver, a former New Yorker living in Jerusalem, wants to make sure everyone gets to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah 2020 (Courtesy Moshe Silver)
Moshe Silver, a former New Yorker living in Jerusalem, wants to make sure everyone gets to hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah 2020 (Courtesy Moshe Silver)

When the second day of Rosh Hashanah rolls around on Sunday, Moshe Silver will be blowing his curled ram’s horn at four to six locations, for a total of some 220 blasts of the shofar.

“One hundred at my minyan, and 30 at each stop I make,” said Silver.

At least another 100 shofar blowers will be sounding their ram’s horns at predetermined spots around the country, making the New Year ritual accessible to Israelis cooped up at home due to the coronavirus.

Silver, a former New Yorker living in Jerusalem for the last two years, began thinking about creating a shofar blowing cadre in July, when it was clear that COVID-19 would still be around in the fall.

He wasn’t the only one.

Reut Avital, a 19-year-old in her second year of voluntary national service at Hilma, a nonprofit that offers tech solutions for various segments of the Israeli populace, began working on a website in July that would bring together shofar blowers and those who won’t be able to get to a synagogue to hear the call of the ram’s horn this year.

“The goal was to provide a solution to anyone — the elderly, the sick, and those who have to stay home for their health,” said Avital.

But now, with a three-week lockdown mandated by the government set to begin on Friday, the website, Yom T’ruah, will cover anyone who can’t get to synagogue. While there are allowances for people to walk to carefully delineated prayer quorums, many won’t be getting to synagogue this Rosh Hashanah, said Avital.

She began working with her fellow programmers at Hilma, building and designing Yom T’ruah — an alternate name for Rosh Hashanah that refers to the blast of the shofar — a smart website that maps out and matches shofar blowers and their audiences.

Reut Avital and her fellow programmers at Hilma, where the national service volunteers work on creating technological solutions for Israeli society, including this year’s shofar mapping website for Rosh Hashanah 2020 (Courtesy Reut Avital)

Those who want to sign up have to give their phone number and address, and must specify whether they want a private shofar blowing or a public version that can be heard from their porch or backyard, along with other neighbors.

As of Monday, the website had registered 150 blowers and 100 people who wanted to hear the shofar.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Avital said.

Two other organizations, the Tzohar Rabbinical Organization and Ohr Torah Stone’s Yachad Program for Jewish Identity, which have partnered for several years to promote community based high-holiday services for secular Israelis, also took their services outside and planned to bring their six-year-old “Shofar in the Park” initiative to more than 230 locations.

Silver followed a more straightforward route to finding his shofar blowers, by posting an announcement on Secret Jerusalem, a widely read local Facebook group, looking for fellow ram’s horn tooters.

After Silver made contact with other shofar blowers through Facebook, and created his Jerusalem Shofar Ensemble page, he scheduled about two dozen stops in southern Jerusalem, according to where his shofar hornists live and where they’ll be located over the holiday.

“Most will blow four to six times — 12:30 at this corner, 1:30 at that corner,” said Silver, who began plastering flyers around his own neighborhood a week ago.

At this point, he isn’t quite sure how many shofar blowers he will have, given that one volunteer is now under quarantine, another is having an issue with his mouth, and a few people from Tel Aviv aren’t sure they’ll be able to get to Jerusalem before the holiday and the countrywide closure.

Moshe Silver, a rabbi, partner in a Wall Street investment research firm and shofar blower, who will take his shofar to the Jerusalem streets during the coronavirus (Courtesy Moshe Silver)

“I don’t have any ego about this,” said Silver. “I believe what will happen is that this doesn’t need me to make it happen.”

Silver, a partner in a Wall Street investment research firm, began blowing the shofar 45 years ago, for the Drisha minyan in Manhattan. He had become observant after college and when he was given a shofar as a birthday gift, he learned how to blow it for his congregation’s first Rosh Hashanah service.

“That first time, I blew it and went pffff,” said Silver.

He practiced for half an hour every day, and after about a month of “farting and coughing noises,” finally drew an amazing sound out of it, said Silver. “Baaah! And I never looked back.”

Silver, who was ordained as a rabbi 12 years ago, takes out his shofar every summer, the day after the Ninth of Av, in preparation for the Hebrew month of Elul, when the shofar is sounded each day after morning prayers.

“I’m blowing 200 or more sounds from the Tenth of Av,” said Silver.

This year, his plan is to situate one shofar blower at an apartment complex near the Haas Promenade, where there was a request for the entire development. Silver will blow the shofar in the courtyard of where he lives on Maagalei Yavne Street, and at an old-age home on Tel Hai Street.

He also offered his services at the Dan Panorama Hotel on Keren Hayesod Street, which currently functions as a coronavirus quarantine hotel, but the army unit running the place hasn’t yet taken him up on his offer.

“That’s okay,” said Silver. “When I blow the shofar on Keren Hayesod, you’ll hear me.”

He’ll also place a mask over the opening of the ram’s horn, even though spittle generally remains inside the horn. That said, he doesn’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable, and a mask does not change the sound of the shofar and is permissible according to Jewish law.

“I want to show people that I’m being careful,” said Silver. “It’s important to show that we’re respecting each other and looking after each other.”

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