As High Holidays approach, embracing differences and a shofar that travels the town


The Pelham Jewish Center

Dear friends,

In the Jewish community, we are quickly moving into the High Holiday season, the time of year when we celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. This year, Rosh Hashanah will fall on Sept. 19 and 20 and Yom Kippur will fall on Sept. 28. Like so much in our lives right now, the observance of these central holidays will be very different. We are innovating to create for our community a holiday experience that will be meaningful and transformative, observing the restrictions that medical experts advise us are necessary. Among other changes, we will not be able to hear the blasts of the shofar, the ram’s horn, which is traditionally blown 100 times during the service on Rosh Hashanah.

The sounding of the shofar is one of the most evocative and meaningful moments in the High Holidays.

This sounding serves many purposes. It is a reminder of the ram that Abraham sacrificed in place of his son, Isaac. It is the fulfilment of commandments in the books of Leviticus and Numbers. It serves as an echo of the revelation at Mount Sinai when the blasts from a ram’s horn could be heard. It calls our attention to the fact that Rosh Hashanah is also known as the Day of Judgment, a time to reflect on our past actions and consider how we can make our lives more meaningful.

This year, the interpretation of the shofar that resonates most with me is that of a spiritual alarm clock, designed to awaken us from the torpor of our everyday lives. It is a call to action, demanding that we consciously choose how to live lives of meaning in the year to come. This year, as each day of quarantine can so easily blend into the next, such an alarm is doubly necessary.

As we move into the new Jewish Year (5781), many of us move into the new school year, and we all move into the sixth month of this pandemic. We can take this opportunity to reflect on what is important in our lives. We have the opportunity to evaluate our priorities and whether or not our actions line up with our values.

At the Pelham Jewish Center, we are learning to embrace the differences brought about by the pandemic and use them to our advantage. We know that our holiday experience will not be the one that we treasure from years past, the one that we look forward to resuming in years to come. It will be different, and we must make the most of those differences.

We are inspired by the verse in Psalms: “Blow the shofar on the new moon, on the full moon for our feast day” (Psalm 81:4). Instead of sounding the shofar only on Rosh Hashanah, we will sound it throughout the month of Elul—the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah—which begins with the new moon.

We will be enhancing our sense of community and connection to one another by bringing the shofar to individual homes, so that we can all have this vital experience while observing the necessary restrictions of this moment.

This means that you may hear the sounding of the shofar in your neighborhood any day between Aug. 21 and Sept. 18. Additionally, we plan to sound the shofar from specific central locations.

On Aug. 23 at 1 p.m., we will blow it from the roof of the Pelham Jewish Center. On Aug. 30 at 1 p.m., we will blow it from the bell tower of Huguenot Church. On Sept. 6 at 1 p.m., we will blow it from Julianne’s Playground. On Sept. 14 at 1 p.m., we will blow it from the roof of Saint Catharine’s Church.

I am grateful to Father Robert DeJulio of Our Lady of Perpetual Help/St. Catharine’s Church and Reverend Paul Seelman of Huguenot Memorial Church for allowing us the use of their space to make this possible. Not only will this enhance the experience, it is a real demonstration of the communal commitment that is a hallmark of our town.

If you do hear the call of the shofar, I invite you to pause what you are doing and listen to its blasts. Take a moment to reflect on the year that has passed and look ahead to the year to come. I hope that this will be meaningful for you, whether or not you are Jewish.

May we all look forward to a year of life and health.

Rabbi Alex Salzberg is rabbi of the Pelham Jewish Center.