Nine Shuls Join for Outdoor Shofar Blowing
Rosh HashanahCommunity

Nine Shuls Join for Outdoor Shofar Blowing

A new initiative, the Toco Hills Shofar Collaborative, will serve increased number of homebound Jews.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Yisrael Frenkel invited all area synagogues to identify homebound members.
Yisrael Frenkel invited all area synagogues to identify homebound members.

Hearing the shofar is a central mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah. In the book of Numbers, the Torah mandates Rosh Hashanah, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, as a specific occasion to sound the shofar: “It will be for you a day of sounding the shofar.” From this verse, we learn of the obligation to blow the shofar during the day, not at night, and sages determined that the shofar blasts during the service coincide with the special blessings that are included in the Rosh Hashanah prayers.

Because Orthodox shuls do not employ virtual programming on Shabbat or Jewish holy days, it was necessary to find ways to offer live shofar-blowing to the increased number of members who will not attend Rosh Hashanah services this year. Those who are elderly or have health concerns have been absent from congregational gatherings for six months; however, hearing the shofar is a key element of the High Holy Days services, and rabbis have been considering ways for this demographic to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar live.

A month ago, Yisrael Frenkel, who is one of the High Holy Days shofar blowers at Congregation Ohr HaTorah, discussed this year’s Rosh Hashanah plans with Rabbi Adam Starr. When the subject of homebound congregants arose, it was clear that all synagogues must find a way to enable individuals in this group to hear the shofar.

Frenkel found a way to bring together all the area congregations to deal with the increased numbers who will stay home because of COVID-19. He reached out, and was thrilled by the unanimous positive responses of all nine synagogues who have homebound members living in the Toco Hills area. The result was the formation of The Toco Hills Shofar Collaborative.

The group includes Chabad of Toco Hills, Congregation Beth Jacob, Congregation Bet Haverim, Congregation Ner Hamizrach, Congregation Netzach Yisrael, Congregation Ohr HaTorah, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim, Congregation Shearith Israel, and the New Toco Shul.

Ely Landman is one of the two dozen volunteer shofar blowers

A representative of each synagogue was selected to identify people who would like to hear the shofar in small-group gatherings or individuals who require a home visit. Multiple small-group shofar blowing will take place around the community and many of the volunteer shofar blowers will also visit individuals who are unable to leave their homes to attend one of the limited gatherings.

In extreme cases, it will be arranged for a high-risk or severely disabled person to listen to the shofar through a window. Presently, there are more than two dozen qualified shofar blowers who will share the responsibilities.

Registration is necessary to minimize crowd size for safety. The synagogues sent questionnaires to their congregants, asking who would like a home visit or small group gathering at a specific site. The information collected from each synagogue will be entered into a database, then coordinated and managed by Frenkel and the Collaborative coordinators. Once the Collaborative finalizes the number of people requesting to meet at a certain site, respondents will be assigned a specific time slot at their requested location. All scheduled outdoor shofar blowing will take place in the afternoon to allow the shofar-blowers to attend full services at their own synagogues and be able to lunch with their families.

Mikkel Hertzberg, a recent bar mitzvah at the time, walked more than five miles last year, blowing the shofar at various locations.

Multiple shofar-blowing times will take place at the following central locations: Beth Jacob parking lot, Ohr HaTorah parking lot, Calibre Woods apartments, Post Briarcliff apartments, and the Torah Day School of Atlanta parking lot. There will also be a single session at each of the following locations: Stephens-Burton drives intersection, Lachona Drive cul-de-sac, Yeshiva Ohr Yisrael, and the Madison Druid Hills apartments.

Residents at the Holbrook retirement community on Clairmont Road have also requested a visit.

Those in attendance will be required to wear masks and observe social distancing. Understandably, there is legitimate concern that shofars, which are blown very forcefully close to listeners, are conduits for coronavirus spread. Therefore, a mask will be securely attached to the end of the shofars to prevent aerosol spray. In addition, to address the virus contamination concern, the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and Jewish HomeLife communities are providing testing for all volunteer shofar blowers prior to the holiday. “Our goal is to help and protect everyone who needs us,” Frenkel noted. “It’s gratifying and significant that all the area synagogues eagerly got involved.”

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