To Isaac Weiner, the long, single blast of the shofar at the end of Yom Kippur signals both a beginning and an end.
“The sound of the blast marks both an end to the very intense introspection and a reminder that the work is not done,” said Weiner, a 42-year-old member of Congregation Agudas Achim in Bexley, of the ceremonial ram’s horn used in Judaism.
This year, Yom Kippur began Sunday evening and ended Monday evening It is the holiest day of the year in Judaism and is also known as the Day of Atonement for Jews.
Weiner was part of a synagogue committee that worked out a plan to host a socially distanced gathering outside the synagogue so that people could safely hear the blast of the shofar in person. About 20 people ventured outside Agudas Achim to hear it in the light rain Monday night.
“In person, it’s a much more dramatic sound,” Weiner said.
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The Tekia Gedola shofar blast marks the end of the 25-hour fast, and for Weiner, it means that the work he identified that he needs to do on his life through introspection during the fast can begin.
Weiner, his wife, Rayna, and their sons, Dovi, 11, and Ezra, 7, said it was also special to be together in the community, even if it was outside the synagogue while standing at least 6 feet from others.
Hearing a blast from the shofar is considered a mitzvah, or religious good deed, in Judaism, which is part of the reason why the synagogue wanted to find a way to make it happen, said Ari Goldberg, Agudas Achim’s executive director.
“The emotional climax to the holiday is always at the very end,” Goldberg said of the Tekia Gedola. “The shofar is used to symbolize the end of the holiday. It’s almost a catharsis.”
The High Holy Days of Judaism begin with the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, which this year took place Sept. 18-20.
During Rosh Hashanah, local synagogues including Agudas Achim had shofar-blowers go to the corners of Jewish neighborhoods and sound the instrument, Goldberg said.
It was done informally and garnered a large response, he said; at some locations, as many as 40 people came out to hear the instrument.
Without hearing the shofar, “people would really feel as if they had missed something,” like not being able to read the last pages at the ending of a book, Goldberg said.
The importance of the shofar dates back centuries, said Julie Saar, president of Agudas Achim. People communicated the timing of the holidays through different blasts, often blown from hilltops.
“It’s supposed to awaken your awareness of this important time,” Saar said.
A husband and wife blew the shofar this year at Agudas Achim. The man stood inside the synagogue sanctuary, with worshipers standing 50 feet away, and the woman stood outside in front of the Broad Street synagogue, with people similarly socially distanced from one another, under umbrellas.
The outdoor gathering, which included Havdalah, a religious ceremony that marks the end of Shabbat and begins a new week, was also important for children, who are not allowed inside the synagogue for services due to COVID-19 restrictions, Weiner said.
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He said it represented a sense of familiarity for his children, in a time that is anything but normal.
“Everything about the holiday was different this year,” he said.
His family tuned into Zoom services at a Massachusetts synagogue where his brother is a rabbi.
Weiner said of the shofar blowing: “This was probably the one thing that had the most sense of continuity, even though it was outside and different.”
Months of planning went into the synagogue’s Yom Kippur service, Saar said.
A retired rabbi from Minnesota came to central Ohio to lead the service. Agudas Achim’s rabbi left last fall, and the congregation hasn’t filled the position yet while it is in merger talks with Congregation Tifereth Israel on the Near East Side. The service was livestreamed to members; only a few people were in the sanctuary in assigned seats, for safety reasons.
“We hope people will just feel that although it’s been a very different year in terms of how we celebrate these holidays … there’s still a feeling of, we are a synagogue community,” Goldberg said. “We are a Jewish community, and through creative means, we can continue to uphold our traditions and make the best of the situation.”