Blowing shofar for a friend

When I was I fifth grade there was a new girl in my class. She had come from Israel with her family,and  we were classmates for three school years.
We became very close during that time. We were both younger than most of our classmates. We did lots of talking during those years.
Our school day started with morning services in the beautiful chapel. We of course sat behind the curtain in the women’s section often we sat next to one another. Both of us were really interested in davening with kavanah, (with focused intentionality) and figuring out how we could make that happen. Sitting behind the mechitza often causes women to kind of opt out of the experience.
On Shabbatot  I was used to sitting in a synagogue with mixed seating. Although my home synagogue was not yet egalitarian I was brought up with the sense that davening with seriousness was expected of me. Most of the girls behind the mechitza with us, though certainly not all of the girls  used davening time to space out or to chat. My friend and I both experienced the prayers with great power sitting next to one another. Thinking back on it it seems odd to say that two nine year old girls  were thinking about how to experience mindfulness and transcendence during prayer, we didn’t have the vocabulary, but that was our goal. Often we succeeded.
My friend grew up in a home that was more observant than mine. She was used to a more narrow sense of what a serious Jewish life was. I was used to a wider range of practice.

After seventh grade my dear friend returned to Israel. Perhaps we exchanged a few aerogrammes, and then again, we may not have. We lost touch for about forty years.
Last summer my friend was tagged in a Facebook post. I immediately wrote to her and we commenced an intense exchange attempting to catch up on the past four decades  of our lives.

We were in the middle of these exchanges when I heard the tragic news that my friend’s husband died the day after Yom Kippur.
The time for just playing catch-up had come to an end. My friend was dealing with her own grief as well as that of her children. We checked in with one another over the course of the year. But my friend was dealing with serious stuff.

A couple of days ago I wrote to my friend sympathetic about how difficult the coming holiday season would be for her. How could it not be?
We have been writing back and forth about strategies of how to make the unbearable bearable. I mentioned how helpful shofar blowing has been for me.

I know my friend is part of a community where women don’t blow shofar, but I wanted to just put it out there. Before services this morning we had an intense exchange of words and emotions about the difficulty of the coming days.
Today is the last day we blow shofar before Rosh HaShanah. I decided to do it for my friend in Israel, keeping her in my intentions.  Usually when I blow shofar the sound comes out smoothly.
I thought about my friend as I held the shofar to my mouth and the sound of the t’kiya, the long blast began with what sounded like an anguished scream. The intensity of the sound, the ugliness of the sound struck me,  I decided to push my breath past the scream and the sound then settled into it’s usual soaring sound. I did the shorter blasts and then the final t’kiya, and out came that scream again, and again I pushed past it. Usually I can hold the note so it ends crisply, today my t’kiya ended with a sob.
Today I blew shofar for my dear friend.

Shanah Tova!


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