August 28, 1997
Chabad’s Shofar Factory…It’s a Blast
Thousands of Los Angeles-area youngsters participate inhands-on workshops
By Ruth Stroud, Staff Writer
Quick, what's a kosher animal with horns that can be used to makea shofar?
Uh, well, everyone knows the answer to that. A ram, right?
OK. Right. But name another kosher animal with horns good formaking a shofar.
Bzzzzzz! Your time is up.
But the several thousand Los Angeles-area day- and Hebrew-schoolchildren participating in Chabad's Traveling Shofar Factory know theanswer: The long, spiraling horns of the male kudu, a type of Africanantelope, are often used to make the shofarim employed in Sephardicsynagogues.
The shofar workshops, at which each class cooperates in theprocess of sawing, sanding, shellacking and, of course, testing, havebeen proceeding for the past few weeks, leading up to the HighHolidays, with little fanfare (except of the musical variety) butplenty of bad puns.
"Shofar so good!" the green sign blinked for correct answersduring last Sunday's game-show-like quiz at Temple Akiba in CulverCity. The game followed a presentation on the relative merits anddemerits of various horned animals in shofar making. With more than60 fourth- through seventh-graders, plus several parents andteachers, in attendance, Rabbi Simcha Backman, using a long, thinhorn as a pointer, explained how the pronged horns of "Danny theDeer," who was on loan from the Museum of Natural History, would notdo, even though Danny was kosher. "Rabon the Ram," though alsomounted, looked happier than sad-eyed Danny. After all, his horns,which never fall off and are not pronged, are just right for making ashofar.
An elephant, the rabbi said, isn't kosher, because it doesn't havehooves or chew its cud. Even if it were kosher, its tusks are teeth,not horns. A giraffe, on the other hand, is kosher, but the knobs ontop of its head don't qualify as horns. Now, the enormous, curvedhorns of the cape buffalo -- a sample of which was passed around --look perfect for an oversized shofar, and the animal is kosher. Butthey can't be used, because the buffalo is related to the cow.
"Many thousands of years ago, when the Jews came out of Egypt,they made a mistake -- they built a golden calf," Backman said. "Wecan't use the cape buffalo, because it might remind God of the Jews'mistake."
The high point, of course, was making a shofar. The process soundssimple, but it isn't. Thankfully, the messiest part is accomplishedbefore the children ever got started. The horns, which come fromslaughterhouses (the meat is used for food, since, in Jewish law, theanimal can't be wasted), are first boiled all day in water, and thecartilage is removed, explained Chaim Cunin, public relationsdirector for West Coast Chabad, which is orchestrating the travelingshofar factory's busy Los Angeles schedule. "It smells pretty awful."
At Temple Akiba, groups of children crowded around tables in thesynagogue's auditorium as Backman and several other Chabad rabbis andrabbinical students circulated, pitching in when needed. First, thechildren, fitted with goggles, took turns sawing off the ends of thehollowed-out ram's horns, which were secured in metal vices. "Itsmells, but it's fun," said teacher's assistant Lauren Brody,wrinkling her nose.
After taking turns sanding down the horns' rough, mottledexteriors with sandpaper, they handed them over to Backman and MendelZacklikovsky for further sanding on a machine. The process was usedto form a pointed mouthpiece, into which the hole was widened andshaped, then tested by the children.
Twelve-year-old Josh Salz, in a purple Lakers shirt and red cap,brought forth a startling blast as everyone clapped. "He's anatural!" Backman said.
Shellacked with polyurethane, the shofarim were fitted ontoredwood plaques for classroom display, and accompanied bycertificates of authenticity.
For several hours after the Hebrew-school children had departed,individual families gathered around tables, making their own shofarimfor an extra fee. More than 100 children participated in all, saidMiriam Hamrell, director of religious education at Temple Akiba.Cunin estimated that close to 8,000 Jewish youngsters will take partin the workshops at synagogues, day schools and Jewish communitycenters, from the San Fernando Valley to the South Bay, by the end ofthe month.
"We were searching for a creative way to get kids involved in theHigh Holidays -- something more exciting than baking honey cake,"Cunin said. "If you want to take one thing that represents RoshHashanah, that represents tradition and heritage, it's the shofar."
For Chabad educational programs, call (310) 208-7511, ext.202.
At Chabad's Traveling Shofar Factory, students saw, sand and doa sound check on their own shofarim. Pictured are students fromTemple Beth Am's Rabbi Jacob Pressman Academy in Los Angeles. Thelarge horn (left) is from a Cape buffalo and can't be used to make ashofar.