What page are we on? How much longer does the service last? Just as my body signaled for urgent rest, the Shofar blasted. “Truah!”
Those first notes remind me that I want to be heard by my Jewish community. Not just as someone who’s disabled, but as a Holy Fool who has the knowledge you seek.
What better way to command attention than to play the Shofar? Thus, I decided to learn to play the ritual musical instrument and set out to play in Rosh Hashana services. I wanted to be the female version of Itzak Perlman. As I fell asleep that night, I could hear the T’kiah calling my name.
There are no ads in The Jewish Journal saying: “Wanted- shofar teacher. Salary: TBD.” So, I called Rabbi Joshua Hoffman at Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles, and made an appointment for the next day. “Why the Shofar?” The rabbi asked me.
“I like a challenge and I want to be heard.”
“Have you ever played a Shofar?”
“No,” I said.
“Do you have any stamina?”
What’s that? Being able to stay awake for the service? “I think so,” I replied.
“Let’s try something,” the rabbi instructed, “Before you try to play any notes, put the Shofar on the left side of your mouth. Ok, now on the right side. Uh-huh. Now, blow into the Shofar and see if you can hit any notes.”
I followed the rabbi’s instructions and got a sound, but it howled like a two-year-old mangling a cat. I couldn’t pay proper homage to the Reverend Louis Armstrong or honor my heritage.
My rabbi encouraged me to try again.
All right. This time, I blew into the Shofar, and sounded like I was only mangling half a cat.
“That was better,” my rabbi remarked. I think in a former life Rabbi Hoffman was a politician. Who else but a rabbi would have the patience to listen to someone mangle a “call to action,” aka the Shofar?
“Am I sure about playing the Shofar?” I silently wondered. Somehow, the rabbi read my mind and asked me what I was just asking myself.
There was a silence between us that would be broken by our next lesson. This was my second lesson, and my arms were already sore as if I had been climbing up Mount Sinai.
Months later, my hard work was rewarded when I got called to the bimah. As the rabbi called my name, I thought: “If my family could see me now.” Especially my grandmother. My grandmother never saw my disabilities, she only saw what I was capable of. I’m sure I would have thrilled Grandma had she known that I was taking Shofar lessons.
What a wonderful way to repay her belief in me.
On the ride home, I reminded myself why I started this. As a member of the disabled community, I often feel like I must shout to be heard. In this case, the shofar will shout for me, and the congregation will have to listen.