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New Year

Erika Abbott smiling headshot seated on a couch

Erika Abbott

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.

Meet the Author

Erika Abbott
3 comments… add one
  • Annie Abbott Sep 9, 2022, 3:49 pm

    LOVE LOVE LOVE THIS- THIS IS EXTRAORDINARY! THANKS FOR THE “SHOUTS/THE CALLS TO ACTION!”…YOU DOING IT FOR SO MANY OF US IN THE COMMUNITY! HALLELUYAH AND BRAVA, XOXOXO

  • Norma Sigal Sep 9, 2022, 4:57 pm

    Bravo 🙏. You are magnificent… and brave 💖

  • Jane covner Sep 9, 2022, 5:08 pm

    Love this essay by Erica, laced with her irreverent humor.

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