J Weekly

 Thursday September 18, 2008

Opportunities to make your own instrument not far away

If you attend To Life! A Jewish Cultural Street Festival on Sunday, Sept. 21 in Palo Alto and see a huge crowd of people gathered around an activity booth, chances are good it’s the hands-on shofar-making workshop.

“Last year, we had about 200 people make shofars, but probably about eight or 10 is the most we can handle at any one time,” said Rabbi Yisroel Hecht of Chabad of Sunnyvale. “It’s amazing, because when we are standing there making them, people are gathered all around, standing 10 or 12 people deep, trying to watch.”

Hecht leads other shofar-making workshops around the Bay Area, but the one at To Life! is the only one open to the general public. “That’s the only time for adults to learn how to make a shofar, so the adults get into it even more than the kids do,” Hecht said. “It’s become one of the hallmark events within the festival.”

The workshop, which is designed for ages 7 and up, will be open throughout the festival, which runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on California Avenue between El Camino Real and Park Boulevard.

Participants will get a chance to saw, drill, sand, polish and shellac the Chabad-provided horns, which are actually goats’ horns rather than rams’ horns.

“In shofar-making, you’ll have different customs,” Hecht explained. “Some people today use a kudu horn, because it’s big and expansive, but many people try to specifically use the rams’ horn out of the memory of Isaac, in which he was replaced with a ram during his sacrifice.”

So why goat horns at the event in Palo Alto? “They’re easier to work with — and they are kosher for Rosh Hashanah,” Hecht said. Rams’ horns have cartilage inside and need to be boiled for at least two hours (preferably in oil) before they can be hollowed out with a pick, which takes another 30 minutes or so.

In the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days, several shofar-making workshops will take place.

Just about every Chabad in the Bay Area teaches kids to make shofars as part of Chabad’s Legacy Program, which began in 1999. The “Shofar Factory” is part of that series of workshops (others include the Matzah Factory and the Havdallah Factory). Both Chabad of Contra Costa in Walnut Creek and the Chabad Israeli Center in Palo Alto conducted Shofar Factory workshops Sept. 14.

And they’re not just for Orthodox kids. A Shofar Factory will be held Sept. 28 at Reform Congregation Beth Sholom in Napa, led by first-time shofar-maker Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum of Chabad of Napa Valley. He’s been studying a training manual and was set to do a test run late last week.

On Sept. 29, a Chabad rabbi will conduct an 11th-hour High Holy Day buzzer-beater workshop set for the daytime (Rosh Hashanah begins that evening) at San Jose State University, for Hillel of Silicon Valley.

Sometimes these workshops leave a legacy. For example, a few years ago at Conservative Congregation Beth Ami in Santa Rosa, a Shofar Factory led by Rabbi Hillel Scop from Chabad of Marin uncovered a gem.

“One of our best shofar-blowers is a teenager who still uses the shofar he made when Rabbi Scop was here,” said Beth Ami Rabbi George Schlesinger.

cover photo | jared gruenwald