For Rosh Hashana, a lesson in blowing and hearing the shofar

Michael Chusid, a shofar "master blaster," has taught many people to blow the ram's horn.
Michael Chusid, a shofar "master blaster," has taught many people to blow the ram's horn. John Rabe/KPCC

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, begins at sunset Wednesday. On the day, Jews are commanded to accept God as king and to hear the shofar, a hollowed-out ram’s horn. Michael Chusid is an Angelino who has taught hundreds of people to blow the shofar; he taught KPCC's John Rabe how to blow it in KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum.

Chusid is a ba’al tekiah, Hebrew for "master blaster."

"It is my honor to sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana," says Chusid, "where the Torah, the Old Testament, commands us to hear the shofar to mark the new year."

In the month preceding Rosh Hashana, some Jews take on the practice of hearing the shofar every day as spiritual preparation.

"For at least 3,000 years, we, the Hebrews, the Jewish people, have a written history of hearing the shofar."

Chusid talked about the impact of the shofar. "It has the potential to elicit an emotional and spiritual response."

Chusid teaches people to play shofar first by having them make silly sounds with their mouths. He encouraged Rabe to make the sounds that would make third graders laugh, producing a blowing, buzzing sound.

"Make sure your feet are firmly on the ground, your knees are sort of flexible, and inhale deeply, like if you were a singer using your diaphragm," says Chusid. "And when you exhale now, curl your lips over your teeth and tighten your lips if you can."

Chusid says it usually takes less than five minutes to teach someone to play the shofar, but some people are so self-conscious that they won't let loose and make the sounds needed to play the shofar.

After blowing the shofar every day leading up to Rosh Hashana, "The horn will often take on an odor from the little bits of flesh that might still be inside here," says Chusid. "Many people find them objectionable, but I find that connection to that visceral experience, it intensifies my connection to this as an earth-based, primal ritual."

Chusid also makes Rosh Hashana house calls. "I go into hospitals, prisons, nursing homes, and even to the homes of people who are unable to leave their home because they may have small children, they may be pregnant, or they may be ill, and I sound the shofar for the people who are confined."

Chusid is author of "Hearing Shofar: The Still Small Voice of the Ram’s Horn."

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