The shofar: Are you listening?

Tragically, countless Jews will not hear the shofar’s call this year, as younger generations feel alienated from synagogue life.

The first rays of morning light hit your eyes, the sound of the alarm clock pulsates in your ears. You desperately crave sleep and more time to dream; you also know the day’s tasks lie ahead and you must begin. The alarm is blaring, the snooze button seems enticing. What do you do? In just a few weeks, Jews from every walk of life will face a similar choice, as the ancient sound of the shofar reverberates the halls of synagogues everywhere. Do we emerge from our spiritual slumber and act or remain tucked away in apathy? This past summer we have witnessed war raging in the Middle East and the deadly ebola virus spreading ferociously. Fatal shootings and riots have erupted in the heart of our country while a new cancer enters the world stage, beheading the innocent and terrorizing humanity. But where do we go with our despair and sense of helplessness? The brokenness of the world seems beyond repair and the magnitude of work overwhelms. The sages of the Talmud encourage us to view the shofar’s sound as a wailing cry. Words cannot capture our grief and confusion; the shofar becomes our voice, as we scream for help.
And yet, the ram’s horn awakens us to what is possible and within our grasp. We are charged to rediscover our mission. Each one of us carries our respective tools and with that a unique purpose that only we are capable of fulfilling. This is a time to return to ourselves as we redirect our focus and attention regarding the change we wish to make. The Torah refers to the Jewish new year as a Day of Remembrance, as we recall our most authentic selves and begin again.
Just as the shofar reminds us of our past pain and points to a promising future, it also centers us at the present moment. The pressure of daily life often blinds us to tiny miracles, masked by the mundane and hidden by habit. The shofar is a cue to that which is before our very eyes. It unearths the blessings and beauty before us: our health, relationships and successes. Our liturgy encourages us to express gratitude on a daily basis as our most basic task as Jews is to remain aware and express gratitude toward all – God, our fellows and even ourselves.
Still, tragically, countless Jews will not hear the shofar’s call this year, as younger generations feel alienated from synagogue life.
While high holiday seats help generate necessary revenue for communities, it simultaneously can act as another deterrent. What can our synagogues do to engage these young Jews in a compelling and inspiring way to counterbalance the growing gap between young Jews and Judaism? The shofar cannot be contained to the synagogues alone, but its sound must travel to the streets and wherever Jews may be. As we gather for the holidays with friends and family, let us look around the room and remember those who we may have neglected and are not present.
In the climax of our high holiday prayers, we chant together as one: “Repentance! Prayer! Charity! These charges eradicate the evil of the edict.” Through repentance, we transform ourselves and rewrite our destiny. Through prayer, we bear witness to the suffering of the world, and cry. Through charity, we remember that the task of the high holidays is not only internal, but external, reaching in and out to those in need. As we heal from the wounds of such a painful summer, may the shofar and its sound serve as an alarming reminder of possibility and redemption for ourselves and the world.
Avram Mlotek is a fourth year student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical school and the rabbinic intern at Hunter College Hillel and The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale.
Jon Leener is in his third year at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School and is the rabbinic intern at Sherith Israel in Nashville, T ennessee.