A small but dedicated band of shofar blowers strives to ensure that everyone can hear the sounds of the ram’s horn on Rosh Hashanah, even if they can’t get to a synagogue.
Volunteers are given a few names and addresses right before the High Holidays of people who are homebound due to their age or an illness. Others on the list reside in nursing facilities.
The shofar blowers then visit these people, first making the short and long blasts and then often taking time to chat as well.
“It’s 100 percent a mitzvah for them and a mitzvah for me,” said Rabbi Jacob Greiniman, who has been making shofar visits for the past six or seven years. “My father blew the shofar. My grandfather blew the shofar. It’s in the blood.”
Numbers 29:1 instructs that everyone should listen to the sound of the horn and for most Jewish people that occurs while they are in synagogue.
For Greiniman, a visit often means walking in the Kemp Mill area up to 45 minutes each way, usually accompanied by his wife and three children.
While some people request the services of a shofar blower, other times Greiniman learns through friends of friends who cannot make it to synagogue that year.
The shofar is “unique,” said Greiniman, who is affiliated with Silver Spring Jewish Center, where his grandfather, Rabbi Herzel Kranz, is the spiritual leader.
Normally, a rabbi recites blessings for the person he is visiting. But in this case, “the blessing is not to blow the shofar. The blessing is to hear the sound of the shofar.” The person he is visiting usually recites the blessings, calling for the short and long notes.
“They do the blessing, and I do the blowing,” he said.
The people he visits differ each year, he said. “Usually people get well, and they get out of bed. That’s what we hope and pray for.”
Another Kemp Mill-area shofar blower is Joel, who asked that his last name not be used.
He took to the shofar after playing trumpet when he was young. Blowing the shofar “was easy for me to pick up,” he said.
Joel has been visiting three or four people for the past 15 years, including some who are hospitalized. He is part of a team of eight volunteers in Kemp Mill who generally blow the shofar at two dozen homes each Rosh Hashanah.
Joel also visits a nearby nursing home, calling the facility ahead of time to ask them to let people know he will be there with his shofar.
“A lot of people like it. Often people who are not Jewish like to hear it,” he said.
Because driving and pushing elevator buttons are prohibited on the holidays, Joel has had to climb up to 14 flights of stairs at University Towers in Silver Spring to reach the person before he can even begin blowing the shofar, which requires a great deal of breath to hit all the notes.
“I’ll usually come up, have a drink of water,” before beginning, he said, adding, “It’s a mitzvah to hear a shofar blown. It’s meant to inspire.”