The Shofar Belongs to Everyone

Rabbi Riskin often says that as committed Jews, our approach toward everything in life is critical: rather than cursing the darkness, we must light more candles.

In what has become a tradition, our Yachad Program ran a nationwide Rosh Hashana initiative which lit the proverbial candles for tens of thousands of secular Israelis.  Called “Shofar BaPark” – which literally means “Shofar in the Park” – the project brings the central symbols and traditions of Rosh Hashana out of the synagogue and into the public realm, making them accessible to everyone.

shofar-bapark-modiin-5777For the first time this year, Yachad facilitators worked in partnership with the Tzohar Rabbinic Organization and were thus able to reach 252 locations – almost 100 more than last year. “Our facilitators described tremendous excitement amongst participants,” reports Bezalel Safra, the Yachad Program’s director. “In many locations, children were so excited to see the shofar that they ran through the parks gathering others. Families left blankets and barbecue grills, gravitating toward the facilitators who came with a tallit on their backs and a shofar in their hands.”

Magnetic Draw

In a sign of the times, many participants were so caught up in the uniqueness of the moment that they pulled out their cellphones for selfies, videos, or to share the sounds of the New Year songs with others.  The above photo was shared on the facebook page of a young participant at one of 13 “Shofar in the Park” locations in the city of Modiin, and illustrates a scene that was replayed across the country. Tens of teenaged boys heard the sounds of the shofar from the adjacent park, spontaneously stopped their soccer game and flocked toward the source of the blasts. “The shofar has a magnetic draw,” relates Yachad facilitator Alon Chazani.  “The boys stood around me, covering one another’s heads with their hands. After the shofar we sang and danced… they really connected to Rosh Hashana as a day which holds a personal and national meaning for them, rather than just another day off school,” he says.

In many cities, “Shofar in the Park” has become a much-anticipated annual event. One family biked all the way from across the city to hear the blasts in Azur, south of Tel Aviv, while another family, which had moved from Petach Tikva over the course of the year, returned to the park where they had been “moved to tears” by the shofar blasts the year before. “I always say I don’t like religion, but it turns out that I actually do,” said one of the repeat attendees in Rechovot. “It’s just I’ve never encountered it in such a beautiful, non-intimidating, meaningful setting,” she said.

Thirsty for Connection

“If someone doesn’t feel comfortable in synagogue – for whatever reason – well, then we’ll bring the service to them,” states Renana Weiss, the Yachad facilitator in Lod.  Weiss’s volunteer squad of shofar-blowers was one of several that went a step further this year, going from apartment to apartment afterward to offer a taste of the festival to everyone.

“The first door I knocked on was answered by a woman who was so excited to see me that she asked me to blow for her elderly mother, too, who lived across the hall,” shares Eli, one of the volunteers. “In the second apartment, the woman who answered stopped her lunch preparations and invited me in. ‘Turn off the TV and come quickly!’ she shouted to the kids – and to her husband: ‘Moshe, get the kippot!’  And so it went, home after home. It was so moving to see their love for tradition and their desire to hear the shofar in a comfortable and non-threatening place where they could really connect.”

The accounts pouring in from our facilitators and their volunteers are only proving the assertion on which the Yachad program is based: secular Israelis are not opposed to Judaism. On the contrary, they are thirsty for a connection to their heritage, but they want it to be on terms that are relevant and meaningful to them.