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Revolutionary Shofar

Revolutionary Shofar

Being a Jew means being part of the counter-culture.


"What's that?" I asked pointing at something very green and organic looking.

"Fried fenugreek."

"Interesting... and that?"


"Uh huh... is that a fish head?"



"Leadership. Take initiative. Remember to be a head and not the tail. Some people use a goat's head."

"I think it's staring at me."

This was my first Rosh Hashana with observant Jews. The smorgasbord from the unknown had thrown me for a loop.

My host was a young rabbi type in a black suit. He had a face full of beard.

"Rosh Hashana is the day of radical Jewish consciousness," he said matter-of-factly.

"Judaism is radical?" I asked.

He grabbed his beard and glowered at me in mock rage. "Do I look like a conformist goon to you!?" he shouted. "Our people have been outside the mainstream since the beginning of time. Being a Jew means to be a part of the counter-culture. Didn't you eat your fenugreek?"

"I don't get it. What's this have to do with Rosh Hashana?"

"On Rosh Hashana the Jewish idealist declares his dream of global unity. He prays for the day when the whole world will work together under a unified banner. It's revolutionary."

"How? Every hippie wants global unity."

"The shofar, man, the shofar. Weren't you listening?"

I was very confused. I asked if I could leave the table.

"Sure," my host said. "We don't believe in religious coercion."

I was agitated. I walked around for a while thinking. "What is he talking about?" I thought to myself.

I went back to my room and looked through a copy of the Rosh Hashana prayer book. I read some of the commentaries. My host had been right. The prayers did talk about global awareness. Unity was a big theme. I noticed that not only was the goal to unify humanity, but if everything worked according to plan, then on a spiritual level all of creation would be operating in unison, from rocks and plant life, all the way up to the highest metaphysical realms.

It was a beautiful image. But what was the point? How was this different from any other utopian vision?

I reluctantly wandered into synagogue the next morning. I sat in a corner reading about more themes of the day as the people around me prayed. It was hot in the room and there wasn't air conditioning.

A few hours into the service, everyone stood up in silence. The only audible sound was the hum of the fans. I felt guilty, so I stood up, too. A man in the center of the room took out a shofar. He blew a number of blasts on command.

I closed my eyes. I felt myself back in the desert. The hot sand kissed my bare feet. I saw camels and Bedouins. I began to appreciate what my host had been talking about. Judaism was earthy.

The jagged blast of the horn reverberated in my spine. I woke up. I hadn't been asleep, but I had been. I had been deaf to the real message of Rosh Hashana. The shofar was a wake-up call. It wasn't about paying lip service to ideological platitudes about a better world. It was about waking up and doing something about it. The shofar was screaming, "Be real. If you want this world to be amazing then get off your butt and do something!"

I wanted to change the world but first I had to change myself. This is what the shofar had taught me. This was the message of Rosh Hashana.

After services I ran over to my host.

"I understand you!" I yelled. "I want to put on a robe and wander off into the sunset. I want to dramatically affect humanity. I can make a difference. Where do we begin?"

"After lunch, brother. You can't conquer the world on an empty stomach. Tonight we're eating starfruit."

I was ready for anything.


May 26, 2002

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Visitor Comments: 5

(5) Anonymous, September 18, 2011 11:37 AM

A black-hatted Non-conformist

"Do I look like a conformist goon to you!?" This line got me. To non-orthodox Jews, we do seem like "conformist goons" -- but that's not the way I see it. It always struck me that when I became religious, friends and family told me I had joined a cult and were very condescending. They spoke to me like I was a brainwashed sheep. (If I heard "don't drink the kool-aid" one more time...!) On the contrary, I am the rebel among my friends and family. I am the one who had the courage to question the culture that I was raised in, examine my roots and my faith, and choose where I wanted to be, figure out who I really am, and learn to blend my heritage with my modern life. One man's cult is another man's religion -- it all depends how you define the term. To me, definitive feature of a cult is the aspect of being isolated from friends, family, and the larger world. Nothing could less true about the religious life I lead. I am strongly connected to my friends, family, and community -- both Jewish and non-Jewish. I love and accept them for who they are, and they have come to accept me as well. Like it says on my Facebook profile, "I lead a traditional life, but I'm a very modern woman." Conformist goon? I think not.

(4) Maria, September 12, 2011 6:24 PM

The call of the shofar

A shiver runs through my spine. 'The shofar was screaming, "Be real. If you want this world to be amazing then get off your butt and do something!" I wanted to change the world but first I had to change myself. This is what the shofar had taught me. This was the message of Rosh Hashana".' Wow, those are poweful words! They are a shofar's blast! And, as I stand fully awoken, my eyes wide open, my heart beats furiously and burns with yearning...

(3) Steven Edwards, September 24, 2009 9:14 PM


This Gluckin guy is a genius. Why don't you have more of him?

(2) Geek, September 18, 2009 5:19 PM


Really cool. Superbly written. Chazzak U'Baruch

(1) Anonymous, July 1, 2007 8:25 PM

Another Awesome Tzvi Gluckin article!

Thank you Tzvi for yet another in-your-face, attention-grabbing article. Your writing style is clear, electric, funny, and inspiring. Keep them coming!

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