Sounding shofar for the confined fulfills two mitzvot – commandments. It enables others hear shofar. And it is an act of bikur cholim – the mitzvah to visit the sick. Organizing a community-wide cadre of volunteers – a Shofar Corps – is a wonderful tikkun olam project – an opportunity to repair the world.
The Shofar Corps Experience
“Today was amazing for the four of us who blew shofar for residents confined to their hospital beds. It moved us as we watched the residents so touched that it brought them to tears, and then it brought all of us to tears. Hearing them say that our visit has now connected them back their Judaism again was such a blessing.”
“Everyone was so grateful that we were there and hadn't forgotten them.”
“We blew shofar at a home for those with memory impairments. Just saying the word “tekiah” triggered a couple of people's memories, and they would light up like a happy kid. We led the Shehechayanu and translated it, giving thanks for being right here, right now. These people are in the Right Now – each moment is a new day for many of them. That's my takeaway message: being present, and in so being, there is the possibility of joy in each moment.”
"Several residents at the nursing home were unable to speak and were locked in bodies that they no longer controlled. Yet I could sense that their souls were moved when they heard the shofar. One man came up to me and said, 'Young man, that’s the first sound I’ve heard in 30 years.' Miracles like this happen when shofar sounds."
"Hearing shofar can be especially meaningful to those who are ill and living with the intimate knowledge that their days may be numbered. The call of shofar may reassure them that, in sickness as in health, we each stand before God as the Holy One passes judgment. For the dying and their families, prayers of teshuvah take on a special urgency, and hearing shofar may give comfort.
Organizing a Shofar Corps
As a ba’al tekiah – shofar blower – you have the opportunity to provide service beyond the walls of your synagogue by sounding shofar for individuals that are homebound, hospitalized, institutionalized, or otherwise unable to observe the High Holy Days in the midst of a congregation.
While this outreach can be an individual effort, it is a wonderful project for a congregation or spiritual community to undertake. In many communities, Shofar Corps is a service project that raises the ruach – spirit – of the congregation even as it serves the community. Volunteers contact local institutions before Rosh Hashanah to find out who needs a visit and to make arrangements. Then other volunteers, either individually or in small teams, spread out throughout the community. Our slogan: “Have shofar. Will travel.”
Supporting Shofar Corps
This website is a clearinghouse to share ideas and experiences among shofarists in various communities. If you have a shofar team in your community, please contact Michael Chusid to share your experiences and successes.
While Shofar Corps is volunteer driven, there can be administrative expenses, and financial support is needed to help provide training and expand services. To donate to Shofar Corps, click here.
For several years, I sounded shofar in the Los Angeles County Men's Central Prison. In Talmud, there is a discussion about blowing the shofar inside a cistern; one is supposed to hear the sound of the shofar directly and not the sound echoing off the walls. That can be a challenge when blowing shofar inside a concrete bunker at what is described as the “Largest Prison in the Free World" because the walls echo with the sound of so many of society's failings plus the fears and uncertainty facing the residents.
Yet all the Holidays' messages about teshuvah – that personal improvement can really happen – are so much clearer when discussed with someone who has seen the darkness of violence, addiction, crime, and incarceration. Rabbi Yossi Carron, the chaplain who works with the men, used the themes of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to help the men understand that forgiveness is possible and that, by taking responsibility for their actions, their futures do not have to be limited by their pasts.
The residents recognized that I was in the prison by choice; it was meaningful for them to know that they were not forgotten by or completely cut-off from the outside world. Some had never heard a shofar before and were trying to reconnect with their Jewish heritage to help them have faith in their future. One told me that the sound of shofar burned into his heart where he will be able to hear it again throughout the coming year, drawing upon it for the strength to support his recovery. As the guards were preparing to strip search him after our brief visit, he said, “If I can keep hearing it, it will remind me of what the rabbi has told us. Then, maybe, this can be my last time in prison.” All I could say to that was, “AMEN!
Guidelines for Shofar Visits
- You are performing a mitzvah, an act of holiness, by enabling others to hear the sound of shofar. It is also a mitzvah, to visit the sick and confined.
- Be respectful of the person you are visiting and others in the room. Shofar blasts are still effective if you blow quietly to avoid scaring people. If someone does not want to hear shofar, do not blow for them; wish them a sweet New Year and leave. Illness can make a person more sensitive to smells, so use moderation if applying perfume. Wash your hands before and after visiting an infirm person.
- Be respectful of the institution you are visiting and heed its rules and staff’s instructions. Check in with the security officer, visitor liaison, or nursing station before going to someone’s room. Even if you scheduled a visit, understand that plans may have to adjust to the current situation in the facility. Knock before entering a person’s room.
- Lower your expectations about how you will be received. An ill or confined person may respond to shofar or your presence with anger, sadness, fear, confusion, or other unexpected behavior. Trust in the holiness of your intentions and stay focused on the mitzvah.
- A person who is sick or confined may want to talk or get more personal attention than you are able to give; you do not become responsible for all his or her needs just because you have visited. Be civil and loving, but know your limits.
- Do not become embroiled in discussions about Jewish sectarian issues or inter-religious discussion. For example, some Orthodox Jewish men may not want to hear shofar blown by a woman.
- Visiting the sick and hearing shofar can bring up feelings inside you; you may want to ask a friend to go with you for support.
- If you are asked to visit a private home, be aware of your surroundings and security concerns. Ask someone to come with you if necessary.
- Family members and caregivers of the person you are visiting may also appreciate hearing shofar. Non-Jewish roommates or staff may also respond to or be curious about shofar. While you are at an institution, ask if there are other residents or staff that may want to hear shofar.
- Listen to shofar while you blow. Do not worry about the quality of your shofar calls; this is holy work and not a concert. All sounds from the shofar are acceptable.