Ahead of high holidays, congregants learn to blow the shofar

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Participants try to blow the shofar at Temple Rodef Shalom’s workshop ahead of the high holidays. Photo by Jacqueline Hyman.

The sounds of 10 shofarot reverberated down the hallways of Temple Rodef Shalom Sunday, during a shofar-blowing workshop ahead of the High Holidays.

“For some it’s a refresher, for some of them, they want to try something new,” said Cantor Allen Leider, who led the workshop.


It usually only takes 20 or 30 minutes to learn, he said. “Once they can make the sound … then we try to make tiny adjustments.”

Many participants at the Falls Church congregation said they had experience in their school days playing trumpet, oboe or clarinet.

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“I thought I would be able to play it because I played the trumpet,” said Barbara Stephenson after the workshop. “This requires more sophistication in the lips than the trumpet.”

Leider first went over some history and background about the shofar: It can be made from the horn of any kosher animal except the bull, because “we don’t want to be reminded” of the story of the golden calf, Leider said.


Traditionally, the shofar was blown at a king’s coronation, for special occasions or victories in battle. Jews are also commanded to blow the shofar to begin the New Year, which is why Rosh Hashanah services include shofar blowing.

Leider then went over the shofar calls. “We don’t really know what the names of the calls mean,” Leider said, but the calls do have individual significance.

Tekiah, a blast, is a “call associated with God’s coronation,” according to Leider. Shevarim is meant to sound like three sighing or sobbing sounds. Teruah (nine short, fast sounds) is an alarm. The tekiah gedolah is the long blast that tests the shofar blower’s skill and lung capacity.

Leider demonstrated the calls, pointing out they can be modified for personal preference. Some people add more embellishes to the shevarim, he said.

“At some point, it gets to be showing off,” Leider said, and the group laughed. He also suggested counting teruah, the nine short blasts, in groups of three.

Leider compared buying a shofar to Ollivander’s wand shop in Harry Potter’s world — there, the wand chooses the wizard. Here, the shofar chooses the blower. Never buy a shofar online, Leider cautioned.

Stephenson tried several of Rodef Shalom’s shofarot, and said her ability to make sounds differed depending on which she was using.

“I think it really does depend on the shofar,” she said.

To get everyone ready to blow, Leider had them make a “raspberry” sound while breathing deep and pursing their lips. This trick helped them produce a sound out of the shofars rather than simply blowing air.

By the end of the workshop, everyone was able to blow the shofar — though creating different tones, and making the three calls, might take more work.


One participant got it right away. He proceeded to help others with tips on how he was able to get the sound out of the shofar.

Stephenson, who had never blown a shofar before, seemed confident and optimistic at the end of the workshop. She said she will bring a shofar to the Neilah, or closing Yom Kippur service.

“I think I’ll try the tekiah gedolah,” she said.

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