September 9, 2009
Not Your Typical Car Horn
Ever since the California legislature passed a bill banning the use of hand-held cell phones by drivers, I’ve been anxious that the law might be expanded to include shofar blowing, as well. My husband, David, is the shofar blower for our small Santa Monica synagogue. Like everyone else in Los Angeles, he spends an inordinate amount of time in his car, commuting to and from work and to meetings.
About a month before the High Holy Days commence, I pick up the temple’s shofar and bring it home for him to practice. Since he has little time at home to do much more than catch up with the kids, try (usually unsuccessfully) to have an uninterrupted conversation with me, gobble down some dinner, do more work and sink into sleep, he practices his shofar blowing in the car. This is no little ram’s horn either. It’s extra long and twisty and comes from an animal you’ve probably never heard of — the kudu.
The horn stays in the car as David’s constant companion for a whole month. In fact, he drove home a new car a few days before Yom Kippur and the shofar got the privilege of enjoying its smooth ride well before I did.
I often wonder what kind of strange looks my husband gets from fellow drivers as he pulls up to a stop light and places this long, spirally animal’s horn to his pursed lips and blows and blows. Do they think he’s Moses, calling his people to worship, or do they simply think he’s nuts? He’s told me that occasionally a neighboring driver will sneak a peek, and then quickly look away. Surely David’s tekiah gedolahs sometimes outlast the traffic lights. It occurs to me that he might just continue blowing, even after the light has turned green, holding the shofar up high while steering the car with his knees. Some things I’d rather not know.
Every year as I watch him up on the bimah, expelling as much air from his lungs as he can, for as long as possible, I pray to the almighty that he doesn’t pass out up there. Everyone else in the congregation prays that he’ll surpass his previous year’s record. Their eyes are glued to the second hands on their watches, while mine are directed at my husband’s increasingly pale pallor.
Once David blasts (more like emits) his final toot, the congregants break out in applause and swarm him on the bimah to congratulate him on his new world record. People seated around me report on his record-breaking statistics and always ask me if he practices a lot. They probably don’t know that there’s a name for what he does. He’s the tokea, or blaster. And they probably don’t realize (and neither did I until five minutes ago when I looked it up) that the tokea has to be someone learned in Torah and God-fearing. But nobody’s really interested in my husband’s level of piety, so I tell my fellow congregants that he’s full of hot air, and then I confess that he does, indeed, practice, but only in his car.
Which is why I am concerned that somebody will tell somebody who knows an aide to a legislator in Sacramento who’s bound to introduce a measure outlawing shofar blowing by drivers. In the meantime, don’t be alarmed if you’re driving along Pacific Coast Highway and you happen to catch a glimpse of a man in the car next to you with cheeks inflated like a puffer fish and lips pitted against a 2-and-1/2-foot -long kudu horn. And please, don’t report him. At least not until after Yom Kippur.
Betsy R. Rosenthal, who lives with the shofar blower for The Santa Monica Synagogue, is a freelance writer and author of several children’s books.