There are many contenders for the quintessential symbol of Rosh Hashanah. There's the apple dipped in honey signifying a sweet new year. Then there's the pomegranate, an Israeli autumnal fruit eaten to herald in the fall season, and, given that its full of sweet seeds, regarded by tradition as symbolic of a Jew's being full of good deeds.

Still, the shofar, a ram's horn, stands out as the Rosh Hashanah item regarded by most as an absolute necessity for new year's observances. Not only is the sounding of it mandated by Jewish law, but its sequence of mournful notes, represents both the wailing of a contrite spirit and an arousal to change for the better.

But for many, hearing the shofar, traditionally blown in a synagogue during Rosh Hashanah services, can be a mitzvah far out of one's reach. It was for Pittsburgh, Pa., resident Dorit Sasson until a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical student came knocking.

"On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I sprained my left foot" said Sasson, a writer who recently moved to the city. "I had never sprained a foot in my life, and I had wanted to hear the shofar. But my left foot was hurting terribly."

Sasson's husband and son went to synagogue, but she couldn't make it out of the house.

"Two minutes after they had lef, there was an incredible knock on the door. Perhaps [my husband] had forgotten his keys?" she related. "It was Chabad. 'Do you want to hear the shofar?' he asked."

Sasson, who couldn't move from bed, ended up hearing the blasts loud and clear through the door.

The woman is not alone. Last week, thousands either couldn't make it to synagogue or chose not to attend High Holiday services. But Chabad emissaries made sure that they took part in what Rabbi Berel Levertov, co-director with wife Devora Leah of the Chabad Jewish Center of Santa Fe, N.M., called the "most important part of the holiday."

Beyond Words

Brother and sister try their luck at blowing the shofar that they made in Helsinki, Finland.
Brother and sister try their luck at blowing the shofar that they made in Helsinki, Finland.
Take Steven Cooper, a Santa Fe resident who hasn't been to synagogue in quite a long time.

"I have the Machzor at home and I read from it on Rosh Hashanah," said Cooper, referring to the High Holiday prayer book. "It is countless years, maybe 30 years" since hearing the shofar.

But there he was, in the historic center of his city, when Levertov with two of his kids in tow brought a big brown shofar, made from a long curling horn of a Kudu antelope, made a stop in the middle of a route taking him to area nursing homes and hospitals.

"For me, it was a very special experience when Rabbi Levertov blew the shofar right in the center of town," said Cooper. "It was an unbelievable experience of the rabbi marching to the plaza. He does not want to hide behind the bush with his Judaism, he is proud of it."

Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski, co-director with Chanie of Chabad-Lubavitch of South Denver, Colo., said that public shofar blowings can generate an incredible amount of interest among passersby.

"One year, we blew the shofar for a person in Washington Park," said Serebryanski. "By the time we finished, a crowd had gathered to hear it."

"The shofar's blowing speaks to the core of the soul," said Levertov, who arranged a Shofar Factory for children to make their own before the holiday. "It relates to our direct connection to G‑d, which is beyond words."

Back in Pittsburgh, Sasson said she was grateful for her house-call.

"It was such a blessing to be able to get door-to-door shofar service," she said. "I will remember this moment and the kindness of that man's heart and the Chabad community. I don't think I'll ever feel alone."