Editors’ note: Amidst temporary synagogue closures due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, this Rosh Hashanah more people than ever before will be hearing the sounds of the shofar on the street, in parks, or through open windows. While this may be unusual for many, Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and volunteers have been blowing shofar outside the confines of a synagogue for more than six decades. Beginning in 1953, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, instructed anyone with a shofar who knew how to properly blow it to hit the streets and ensure that Jews without the ability to be in synagogue nevertheless hear its stirring cry. Inspired by the Rebbe, in the decades since, Chabad activists and countless others have blown shofar on street corners, in public parks, on military bases, in hospitals and in prisons.

One of those activists was Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky, a Torah scholar and a pioneering Chabad emissary, who was sent by the Rebbe to California with his wife, Chaya Devorah, two weeks after their wedding, in the fall of 1967. The Levitanskys joined Rabbi Shlomo Cunin at the nascent Chabad House at UCLA. In those early days of Chabad work, the pair—soon joined by more emissaries—passionately deployed the Rebbe’s mitzvah campaigns, among them, of course, the Shofar Campaign, to take California by storm. Over the next 50 years, they would revolutionize Jewish life on the West Coast.

Prior to each Rosh Hashanah, Chabad of California would organize a massive effort to blow shofar for hospitalized Jews throughout the state, and Levitansky continued these hospital visitations after he and his wife founded Chabad of S. Monica in 1973. Rabbi Levitansky, who unilaterally renamed his hometown Simcha Monica, would often tell the following story to illustrate the Rebbe’s message that sounding the shofar for Jews “literally revives them” both physically and spiritually. He recorded it in writing some years before his untimely passing in 2007.

Heeding the Rebbe's call, this year too Chabad of S. Monica will be bringing shofar to the streets, including their famous public shofar event at the S. Monica pier.

The late Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky and his colleague, Rabbi Yerachmiel Stillman, both Chabad pioneers in California, blow shofar during the month of Elul in Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, circa 1973.
The late Rabbi Avrohom Levitansky and his colleague, Rabbi Yerachmiel Stillman, both Chabad pioneers in California, blow shofar during the month of Elul in Mount Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, circa 1973.

It is customary here in Simcha Monica that on the Jewish holidays we visit the homebound, as well as patients in the local hospitals, convalescent homes, and retirement homes, to enable them to perform the mitzvot of the holiday.

One Rosh Hashanah in the late 1970s, I was going around a hospital with my shofar to visit the Jewish patients there. Because it was yom tov, I could not use the elevator and was instead going up and down the steps. It so happened that as I opened the stairwell door on one of the floors, I found myself in the ICU Unit. Now, usually they do not allow people in the ICU, but here I found myself there.

Nu, since I was already there, I asked the nurses on the floor if there were any Jews in that ward. They brought me to one elderly gentleman, who was lying in a fully enclosed oxygen tent. He was hooked up to all kinds of wires and tubes, which in turn were connected to a whole array of beeping machines.

Unfortunately, he was not conscious. I asked the nurse if it was OK for me to blow the shofar and she said yes. I took my shofar and blew it for him very softly. As I finished blowing, I noticed that there was some change in the machines. I asked the nurses about his condition, but they were not too optimistic about his prognosis.

The next day—since I already knew how to get into the ICU—I went to visit this man again. This time as I came in, I saw there was no tent around him. Although he was still connected to many machines, he was awake!

I asked him if he wanted to hear the shofar. It was difficult for him to talk, so he responded by signaling with his head that I should blow.

Before I blew the shofar I asked him to repeat the blessing after me and saw his lips softly mouthing the blessing. Again I blew the shofar, this time a little louder than the day before. I told him “G‑d willing when you get out of this place, come to Chabad House for the rest of the holidays: Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah!”

(I said this though I was really doubtful he would be able to make it.)

I went on to blow shofar for many other people that day and almost forgot about this incident.

Two weeks later, on Sukkot, I went to the hospital with my lulav and etrog. I went up the same staircase to see this gentleman. I went to this man's bed and … it was empty. I asked the nursing station what happened to the gentleman. “Discharged” they told me. It did not sound good.

One week later, on Simchat Torah, as I was standing on the table during the Hakafot, an elderly gentleman walked in and came over to me waving his cane. He asked: “Rebbe, du derkonst mir nit?” (Rabbi, don’t you recognize me?)

I looked at him more closely, but I didn’t have a clue.

“You blew shofar for me at the hospital” he replied.

It was him, the ICU patient, who had been in very critical condition just three weeks earlier. Now he was in Chabad House ready to dance the Hakafot!