Sounds of the shofar during High Holiday services are intended to wake up Jews to the holiness of the period.
At Temple Emanu-El in Edison the blowing of the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur takes on a special spirituality thanks to a team of shofar blowers who simultaneously sound the ram’s horn.
“It’s a wonderful way to engage people in High Holy Day services,” said Rabbi David Vaisberg of the nine-member team at the Reform congregation. “It’s another connection and it makes the High Holidays so much more special to have these volunteers sounding the tekia gedola. When you hear the shofar from every corner of the sanctuary it’s very moving as the sound spreads across the room.”
The shofar blowers position themselves throughout the room, said member Sandy Gonzalez Wilson, a former synagogue president and social action chair who first came up with the idea. “We work together very well because if somebody is not too great that day the others help them out,” she said.
Rose Lamorte is the youngest member at 8 years old. Rose told NJJN that she wanted to be a part of the shofar team because she was interested in learning more about Jewish rituals.
“I feel when there are a lot of people there together it’s very interesting watching how other people play,” said Rose, who is entering the third grade at Campbell Elementary School in Metuchen and is the daughter of David Lamorte and Lauren Michaels.
“I think this is a good way for Rose to connect to her religion and background,” said her father.
Wilson said the idea for the shofar-blowing team goes back close to 15 years to the resignation of long-time shofar blower David Bryan Rashbaum (aka David Bryan). Bryan, the keyboardist for the rock band Bon Jovi, blew the shofar in his family’s congregation when he was in his teens and early twenties, according to Wilson.
When Bryan’s professional demands forced him to relinquish the position, Wilson said he trained a teen, Barak Malkin, to take his place. However, when Barak left for college the synagogue needed a replacement and Wilson, who had just finished her term as president, told then-Rabbi Deborah Bravo that she wanted to form a shofar-blowing team.
“It didn’t come to fruition until Rabbi Vaisberg came [in 2012],” said Wilson. The team began with one or two members but over time it gradually grew to five.
Last year the team reached seven, but she said, “We weren’t very proficient.” This year, the team started practicing in July and Wilson reported a noticeable difference.
“People who didn’t know anything about blowing shofar or were intimidated by it have come together,” she said. “It’s just amazing how people have come into their own and have excelled. You wouldn’t know we are amateurs.”
Another of the team members, Marc Rappaport of Fords, joined with his daughter, Anastasia, now 15. He joined six years ago, motivated by being a cancer survivor.
“It gives me a different outlook on life,” he said. “I almost died and life is different for me now. I feel this is a mitzvah that should be done, and I also enjoy it. I get more enjoyment out of life now and things have more
Anastasia got involved after coming with him to a practice four years ago. Her father said Wilson handed her a shofar to blow. “[Anastasia] liked it so much we bought her her own,” he said.
Rapport — whose wife, Merrill, is a temple board member — said his daughter has become a mentor to Rose and hopes to go into the synagogue’s Hebrew school to teach other youngsters the art of shofar blowing.
“She really wants to get more kids involved and I’m really proud of her,” he said. “She came up with these ideas to get more kids engaged all on her own.”
Anastasia told NJJN that playing the shofar is “a once in a lifetime and definitely unique experience,” adding, “I really like my religion and it helps me become more active in the temple.”
“At first it was hard, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easier,” said the Woodbridge High School sophomore. “I can blow all the notes and learning how really shows you what you are capable of. I really feel the spirit of everyone giving me positive energy and that is part of the attraction.”
Anastasia, who formerly sang in the temple’s youth choir and has been a member of its various youth groups, acknowledged that being on a team with her father “is challenging, but we get along and try to make the best of it.”
Wilson said the congregation’s reaction to having a shofar team has been “overwhelming.”
“They’ve been so supportive and have encouraged us,” she said. “They make a point of coming up after services to say ‘thank you.’”