shofar-playersThe new rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel says the ponderous Jewish holidays could use some levity. (Click to enlarge)


The Jewish holiday season just isn’t as much fun for Rabbi Yerachmiel Shapiro unless he’s watching faces transform from pale to patina while blowing into the horns of a dangerous wild animal.

Shapiro, who took over at Congregation Beth Shalom on Maple Avenue in Red Bank last year, has injected his idea of mirth in between the Jewish holidays Rosh Hashana, which was last Friday, and Yom Kippur, which is Sunday.

To break up the austerity of the holidays’ introspective and atoning nature, Shapiro has put his twist on an old Jewish tradition called Shofar blowing: he’s made a contest of it.

The idea is simple: A person blows into a horn (a ram’s horn is preferred, but there’s no hard-lined rule; it can be a mountain goat’s or a gazelle’s horn). Shapiro says the act itself is a form of repentance and self-evaluation.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t also be a blast. Shapiro runs a contest with categories for participants to win prizes for longest, loudest, most creative and most traditional blow. This year’s contest will get started around 8p Saturday at the synagogue.

“The first time it was pretty funny. People were blowing and turning green,” Shapiro said. “The Jewish holidays are pretty somber and serious, so it kind of puts a happy note to it.”

At the same time, though, Shapiro says wailing away on the Shofar has its own religious merit, which is why he instituted the tradition at Beth Shalom.

“It kind of gets you thinking about repentance and introspection,” he said. “You hear this sound of the horn and it’s this kind of sound that really cuts to your soul and makes you think introspectively.”

Shapiro anticipates a good number to turn out for this year’s blowing, including a few children who may take the Shofar challenge.

It’s free and open to the public. And don’t worry if you forget your ram’s horn at home. The rabbi’s got a few spares to lend out.