Photo by Melanie Gall
When my brother brought a shofar back
from Israel as a gift for my father, my much-amused dad, a professional
musician, quickly taught himself to produce clear, beautiful notes on the ram’s
horn. Now he could play the double bass, mandolin…and shofar.
Years later, while in Jerusalem on vacation, Dad bought himself a much larger
shofar, made in the Sephardic style from the long, elegant horn of a kudu
antelope. Soon after, Dad and Mom visited the ancient ruins at Caesarea, where a
tour group was learning about the Roman amphitheater. Always the showman, Dad
retrieved his new shofar from the car, stepped up onto the ancient stage, put
the shofar to his lips, and blew. The wide-eyed tourists watched, stunned into
silence. When the last echoes died away, they started moving quickly toward
their bus. Calling them back, the tour guide explained, “Don’t worry. There’s no
danger. It’s just something religious.”
This story became part of our family lore—as did my father’s somewhat
irreverent blowing of the shofar out the window of the car between Rosh Hashanah
and Yom Kippur as my mother drove through our neighbourhood.
When I was still living with my parents in Toronto, I taught myself to blow
the original, small shofar. After I married, my husband and I moved west to
Edmonton, Alberta and raised our family in the warm arms of Temple Beth Ora.
Then, when the temple was looking for someone to blow the shofar at the High
Holidays, I found that my skills were welcomed.
For years, as the ba’alat tekiyah, I used a beautiful shofar my
husband had brought back from Israel. Then, on my visit Toronto, my father
offered me that shofar of family lore he had proudly blown at his synagogue.
“It’s been stored under my bed for 15 years,” he told me, assuaging my concerns
that he would later regret the overture. “I’d rather it be used than have it sit
there collecting dust.”
How, I wondered excitedly, would I get this big shofar safely home? To avoid
damage during the flight to Edmonton, I decided to try to take it on board.
Upon arrival at the airport, I hurried to security and approached a
sympathetic-looking officer. “Would I be allowed to carry on this ‘religious
object’?” I asked.
“What is it?”
“It’s a hollowed-out antelope’s horn,” I said. “A shofar.”
As we spoke, eight security guards started to gather around. “What do you do
with it?” one of them asked.
“It’s blown to welcome in the Jewish New Year and at the end of our Day of
“Who blows it?”
“I blow it.”
“Can you blow it now?”
In the next, silent moment, I thought: If this is what it will take
to get the family heirloom home safely, why not?
I put the shofar to my lips and blew a long, loud, single note:
“Can you blow it again?” a guard asked.
So I did. This time it was the three notes of Shevarim.
Taking a deep breath, I sounded the nine staccato notes of Teruah.
An angry-looking security officer rushed over, calling at me to stop, but my
audience shushed him and eagerly asked for another note. Again and again, the
mellow, primal call of the shofar echoed through the cold, expansive hall.
“So,” I finally asked, “is it okay? Can I carry my shofar onto the airplane?”
The last, angry officer took it from my hands. He peered down one end and
then the other. Frowning, he opened his mouth to speak, but was quickly
interrupted by a chorus of voices: “Of course! Of course you can take it on!”
I hurried to the airline counter to check in and then, shofar in hand,
returned to security. The guards had obviously been discussing the shofar while
I was gone, because, as I went through the line, each had a question for me:
“When do you blow the horn?”
“What animal did it come from?”
“Can you play a song on it?”
“Where did you get it?”
“What do you call the notes?”
And the best question of all: “Was the shofar passed down through the
Smiling, with tears in my eyes at the memory of my father handing me his
shofar that morning, I nodded with pride.
Karen Gall is a member of Temple Beth Ora in Edmonton, Alberta, where she
now blows her father’s shofar on the High Holidays.