Often made from a ram’s horn, this Jewish biblical instrument dates to ancient times and signals a call on Rosh Hashanah to wake up the soul and observe the Jewish New Year. The call is made with sets of blasts that could be rapid and short, medium length, or framed by longer, unbroken sounds. Traditions vary in terms of how many sounds are blown for the holy day, but it could be up to 100 — an unmistakable call of faith that makes room for holiness.
To help understand the extraordinary meaning behind this small instrument, we turn to the story of a shofar now housed at the Tucson Jewish History Museum.
This shofar was donated to the Museum by Werner S. Zimmt Ph.D., former University of Arizona professor at Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering, who died unexpectedly earlier this month.
Dr. Zimmt, born in 1921 in Berlin, came to the United States with his twin brother, Gerry, by ship in 1935, after the German-Jewish Children’s Aid secured immigrant visas for about 1,000 German children. With his brother, Dr. Zimmt lived in foster families until his parent were able to immigrate to the US.
In 1943, Dr. Zimmt was drafted into the U.S. Army, eventually transferring to the 2nd Battalion Intelligence Group and shipped to Cherbourg, France, arriving on Sept. 15, 1944. A May 14, 2014 Arizona Daily Star feature recounts the shofar story: While on the front lines, fighting the Nazis in eastern France, Dr. Zimmt was on reconnaissance patrols in the area of Alsace-Lorraine, when he came upon a small synagogue that had been used by the Nazis as a horse stable. Lying in the dirt, mostly covered with mud, was a small shofar. He picked it up and saved the worn shofar for many years, until he donated it to the Tucson Jewish History Museum, where it rests on display today.
Through its ceremony and spiritual melody, the shofar is an ancient instrument that announces tradition this month. It signals “a blast of faith” that honors the sacred.
- The Shofar as a Tool of Remembrance, University of Amsterdam dissertation: http://dare.uva.nl/document/2/149911
- Learn more about the Shofar and Its symbolism http://www.historicbrass.org/Portals/0/Documents/Journal/2002/HBSJ_2002_JL01_005_Miller.pdf
- From Smithsonian Folkways: http://www.folkways.si.edu/david-hausdorff/kol-hashofar-call-of-the-shofar/judaica-sacred/music/album/smithsonian