By David Schultz
Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not the most kid-friendly of the Jewish holidays.
The two holidays, which take place this year on Sept. 29 and 30 and Oct. 8, respectively, are known as the High Holy Days and are considered two of the most solemn and reflective days in the Jewish religion. They are typically observed with daylong prayer sessions that require focus and introspection, two tasks not particularly well suited for a fidgety five year old.
“It’s not known as such a kid-friendly holiday,” Rabbi Mordechai Newman of the Arlington-Alexandria Chabad Lubavitch Center admitted.
But Newman has found a way to make these two somber celebrations appealing to young children. This weekend, he gathered a group of pre-adolescents and their parents to his Alexandria office to show the children how to make a shofar, the hollowed out ram’s horn that is blown on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
“It’s important to instill in them the importance of the holiday and also to get them excited about the holiday,” Newman said. “When they know the background and know how it’s done they get excited about it. It’s not just that they come to [synagogue] and they hear the Torah portion. They know how it’s made, the meaning behind the shofar.”
For centuries, Jews have been using the shofar to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the holiday marking the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, a day of atonement for one’s sins.
The shofar is typically made out of a hollowed-out ram’s horn but any other kosher animal with a curved, hollow horn can be used. (Bovine animals are forbidden, however, because they are associated with the golden calf from Mount Sinai, Newman said.)
The musical instruments made from these horns are used to make sharp, piercing bleats that usher in the new year and call the attention of Jews everywhere to the need for atonement. The shofar also symbolizes a crying out to God to ask for forgiveness, Newman told the dozen or so children who attended the shofar-making workshop.
“The sound of the shofar for the Jews is really a primal sound,” said Chabad member Joshua Pickell of Alexandria. “[It] really cuts through to my soul.”
Making a shofar can take hours, Newman said. After removing the horn from the animal, it must soak in hot water and chlorine to soften the cartilage, which is then removed. The horn must then be cut, drilled, sanded and finished before it can become a real shofar.
Newman took care of the soaking, cutting and drilling ahead of time as potentially dangerous power tools were involved in these tasks. But the sanding and the finishing were left to the children, who took great joy in working on their very own shofars which they got to take home with them at the end of the class.
“It gives him a chance to experience it first hand,” Lilly Grossman of Springfield said of her five-year-old son Zachary. “It means a lot to him to, instead of just watching, see how things work.”
Many of the parents who brought their children to the shofar-making workshop said that they appreciated how the Rabbi made the event simultaneously fun and educational. “It helps the kids understand,” Mindy Bronipolsky of Clifton said. “It makes it more alive and real.”
Bronipolsky’s four and a half-year-old daughter, Maya, will bring her new shofar with her to the upcoming High Holy Days services, Bronipolsky said, and this will allow her to engage in the two Jewish holidays that can be somewhat intimidating for young children.
Newman leads the High Holy Day services for the Arlington-Alexandria chapter of Chabad and he said that getting children involved is one of his top priorities. “We sometimes ask the kids who have shofars to come and blow the shofars,” he said. “When the kids are excited the parents are excited too.”
At the workshop, one parent told Newman that her son was so excited to make his own shofar that he had been watching shofar-blowing videos on YouTube for weeks. “Good!” Newman said. “Now he’ll have his own.”
– The Connection