THE SOUND OF HOPE
People will be able to listen at more than 120 outdoor sites during Rosh Hashanah
Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz blows a shofar at Westmount Park in preparation for Rosh Hashanah, which began Monday at sundown, with Rabbi Ariel Stern and Stern's children Menachem, left, Mordechai and Yehudis. The rabbis are involved in an initiative to sound the shofar at more than 120 outdoor sites for the holiday.
Listening to the plaintive wail of the shofar, a hollowed-out ram's horn, sounded throughout synagogue services for Rosh Hashanah is for many Jews the very soul of the holiday: a wake-up call, a call to attention and reflection.
The two-day festival, which this year began Monday at sundown, marks the start of a new year in the Jewish calendar and the onset of the Days of Awe, a 10-day period of soul-searching and penitence culminating in Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. In normal times, synagogues are bursting at the seams on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Last year the pandemic kept most worshippers at home, and its presence continues to be felt — with limits on numbers of worshippers, mandatory masking, social distancing, required proof of vaccination and, in some synagogues, a hybrid of livestreaming and in-person services.
Some Montreal synagogues are offering outdoor shofar blowing to all — even those not attending services. “If you can't come to the shofar, the shofar will come to you,” said Reverend Hazan Daniel Benlolo, cantor of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.
And through Shofar Montreal, people in more than 120 outdoor locations in and around the city will be able to hear the shofar sounded on Tuesday and Wednesday. To listen to the sound of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah is a mitzvah, a religious duty. Shofar Montreal is an initiative of Chabad
Lubavitch, a Hasidic sect and one of the world's largest Jewish organizations.
“This is something we have been doing for several years, to bring holiness to people on a very personal level,” said Rabbi Ariel Stern, outreach director with Chabad of Westmount. The pandemic made the practice even more popular. “Suddenly, the concept applied to everyone. We were answering a need, providing a service to the community.”
Last year was “20 times busier than previous years.” In some locations, such as Murray Hill Park in Westmount and the space in front of the 5 Saisons grocery store on Greene Ave., as many as 300 people gathered on the two days to hear the shofar, Stern said.
“We put a strong focus on blowing the shofar in central locations,” he said.
The Shofar Montreal initiative is a way “to bring Judaism to the homes and the streets for people to experience it in a very natural, organic way,” Stern said.
This year's locations include parks, mainly, and areas outside seniors' residences and apartment buildings, the Summit Circle lookout in Westmount, the sculpture in front of the Mcgill University Health Centre's Glen site, the Jewish General Hospital, the plaza of Westmount Square and the 5 Saisons on Greene.
About 30 locations are in Westmount, with close to 100 in communities including Côte-st-luc, Hampstead, Notre-dame-degrâce, Snowdon, Côte-des-neiges, Town of Mount Royal, Outremont,
St-laurent, Laval, Mile End, Griffintown, the West Island, St-lazare and the Laurentians.
“Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the universe,” explained Rabbi Yossi Shanowitz, executive director of Chabad of Westmount. “The sound of the shofar awakens the heart and soul to return and connect with God.
“It is a simple voice, like that of a baby, wanting to connect,” he said. “The more simple it is, the more depth it entails.”
There are three distinct shofar notes: a long, drawn-out sound known in Hebrew as tekiah, the three broken blows of shevarim, and a series of sharp staccato sounds known as truah — a kind of alarm clock you can't turn off, according to one description.
The sound of the shofar is the sound of hope, Shanowitz said. It is said that the coming of the Messiah will be heralded with the sound of the shofar “and there will be harmony and the world will be flooded with goodness.”