Go Jew Go

Rosh HaShanah Morning 5771

Scott A. Gurdin, Rabbi

Temple Sinai

Newport News, Virginia

Thur. Morning, September 9, 2010

“Go Jew Go”

Vuvuzelas & Shofarot:  There Are Apps for Those


I have entitled this part of our Rosh HaShanah sermon:  “There is an App for that.”

“There is an App for that” is a trademarked advertising tag-line first used in Apple’s iPhone commercials.  Although one would need to have been living on the Planet Zorcon in order to have not heard this expression before, I quite understand that some of you may not really know what it actually means. Particularly, if you don’t use a so-called “smart phone” or an iPod Touch.

“App” is a contraction for the phrase Application Software.  Application software is a computer program that helps a user to perform specific tasks.   In practical terms, an application on a smart phone will enable a person to play a game, do something clever, or venture onto the World Wide Web in a particular way.

I want to begin this sermon, by playing an audio app.  So, I am playing this app on my own iPod Touch.

[Play Vuvuzela App]

Do you recognize that sound?  If you watched any part of the hugely popular World Cup soccer tournament this past summer, you could not escape it.  Yes, it was one of those blasted horns.

The horns are called vuvuzelas.  And there is an App for that.

In preparation for this particular moment, I actually did some exhaustive research to learn more about the vuvuzela.

Some highlights of what I discovered:

A vuvuzela is a plastic blowing horn, just over 2 feet in length.  It produces a loud, distinctive monotone note.

The origins of the vuvuzela are South African.  Traditionally made and inspired from a kudu horn, the vuvuzela was used to summon distant villagers to attend community gatherings.

Nowadays, the vuvuzela is used almost exclusively at soccer matches.  The plastic versions of the vuvuzela go back, at most, to the 1970’s, but really the ones most folks are familiar with have been popularized just in the last few years.

The blowing of vuvuzelas at soccer matches began as a way for fans to demonstrate their excitement and spirit.  In many corners, though, vuvuzelas are viewed as annoying distractions that might very well lead to hearing loss if one is overexposed to their …melodies.

Vuvuzelas have actually already been banned in some places:

For instance:

Yankee Stadium [Commentator and comedian, Peter Sagal has remarked that: [Yes there is]  something [that is] too obnoxious even for Yankees fans.]

(I checked – Vuvuzelas have not been officially banned yet at Fenway Park.)

But they have been banned at:


Ultimate Fighting Championships

Throughout the United Arab Emirates

Most settings where Pope Benedict is appearing

I don’t know if this is a “first,” but I have here, on this Rosh Hashanah – a real vuvuzela.  (Borrowed, incidentally from my wife.)  Yes, this is the genuine article.  Now, I have resolved not to blow the vuvuzela here today.  But, let me say this – if I look out in the congregation during these High Holy Days, and I observe perchance that one from amongst our flock has, say… entered a different realm of consciousness…. Well, please consider this as your notice.

“There is an App for that.”  When I played that vuvuzela sound a few minutes ago, maybe – just maybe – you mistakenly thought – “Hey, that’s a Shofar App.”  By the way, I checked – There are several Apps for that.

But that vuvuzela App – that one really made me think. Not long ago, I performed an experiment. I tested the vuvuzela sound on a number of unsuspecting Jews – and without prompting, most of them mistook the vuvuzela sound for a Shofar.

Granted, the experiment had some built-in biases.  A rabbi was playing a horn-sounding App.  If the App had been played in an athletic context, perhaps the experiment would have turned out differently.  But those were the results of my most unscientific experiment.

Two horns that, in some real respects, sound very much alike.  Each is generally heard in particular circumstances, and usually in the midst of crowds.  Each is quite capable of, say, attracting one’s attention.

But we should not confuse the two horns.  For in truth, they could not be more different!

The vuvuzela is cute and clever.  But, for what?  To announce that the blower is an avid fan of a certain athletic event or team? To annoy the dickens out of anyone who happens to be situated near to blast of the horn?

The intent behind the Shofar blasts, is likewise designed to attract our attention.  But for entirely different reasons.  A Shofar is neither cute nor clever.

Ultimately, the message behind the vuvuzela is, rather trivial.  It says:  “Go Team Go!”

The message associated with the Shofar  — that message is powerfully meaningful.  Soul piercing, in fact.  The message that comes from the call of the Shofar is this:  “Go Jew Go!”

“Go Jew Go!”  Wake up to the heritage you that has been lovingly passed to you.  For our traditions go back, not 40 years, like the vuvuzela – but rather 5,000 years, all the way to Abraham.   Take pride in that long, rich heritage.  Whether you were born as a Jew, or whether you came to Judaism of your own choosing – you now own that legacy.  And frankly, you have a responsibility to take pride in it, and to do it proud.   “Go Jew Go!”  Get moving and take seriously the obligations you have.  In our world, there is far too much injustice, hunger, poverty, gratuitous violence and untreated illness.  “Go Jew Go” – You have a responsibility to start fixing those problems.

“Go Jew Go!”  Hear the call of the Shofar.  Its message is as far from trivial as it could possibly be!

“Go Jew Go!”  The call of the Shofar is also very much an inward command.  It is an inspirational command.  A command to keep clinging to hope, no matter what.

Hear, for a moment, this teaching that comes from Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, a very talented teacher in Princeton, New Jersey:

According to a traditional interpretation, the fact that the sounds [of the shofar calls] are made in different lengths indicates a powerful message…

We start with a full, uninterrupted blast – TEKIAH!  It’s as if the Shofar is saying: “I’m whole!”

Next, we have a three-part blast – SHVARIM – the word literally means “broken.”  The Shofar says to us:  “I was whole, but now I’m broken.”

The third set of blasts is called “TERUAH – a staccato series of short blasts – even more broken than the previous set.  Its message is:  I was broken, and now I’m smashed to pieces.”

The main lesson, however, is that the final blast in each series is a TEKIAH – again.  Another, solid, uninterrupted blast.  You see, the promise of wholeness is there, even though there has been brokenness and destruction.

There are customarily 100 separate blasts that are blown from a Shofar on Rosh Hashanah.  Some are long.  Some are short.  Some seem whole.  Others broken.  And that last blast – that TEKIAH GEDOLAH – that is the longest, most un-interrupted blast of them all.

One hundred times the Shofar brings this message to us:  You were whole once; then you were broken; you may even have been smashed and ground to pieces.  But soon you shall be whole once more.

Now, “Go Jew Go!”

That message is directed at us – It says:  Use this day, and every day, to fix the world.  It also communicates a truth about our internal spiritual lives.  For we seem to exist in a continual loop that transitions from wholeness to brokenness, and then, we pray, back to wholeness.

“Go Jew Go!”

I would like to finish this morning’s message by sharing with you a story.  I’m not sure whether the story is true.  That almost doesn’t matter.  There are several versions of the story.  The version I am going to tell you, I have adapted from Rabbi Stephen Pearce, a brilliant, creative, trailblazing rabbi at Temple Emmanuel in San Francisco.

Just a little over five hundred years ago, the Spanish Inquisition was raging, Torquemada, the grand inquisitor, was rounding up hundreds of Jews and burning their bodies in order to save their souls.  Many Jews continued their Jewish practices in secret, in closed rooms, and in damp cellars.  Though they longed to be in the synagogue to hear the somber blasts of the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah… they knew that it would be impossible because the agents of the hated Torquemada were everywhere, and any display of Jewish custom or ritual could betray family and friends.  The Jews of 1492 Spain knew that they could not fulfill the sacred commandment to hear the Shofar.

But then a rumor began to spread in the street:  “Shhh, keep it to yourself.”  It was in the city of Barcelona that word began to spread of a special concert to be given to Spanish royalty and church officials.  Jews bristled at the thought of spending Rosh Hashanah eve, one of the most sacred days of the year, in the Royal Concert Hall, but it was also an opportunity to pretend to their tormentors that no ties remained to the despised religion, Judaism.

And undercurrent, a whisper went around, “Just go, you won’t be sorry.”  The hall was filled to capacity and there were huge crowds outside.  Spanish royalty believed that the full house was due to the prominence of the composer, Don Fernando Aguilar.  Don Fernando, himself a secret Jew, had announced that on Rosh Hashanah eve he would present a concert featuring instrumental music of various peoples.  The compositions were many and the instruments unusual.

Interesting.  At the crescendo of one very moving piece – it was unmistakable, if only to the secret Jews who were present.  But there they were.  Shofar sounds, embedded into the melody of Don Fernando Aguilar’s symphony.  Shofar sounds – Tekiah, Shevarim, Teruah – as clear as day, to those who understood, on Rosh Hashanah in Barcelona in 1492.

None of the dignitaries was aware of the significance of what they were hearing.   All the royalty and the leading figures of the inquisition were present – they all heard, and saw, but they understood nothing.  They could not sense the hidden emotion that electrified the air all around them.  Do you wonder why these Jews imperiled their lives to hear this call that we can listen to in this land of freedom?

There have been other times in Jewish history when Jews risked death to hear the sound of the Shofar.  Among the many things that it has come to signify, it is a reminder of the indomitable spirit that struggles to survive all attempts at subjugation and repression.  But there is more to the call of the s\Shofar than just a reminder of the will to survive in a hostile world.

If we listen carefully, the Shofar will speak to us, just as it has spoken to Jews across the span of time, and the bridge of years.  In its voice, you will hear the voice of childhood, the dialogue of youth, the wisdom of adulthood, the judgment and discernment of advanced age.

The Shofar is a call to life.  It is a loud announcement of hope.

“Go Jew Go!”

There is no need to have an App for that!  For, in truth, we are blessed with the real thing.

L’shanah tovah u’metukah teekateivu – May you and those you love be inscribed for a good and sweet New Year.