Pandemic brings traditional shofar blowing service outdoors


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David Scholl, left, Rabbi Craig Mayers, center, and Dr. Murray Dweck hold their shofar horns before blowing them on the second day of Rosh Hashanah.

Ernest Arico

The shofar came outside for Rosh Hashanah this year.

On the high holiday -  the Jewish New Year - which began at sundown Friday, Sept. 18, congregants typically bring their shofars (ram’s horns) to the bimah (synagogue stage) and blow.

However, with the coronavirus pandemic limiting indoor observations, members of Temple Beth Sholom in Suntree decided to bring their horns outdoors and sound them simultaneously for those sitting in their vehicles parked in the synagogue’s parking lots. The event took place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 20.

“This was a rare opportunity to do it safely for all of our members,” said Bill Troner, president of Temple Beth Sholom. “And for those who couldn’t attend, we streamed the event live on our special Zoom site.”

What does the shofar symbolize?

According to Jewish tradition, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah (The Day of the Shofar Blast), Jewish people read Genesis 22, a story from the Torah that ends with Abraham sacrificing a ram - instead of his son Isaac - on the altar. 

“The ram, in some ways, represents redemption, because the ram saves Isaac,” Rabbi Craig Mayers explained. “We’re hoping that listening to the shofar can save us from our mistakes and sins. One of the purposes of shofar is to startle the spirit and to wake us out of complacency." 

The shofar has specific responses to traditional Hebrew calls: tekiah (a long, sustained blast), shevarim (three medium blasts), teruah (a number of short blasts in a row) and tekiah gedolah (an extra-long, sustained blast).

Since Rosh Hashanah is two days long, tradition says the Jewish people need to hear the shofar blown during the daytime hours of both of those days - unless the first day falls on Shabbat, in which case they blow the shofar only on the second day. This year, they blew the shofar on Sept. 20.

Mayers, a member of the synagogue for 17 years and rabbi for three years, said the wail of the shofar can sound like sobbing and also like a wake-up call, a dual meaning that he said seems particularly appropriate today amidst a social justice revolution and a global pandemic.

“Rosh Hashanah is the time to shake out of our spiritual slumber, reconnect to our source and recommit to our divine mission in this world,” Mayers said. “It is also a time when people reflect on the year that passed and think about how we can be better in the year ahead.”

About 100 vehicles packed the synagogue’s parking lots to hear the horns blow. Inside one of the parked cars was Rosie Lipson of Viera.

“I think it’s fantastic that they are doing this, trying to work around this pandemic,” said Lipson, who recently moved to Viera about a month ago. “We have to be safe. We have to be careful. We can lick this virus if we all work together.”

Mayers also was pleased with the turnout. “This is the most togetherness and gathering of any kind we’ve had in seven months,” he said. “We’ve been virtual (online) since March.”