There is a trick to making shofars -- the hollowed-out rams' horns blown on Rosh Hashanah -- and also a trick to blowing them. Generally, though, rams' horns are more easily mastered than French horns, and it is possible that you will walk away from the Shofar Factory, a shofar-making workshop for children and adults, an expert on these oldest of wind instruments -- truly. The sound of the shofar is not "Mary Had a Little Lamb" (though that would be darkly ironic). Instead, according to Rabbi Mendy Deitsch, "it's the sound of the spirit."
"Hassidism teaches that the call of the shofar is reminiscent of the pure voice of the soul," explains Deitsch, of Chabad of the East Valley, who will direct the upcoming Shofar Factory. "The shofar generates an otherworldly sound. It's very soulful, very stirring and open to much interpretation."
According to Jewish tradition, a shofar's blast accompanied the divine presentation of the Torah; the sounding of a great shofar will usher in the Messianic Era, a time of world peace. The instrument is sounded in Jewish houses of worship on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on September 17; and also on Yom Kippur, a Day of Atonement, which begins on September 26. Three patterns of blasts -- tekiah, shevarim and teruah -- express tribute, regret and new resolve, respectively.
"Each individual hears something else in the shofar's voice," says Deitsch. "It's no wonder that the shofar is blown on our holiest of days -- it's very appropriate, very inspiring."
Shofars are made only from the horns of rams or similar animals, which have Biblical significance. They are never made from the horns of unkosher animals (which is perhaps why shofars express the quivering depths of the soul, but a hunting horn, made from a cow's horn, is only good for calling hounds). The ram horns that will be used at the workshop are leftovers from a farm in Maryland; they will be cleaned and ready to saw, drill, sand and shellac.
"You don't want to clean them in front of people," observes Deitsch. "It's kind of messy and smelly."
Deitsch, who has conducted shofar-making workshops in the past, describes the Shofar Factory as a "learning experience for many" -- perhaps not the learning experience that sticky, stinky horn cartilage would make it, but a definite eye-opener, regardless. The workshop is open to everyone (Jews and non-Jews alike), but Deitsch suggests that it is most appropriate for ages 5 and up, and that older children will gain more from the experience than younger ones.
"What we're attempting to do," he says, "is teach the community about the holidays in a hands-on way" -- that, and make some noise.