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Why More Shofar Blowers Are Needed To Celebrate Jewish New Year


The Jewish New Year Rosh Hashana starts Friday evening. The holiday is marked by this ancient summons to repentance.


MARTIN: The shofar, a ram or antelope horn usually blown in crowded synagogues. But this year, with the pandemic, Israel is mandating lots of small, socially distanced observances instead. That means they need more shofar blowers. NPR's Daniel Estrin visited one city providing free lessons.


DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Shofar school sounds a lot like high school band class.

NISSAN UZAN: My shofar abilities are getting close to being perfect. But still I'm missing the final touch.

ESTRIN: Mechanical engineer Nissan Uzan (ph) is one of 50 men in this shofar blowing course at an Orthodox synagogue in Ramat Gan near Tel Aviv.

YEHONATAN ADUAR: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Rabbi Yehonatan Aduar (ph) is teaching a dozen shofar courses this season. It was his mother who taught him when he was 5. But in Orthodox tradition, it's men who do the trumpeting for the congregation. His students take turns playing the ritual rhythms, like the long tekiah (ph) and the rapid fire truaa (ph).


ESTRIN: That last blower was diamond dealer Chaim Braun.

CHAIM BRAUN: I feel tremendous awe when you hear it. You hear it, it's like a pure - like a thunder. And that's one of the reasons why we blow, it's to wake up people, to wake you up to reality. There's no electronics involved, just blowing. And you blow to God.

ESTRIN: But you could also blow out droplets of the coronavirus.

CYRILLE COHEN: There is a risk to some extent that a person which - who is asymptomatic blowing the shofar might spread some aerosols.

ESTRIN: That's Israeli immunologist Cyrille Cohen, who's advising a team working on a COVID vaccine. He's also a veteran shofar blower. When I called him, he recommended keeping the shofar at a distance, ideally outdoors, and covering the open end with a face mask.

COHEN: I consulted with several rabbis. At first, they say, oh, ho, you know? They kind of dismissed the idea. And then, you know, when talking with them, it was like - you know what? - could be a good thing if the sound of the instrument is not altered. So there's no problem, technically, with that.


ESTRIN: Leading Orthodox rabbis in Israel and in the U.S. are endorsing shofar masks.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Ramat Gan, Israel.


Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.
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