October 2020 -- Tishrei- Cheshvan 5781,  Volume 26, Issue 10

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Sounding the Shofar Around Pelham

By Barbara Saunders-Adams


For Rabbi Alex Salzberg of The Pelham Jewish Center {PJC}, the highlight of the days of reflection leading up to the Jewish New Year 5781, was the opportunity to sound the shofar, a ram’s horn, around Pelham.


“I knew, from the moment that I started thinking about the High Holidays in a world of COVID, that the shofar would have to play a central role in how we mark this moment. This was ironic, because without the proper precautions, sounding the shofar to a large audience is a dangerous and irresponsible act, with the ability to spread the virus far and fast. So, I knew that we would need to be creative.”


Inspired by the plan of his friend, Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet, who sounded the shofar from the tower of the cathedral in his town in England, Rabbi Salzberg thought that he could bring the shofar to key locations around the community as well. “It seemed like a fun idea, and a creative way to ensure that a lot of people could hear it”.


What he was not prepared for, was the impact that it would have, not only on the Jewish community, but on others living in Pelham. The Rabbi said, “I reached out to my fellow Pelham clergy and was surprised with how enthusiastic they were to let me use their churches. They were excited to be able to support us in this moment, and clearly found it to be meaningful themselves. I thought that climbing to the roof of churches would be fun, a story that I would get to tell over and over.”


The Rabbi blew his Shofar at Pelham Jewish Center, Huguenot Memorial Church, Julianne’s playground and St. Catherine’s Church. When Rabbi Salzberg looked out on the members of the PJC community and the Pelham neighbors, he recognized the impact that it had on them, “it drove home the power of the shofar in a way that nothing else ever has”.


According to Rabbi Salzberg, “These moments have given me joy and uplift in a time that I desperately needed them. They did this, not because they were a reminder of normal times. These times are not normal, and we do ourselves a disservice when we pretend that they are. I was lifted up through the power of the shofar and the realization that even in this impossible time, there is the possibility of connection through creativity.”


The shofar reflects not only our joy in coming together on Rosh Hashanah, it also evokes the sighs of our worries. It echoes the cries of our grief. It reflects the gasps of our fear of the unknown.


We conclude the sounding of the shofar not with a standard tekiah, but with a tekiah gedolah, a great blast. This expresses more than joy or happiness. It points to the future and the joy that is possible in the year that begins. The tekiah gedolah reminds us that we can never surrender hope. Hope is what carried our ancestors through impossible times in the past. Hope is what allowed us to conceive of resurrecting a Jewish state in the Land of Israel after 2000 years without one. Hope is what will give us the strength to continue in our own lives and our community through this time as well.