When it comes to getting sound out of a shofar, you either got it or ya ain't,
according to Rabbi Nahema Vogel, director of the Jewish outreach program Habab
Lubavich in Brighton New York.
VOGEL: For years, I didn't have it. And in fact someone gave me a shofar for my bar
mitzvah when I was 13. And for about ten years I couldn't get a sound out of it.
I decided I had to learn how to sound the ram's horn. And I went into a store in
Brooklyn where they were selling the ram's horn. And I remember standing there for
three, four hours trying again and again. Finally, somehow it clicked, I just got
it right. It's like riding a bike. Once you've got it, you can blow almost ram's
Any kosher animal's horn would do for a shofar, but there's a special significance
for the horn of a ram, involving Jewish history and the story of Abraham, who's
loyalty was tested by God.
VOGEL: And the tenth, final and most difficult test was the test when God tells
Abraham to take his only son Isaac and bring him up the mountain and offer him up
as a sacrifice. It's a story of course that needs a lot of explanation. But at the
end of the story, instead of offering up Isaac, we're told that there was a ram that
was caught in the bushes. And the ram was offered as a sacrifice instead. And here it
is on Rosh Hashanah, this day of judgement we want to in a sense remind God. By
sounding specifically the ram's horn we are reminding God that we are the decendants
of this great person who did show so much loyalty and devotion. And that on his merit
we should be given a good and sweet year.
VOGEL: There's no melody, no thought concept trying to be expressed. Sometimes with a
melody, you can listen and you can feel that there is something conveyed. When you
listen to the sound of the shofar playing just a plain, simple sound we're told that
it conveys that inner yearning of the soul to be one with its creator.
VOGEL: In Switzerland they do use the horns from cows or bulls. It's interesting that
although the cow, the bull are certainly kosher animals, we do not use the horn of a
cow. One of the reasons is there was a negative story with the golden calf, who the
Jewish people worship- serious mistake! And so we don't want to do anything on Rosh
Hashanah that would evoke that memory, so we stay away.
For years, the public has been invited to the Habad Lubavich-sponosered Shofar
factory, where kids and their parents make their own shofars. Oiled beforehand to
get rid of the cartiledge inside, the horn then needs to have an air passage drilled
through, plus sanding and smoothing to be ready for use.
VOGEL: It's an opportunity for them to actually make an object that everybody is
familiar with. Everybody has gone to synagogue on the High Holy Days and everybody
has heard the sound of the ram's horn. As we make the ram's horn, there's also a lot
of explanation given so the people take away not just technical knowledge but the
deepest significance, and some of the philosophy behind it. It's just a lot of fun,
a lot of noise and drilling. And they come away with something that they can put on
the shelf and almost create a family heirloom out of it.
But no matter how much someone knows about the shofar's history, and what goes into
it's manufacture, it's another thing to play it.
VOGEL: There are some kids who can take the most difficult shofar and get a nice
sound out of it. And then you have other people, adults very often standing right next
to the kid, and turning colors and still not getting a sound. Meanwhile this little kid
is blowing away. And it gets a little frustrating for people.
In Brighton, at the Jewish outreach center Habad Lubavich. Bill Flynn, WXXI-1370