For TV personality Avri Gilad, the sounds of the shofar bring back memories of
his grandfather blowing the instrument in synagogue. Singer Margalit
Tsanani is reminded of her mother when she hears the blasts of the horn.
Journalist Eitan Haber recalls his time as a military correspondent during the
Six Day War, and sitting on an IDF bus, hearing the radio broadcast of the
shofar being blown at the Western Wall for the first time in 19
The shofar, and its symbolic place in the narrative of the Jewish
people, is the focus of a new exhibit at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem,
entitled “Sound the shofar: a witness to history.”
“It’s not about the
shofar itself but about the history of the Jewish people through the prism of
shofar,” says Dr. Filip Vukosavovic, curator of the exhibit.
wide array of moments in Jewish history have been accompanied by the sounds of
the shofar. During biblical times it was used to mark the beginning of battles
and inauguration of kings. In the medieval period it was sounded at weddings,
funerals, to announce the new moon and the start of Shabbat, and even to signify
, or excommunication, of a community member. Today, the shofar is most
strongly associated with the High Holy Days, and is blown during the prayers of
Rosh Hashana and at the completion of Yom Kippur.
The exhibition begins
with a section designed to “dispel the myths” about the shofar, according to
Vukosavovic. Firstly, that a shofar must be a ram’s horn. In fact, it can be the
horn of “almost 140 different species,” including the oryx, kudu and eland, says
Vukosavovic. In addition, though the shofar is mentioned in the Bible 72 times,
only one of them includes the mention of a commandment to blow the instrument.
That reference is not to Rosh Hashana, as most people think, but rather to
yovel, the jubilee year that occurred every 50 years and signified the freeing
of slaves and the return of property that had changed hands.
focus of the exhibit, which opened last month and runs through the end of
February, is the shofarot themselves, and the events they accompanied in Jewish
history. From a shofar used in the 17th century to proclaim herem to one made in
a Romanian labor camp during the Holocaust, the instrument has accompanied Jews
from their darkest periods to their greatest joys.
The emotional and
curatorial center of the exhibit is undoubtedly the shofar blown by Rabbi Shlomo
Goren, then chief chaplain of the IDF, when Israeli troops reached the Western
Wall in 1967, for the first time since 1948.
“It’s never been on display
before,” says Vukosavovic, adding that the shofar has remained in the Goren
family’s possession since 1967, and is still used by them.
ever even asked if they could put it in an exhibition,” he says.
Vukosavovic, Goren’s shofar illustrates the entire purpose of the
exhibition. The artifact is simple and unadorned, the type of shofar that
can be found in any Judaica store. “It’s not pretty,” says Vukosavovic, “but
what it stands for is something that is priceless.”
The exhibition also
shines a spotlight on another emotional period in modern Jewish history, from
1930 to 1947, when Jews were prohibited from blowing the shofar at the Western Wall under the British Mandate.
For each of those
18 years, at the end of Yom Kippur, a group of Jews would smuggle a shofar into
the Old City and blow it, tossing the instrument aside and making a mad dash as
the British Police closed in on the offenders. Many were arrested.
the surviving men who blew the shofar during that period – most of whom did it
as teenagers – reunited last year at the Wall to blow the horns and reminisce
about the time they risked arrest to carry out their mission. Their story is
chronicled in a video accompanying the exhibit entitled “Echoes of a Shofar,”
produced by Toldot Yisrael.
“[Someone] asked me, are you willing to go on
a mission at the Wall and be arrested?” says Jacob Sika Aharoni in the film, a
man who was jailed for blowing the shofar in 1938 at age 16, “and I said ‘I’m
“As soon as we blew the shofar, a commotion started,” recounts Avraham
Elkayam, who blew the shofar in 1947 at age 13.
“[The British Police]
pushed the crowd by force, looking for anyone blowing a shofar,” says Mordechai
Shechori, who was caught by the police after blowing the shofar in 1942, at age
21, but escaped after the crowd overpowered the officers.
“I managed to
break free, and I escaped to the center of the city.”
Since the shofar
has such a powerful symbolism in Jewish life, the museum asked a variety of
Israeli personalities to share their most potent memories and associations with
the instrument: from former Knesset speaker Avraham Burg to actress Esti
Zakheim, former Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau and former basketball
player Tal Brody.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Birkat recalls a bar mitzva he
attended many years ago at the Wall of a very ill boy.
“We all walked
together, the boy, his family and all the attendees... in a moving procession
accompanied by powerful singing and the blasts of the shofar,” he
The boy died the following year, “and until today, when I hear the
sounds of the shofar, I recall his character and nobility.”
personality Sophie Tzdaka shares a tale of a unique gift she received from her
husband. When they first met, shortly before Rosh Hashana, she told him that she
grew up religious but now rarely goes to synagogue and usually spends the
“The day before Rosh Hashana of that year, he came to me
unexpectedly, rang the doorbell, and when I opened the door I was amazed to see
him standing in the doorway with a rabbi!” she wrote. He then told her, “I was
looking for a gift for you, and I thought how nice it would be to bring a rabbi
to blow the shofar for us and put us in the holiday spirit,” wrote Tzdaka. “The
rabbi blew a great blast that rattled the walls of the house; it was magical!”
Now every year the couple invites the rabbi to blow the shofar for them before
But for one family, it is not a shofar memory, but rather a
hope, that provokes the strongest feelings.
“For the Jewish people, the
sound of the shofar is a symbol of freedom and redemption, love and
brotherhood,” wrote Yoel Schalit, brother of captive soldier Gilad Schalit. “And
I can imagine before my eyes the echoing of the shofar declaring that Gilad has
come back to us – that finally, he is free.”
The museum invites the
public to contribute their own shofar thoughts and memories at