July 13, 2024
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July 13, 2024
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As most of us know, listening to the shofar on Rosh Hashana is a mitzvah. Indeed, the Torah describes Rosh Hashana as a Yom Teruah (a day of blowing). But what if you can’t make it to shul on Rosh Hashana? Maybe you’re too ill, or you just had a baby, or you’ve been blessed with long life but simply can’t make the walk or there’s another reason that prevents you from being in shul; you’re still required to hear the shofar. Luckily there are a number of dedicated people in the greater Teaneck area committed to making sure the mitzvah is fulfilled.

Meet Teaneck resident Pinchas Friedenberg. Each year he posts on Teaneck Shuls to let people know that he and his group of volunteers are available to blow shofar for those who need it. They walk all over Teaneck and Bergenfield (sometimes as far as 2.5 miles) to blow shofar for those who are unable to come to shul.

Friedenberg was quick to point out that, “Chabad has been doing this for years all over the country.” Of course the shul rabbis make arrangements for their congregants when they know someone won’t be able to attend services. Either the rabbis themselves will blow for their congregants or they will make arrangements for someone to come and blow for them.

Friedenberg began blowing shofar for the elderly and homebound about 30 years ago when he blew shofar for his mother who was unable to attend services due to illness. “When I saw the reaction on my mother’s face it was unbelievable and I saw how important it was,” said Friedenberg. “That’s when I knew I needed to help people who need help.” Another year, when he was blowing shofar for a blind woman, he realized that he was also fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim, visiting the sick. He refers to this as a “double-header mitzvah” and he encourages his volunteers to spend an extra 10 minutes fulfilling the mitzvah of Bikur Cholim as well.

Fair Lawn resident Willie Hochman has also been blowing shofar for about 30 years. He learned how to blow from his father who was their shul Baal Tokeyah (person blowing shofar in the shul). Hochman is one of a number of Congregation Shomrei Torah congregants who walk around Fair Lawn making sure that those who need to hear shofar hear it. Rabbi Benjamin Yudin, the rabbi of Shomrei Torah, coordinates who goes where and when.

According to Hochman, “It’s mutually beneficial, although slighted more towards the person hearing the shofar. I look at it as a responsibility. They look at it as a way to fulfill the mitzvah of hearing the shofar.”

Another person who learned how to blow shofar from his father and is carrying on his father’s legacy is Teaneck resident Jeff Mendelson, who is the Baal Tokeyah at the Young Israel of Teaneck (and also the Director of Employment of Project Ezrah). After shul is over he then goes to blow shofar for some of his homebound neighbors. He told the JLBC that it’s very different blowing shofar in a person’s home than in the shul. “It’s nice for me, as the Baal Tokeyah, to see someone who really relishes the sound of the shofar. Sometimes, for those individuals who can’t make it to shul, it brings tears to their eyes.”

Marvin Stiefel, of Englewood, is the Baal Tokeyah at Congregation Shomrei Emunah and prior to that blew at Ahavath Torah, both in Englewood. He started blowing shofar when he was a teenager. Today he is one of a group of men who walk around Englewood blowing shofar for those who need to hear it. Rabbi Chaim Poupko, assistant rabbi at Ahavath Torah, coordinates who goes where. Stiefel observed, “These people we blow for have no way of fulfilling this mitzvah d’oraisa (mitzvah from the Torah). It really makes their Rosh Hashana. A Rosh Hashana without hearing shofar is like Sukkos without a lulav.”

Regarding the power of the shofar, Rabbi Poupko shared a story of a woman who was not fully aware but her family asked that someone blow shofar for her. “When the Baaal Tokeyah started blowing the shofar for her, she started to cry. And then her family started to cry. It shows that the simple sound of the shofar really penetrates and moves us,” he reflected.

Harold Nussbaum, who davens at Congregation Beth Aaron, has been blowing shofar for the elderly and homebound since he was a teenager. This Teaneck resident said that “The expression on the person’s face after the sounds of the shofar go silent, is priceless. The smile, the tears, the expression of gratitude are all very rewarding. To know that you’ve either maintained or reconnected a person to their roots, is a feeling unmatched.”

Over the years the different volunteer shofar blowers have received many letters and and emails thanking them for the service they offer. Last year, following his post on Teaneck Shuls letting residents know that this service is available, Friedenberg received the following email: “This is a joyous mitzvah. Years ago when my husband was hospitalized over the High Holy Days, members of the Chabad walked to Englewood Hospital and blew the shofar in his room. It made both of us happy and I will never forget those moments. I just wanted to share this little story, so you would know how important this mitzvah is. Thank you.” The person who sent that email was New Jersey Democratic Senator Loretta Weinberg, Senate Majority Leader.

You do the math. Marvin Stiefel said that he blows 100 blasts in shul. Then, he blows 30 blasts before Mincha for those who missed it earlier in the day. If he also blows for two or three people in their homes, it’s possible that he’s blown over 200 blasts in one day. And then he gets to do it again the following day.

To arrange for someone to blow shofar for you or a family member, speak with your rabbi or call any of the following people: Teaneck/Bergenfield: Pinchas Friedenberg, 201-357-8642; Teaneck: Harold Nussbaum, 201-836-3330; Bergenfield: Shimmy Stein, [email protected] or 917-596-3701; Englewood: Rabbi Poupko, 201-568-5780; Fair Lawn: Rabbi Yudin, 201-791-7910.

By Sara Kosowsky Gross

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