City-wide outdoor shofar blast ushers in New Year

Michael Allen
Michael Allen sounds the shofar outside the Lutheran Church of the Reformation in the District, at a shofar blowing organized by Hill Havurah. (Photo by David Stuck)

It’s about 4:45 p.m., two hours before the start of Rosh Hashanah, when Alana Eichner walks into Meridian Hill Park (also known as Malcolm X Park) in the District’s Columbia Heights neighborhood. Dozens of people are near the equestrian statue of Joan of Arc, but Eichner doesn’t see anyone else holding a shofar.

“I’m really hoping that other people show up,” she says.

She needn’t have worried. Over the next 10 minutes, other people join her for “The Blast,” a city-wide shofar blowing on Sept. 18 aimed at kicking off the holidays at precisely 5 p.m.

Ginger Moss, like many others, says she heard about the event through the grapevine and took a chance that others would show up. She’s carrying with her a shofar that had been sitting on her living room shelf, a decorative piece she bought as a souvenir in Israel. Now, for the first time, she’s going to sound it. And she’s happy to have company.

“I didn’t think anyone would be out here,” Moss says. “And I’m glad all these people are here.”

Participants across town found the shofar sites with the help of a virtual map on the event’s website. Anyone could add a pin marking where they would be blowing. There were about 230 of them.

As people gather in the park, others take their places on the roof of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library, at Temple Sinai and in their homes.

While some pins were placed by the synagogues and other organizations sponsoring the event, the pins were anonymous. At Meridian Park, those gathered look confused as they scan the crowd, looking for someone in charge. But there is no one.

At 5, shofars sound in the distance, but it isn’t until a minute or two later that a man and a woman count off the group by the Joan of Arc statue. A half dozen shofars sound in unison.

Julia Rosenbaum blows her plastic kazoo shofar. She bought it from a specialty shop in Rockville and has traveled all around the world with it.

“And so I always try and greet the New Year wherever I am and share it with other people,” Rosenbaum says. “I think particularly now in COVID isolation, more than ever you want community and to blow out the evil and bring in the lights.”

After the initial blowing, Shana Finkel gives an encore solo performance on her Israeli shofar, possibly the biggest shofar at the park.

“It’s a weird thing every year to blow a shofar, but I love blowing it. I’ve been blowing it at different synagogues for many years,” Finkel says. “I really didn’t know what to expect. I had a fair amount of friends that said they were going to show up and then was told this other group might be here.”

Shofar blower Yael Flusberg says the event is a means for her to connect to the Jewish community while remaining safe.

“It’s taking Judaism out of the building and instead, like how Abraham Joshua Heschel talked about, creating a sacred architecture of time,” Flusberg says. “So to me, it’s time that we’re spending together versus the place that we’re usually in.”

Shofar listener Wendy Melechen says this is a good way to begin the New Year.

“It’s such an important time of year to be connected to other people,” Melechen says. “And so once I knew about this option, it just seemed like a really smart, great way to start the holidays.”

Her friend Eichner agrees.

“I love the Jewish High Holidays,” Eichner says. “And they feel harder than ever to celebrate this year. I particularly love celebrating them with a crowd of people and a crowd’s not possible this year. So this felt like a way to get a little bit of the communal joy of High Holidays that’s missing.”

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