The Jewish New Year starts with the emotion-stirring call from a ram’s horn, an instrument known as the shofar.
Signaling a call to action, shofar blowers resonate with the words from the Torah, asking congregations to commemorate the sacred occasion of Rosh Hashanah with loud blasts.
The high holy holidays start the Jewish calendar over, and faithful members look inward to reflect on the year in terms of deeds and their relationship with God.
At the Congregation Or Hadash, located in Sandy Springs, generations are represented by the alternating roles of two shofar blowers. Bruce Duner, a man in his 50s, and Adam Rosenfeld, a man in his 20s, have been blowing the shofar for about six years.
See a video of Bruce Duner blowing the shofar here.
Rabbi Analia Bortz said these two do a magnificent job blowing the shofar.
“Tears come out of your eyes when they blow the shofar,” she said. “[It’s] a most pristine and beautiful sound.”
Duner, who had played trombone from middle school through college, thought he would use that experience when he volunteered to blow shofar for services at Or Hadash. But it turned out his years with the trombone only helped a little — shofars have no mouthpiece attachment or pitch control and the sound is created only by the shape of the horn itself and the positioning of the player’s lips.
Duner found his shofar in 2008, when he visited Israel for his son’s bar mitzvah.
“I’d always wanted to buy one,” Duner said, adding that a “shofar has to choose you—like Harry Potter’s wand.”
Visiting various shops in Israel, Duner said some stores displayed decorated shofars and made a big deal out of their arrangements, but the place where Duner found his shofar simply had several horns stuffed in a box.
“I started pulling a bunch out and the second or third one I tried, I said ‘That’s it!’” Duner said. “I just looked at my wife and she smiled.”
Now, Duner said he displays his shofar above the fireplace in his living room and takes it down to blow it during the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah.
Or Hadash’s younger shofar blower, Rosenfeld, who attends Kennesaw State University, said he starts practicing a month and a half before the holidays to build up his lung capacity.
He believes he had a bit of natural talent, but his practicing since he was “just a kid” helped him develop the lung strength needed to produce the sounds. The first year he blew the instrument, he said, “I was exhausted.”
“Another gentleman, who was supposed to blow that year, couldn’t come to synagogue because his kid was sick,” Rosenfeld said. “So I stepped up.”
He said he felt he performed “okay,” but does a much better job now. His role as one of two shofar blowers makes him feel like he is helping out his community and the rabbis, he said.
“It’s nice to be up there; it’s my favorite part of the service,” Rosenfeld said. “For me, it’s a breathing exercise because I’m not very musically accomplished—except for this.”
Duner said the first year he and Rosenfeld worked together, they practiced beforehand. Now, they alternate blowing the 100 notes necessary during the day-long service.
“It’s an honor to be able to blow shofar for the community, a huge honor,” Duner said. “And it’s nice we can volunteer, but if other people want to do it, we find a way.”