Hearing the Shofar: Charlestown Rabbi Helps Jewish Observers Mark High Holidays in Outdoor Setting

Observing religious holidays has required a great deal of creative thinking in the COVID-19 era, and Charlestown Rabbi Berel Grunblatt was part of that kind of creative thinking of a network of rabbis who volunteers to blow the shofar (ram’s horn) in public places last weekend to mark Rosh Hashanah.

Last Sunday, to bring one part of the Jewish tradition to the people, Rabbi Berel stationed himself at North Point Park, the Monument and the USS Constitution, taking appointments from those who wanted to attend, and sounded the shofar in public safely and adhering to all COVID-19 protocols.

Getting creative within long-standing traditions was key for Rabbi Berel Grunblatt, of Charlestown, who helped to organize the Greater Boston Shofar initiative. Last Sunday, to bring the tradition of blowing the shofar during Rosh Hashanah to the people, Rabbi Berel set up at North Point Park, the Monument and at the USS Constitution in the Navy Yard.

“In a normal year, Jewish people will try to attend services and get together with family and celebrate the holiday,” he said. “Because of the pandemic, many if not all synagogues, temples and shuls are closed and many are trying to figure out how to mark these holy days. One of the most important parts of Rosh Hashanah is hearing the shofar…We wanted to bring some observance of the holiday – blowing the shofar – and make that available to every single Jew in Boston.”

And so that’s exactly what he and other rabbis did across Greater Boston last weekend – with it being perhaps the first time the Monument has hosted a blowing of the shofar.

Rabbi Berel is part of the International Jewish Student Center, a division of Chabad Lubavitch of Cambridge, and he is responsible for East Cambridge and Charlestown. About a month ago, he got together with Rabbi Avi Bukiet of Center for Jewish Life in Arlington-Belmont. Together, with a cohort of 30 other Chabad rabbis from the Greater Boston area and their combined talents, the initiative of www.GreaterBostonShofar.com was born.

The two rabbis found themselves discussing what could be done to help people celebrate Rosh Hashanah this year amidst a pandemic. In keeping with the Chabad philosophy of welcoming all and removing all barriers, they conceived a plan to go the extra mile and bring the shofar to the people—literally.

“People needed to hear the shofar and we needed to figure out how to we could do that,” said Rabbi Berel. “This is our bread and butter and we need to be there for people in difficult times.”

By going outdoors to distinct and open places, they were able to take appointments to keep the numbers predictable, and carry out that part of the holiday observance safely and within the rules. In all, and including the Charlestown events, there were 38 public shofar opportunities across Greater Boston last weekend.

One of the victories locally of the effort was Rabbi Berel’s ability to accommodate a family from New York who was receiving treatment at Spaulding Rehab in the Navy Yard.

The family had reached out to him to see if they could attend one of the events, but they were hampered by having to stay in the hospital.

“I told them they could come hear the shofar at the USS Constitution, which is very close, but the husband couldn’t come out, so I volunteered to be there at Spaulding and we figured out how he could participate,” he said.

It’s all part of a larger ability to take Centuries-old traditions and – without compromising them – be able to bring them to the people in a time of great upheaval – such as now. “Thankfully that is how we operate,” he said. “We are always trying to adjust within the religion without compromising anything and to be there for the community…The state allows for masks and social distancing, particularly in public spaces, so we felt we could do this.”

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