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Plenty of horns

Greater MetroWest sets world record for shofar blowing

Rabbi Amy Small, left, and Eric Freedman lead the crowd in the record-blasting shofar blow on Sept. 21. Photos by Elaine Durbach
Rabbi Amy Small, left, and Eric Freedman lead the crowd in the record-blasting shofar blow on Sept. 21. Photos by Elaine Durbach

Eardrums thrummed, walls stood firm, but a record fell as more than 1,000 people gathered in Whippany for the largest-ever gathering of shofar blowers. 

If confirmed, Sunday’s “Great Shofar Blowout” at the Alex Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus drew enough people to set a new Guinness World Record, snapping the “largest shofar ensemble” record of 796 set in Swampscott, Mass., in 2006.

The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life, which sponsored the Sept. 21 event, counted some 1,043 men, women, girls, and boys, all blasting in unison on shofars of all shapes, sizes, and materials. 

Partnership president Rabbi Amy Small and Eric Freedman, president of Congregation Ahavas Sholom in Newark, led the record-breaking blast.

Meant to inspire community members in the week preceding Rosh Hashana, the run-up to the day’s events included a number of workshops on making and using the traditional ram’s horn, a centerpiece of the High Holy Day services.

Robert Lichtman, executive director of the Partnership — the Jewish identity-building organization of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ — said that it wasn’t until Friday that the number of registrants was on pace to surpass the Massachusetts record.

“But you still don’t know if everyone will turn up,” he said.

The day dawned grey and damp, with forecasters warning of possible showers. Lichtman and his crew had no alternative plans; it was a “rain or shine” scenario. There was also a competing event: the massive climate march in New York City, for which Jewish groups had, coincidentally or not, encouraged marchers to bring and blow shofars.

But the crowds came, by bus and car and minivan, from synagogues — of all the major streams — and Jewish day schools, youth groups, and even churches. As Lichtman pointed out, blowing the shofar in this kind of setting had no Jewish ritual significance and was therefore free of any controversy about the gender or denomination of the blowers.

But it still packed a lot of power. “This was about the whole community getting together to share the mitzva of shofar blowing,” he said. It served to bring together the diverse parts of the community — people of different denominations and levels of observance — for a unifying, edifying shared experience in the run-up to the High Holy Days, said Lichtman.

Adding to the carnival atmosphere, in the hours leading up to the big blowing session at 11 a.m., there were craft activities; reading sessions organized by the PJ Library; group warm-ups; and vendors selling food, clothing, and Judaica.

You could buy shofars there, too, but most people came toting theirs — family heirlooms and newly purchased horns, some very basic, others adorned with braid and artwork, and some made of brightly colored plastic.

Mark Bloomberg of Elizabeth had two of his family’s six horns in hand and was blowing them simultaneously. “I’ve been able to do that almost since I learned to blow one,” he said.

Rabbi Cecelia Beyer of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield brought the elaborately decorated shofar her husband bought her as an early Hanukka gift. 

The event, said Lichtman, “has put shofars into the hands of hundreds of people who have never blown one, and into households that never owned one before.”

Getting official confirmation from the Guinness organization will take a few weeks. They will review the accounts of the two expert witnesses, check the forms detailing registrations, and watch the video of the final big blow to confirm it lasted five minutes and really did involve that huge crowd.

“And then — only then — I encourage other Jewish communities to try to break our record!” Lichtman said.

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