Monday, September 6, 2010

"I heard the Shofar and thought you were calling me"

In case you missed the latest YouTube sensation, watch this 1 minute and 45 second video.

So maybe it isn't a sensation but that wasn't the goal.  We went to campus with the goal of handing out fliers to people that have the High Holiday schedule printed, and kind of get the word out about Hillel.  That was the mindset.  I figured, hey let's bring the shofar, blow it a few times, get people's attention, make a little noise, etc...
That was the plan in theory.
When I showed up I was more than scared.  I wasn't terrified, but I was definitely intimidated and worried.  What are people going to say when they hear and see this?  Am I going to be asked to leave?  What about the guy playing guitar or the multi-cultural fraternities performing step routines?  What are they going to think about someone coming into the plaza with a huge ram's horn making a ton of racket?  Then on top of that start yelling like a lunatic screaming silly phrases like:

"If you hear the shofar, Rosh Hashanah ain't far!"
"Let's get High, the High Holidays are a week away!"
"Come to Hillel! Bring your Jewish friends, your Jewish parents, and your Jewish pets!"
"The High Holidays are one week away!  This is the last week of the Jewish year!"

I was saying these things and in the back of my mind thinking, "I sound like an apocalyptic preacher who has lost his mind."

The game changer for me, which all of the sudden made it seem OK to be doing this, was going into Reitz Union.  I don't know if the video does it justice.  If you walk into to the Reitz Union food court at lunch time, you cannot find a table.  They place has hundreds of people sitting, eating, and talking there.
I found an open chair and stood on it and raised the Shofar over my head, and a girl said to me, "Are you gonna blow that?"

That was all the encouragement I needed.

Once I had support outside of my team that consisted of the Rabbi, my co-director, and Israeli fellow, the whole thing became much easier.  By the whole thing I mean the screaming at people and being comfortable with the comments and stares.

When I finished the first Shofar blast the place was silent.  I didn't expect that.  When I finished my shtick I got applause.  I really didn't expect that.
The whole time we were doing this I had the impression that students would see me like one of the many famous Turlington preachers that heckle students, spewing hateful remarks, drawing crowds, and making scenes.  But that was the exact opposite of the student reaction.  I was encouraged by the students.  People wanted to hear the Shofar.  I'll write that again.  If you read this and only remember one thing or take one thing away from what we did on campus take this with you.

People want to hear the shofar.

On the Plaza of the Americas, Krishna House draws a huge crowd for lunch.  Many students sit under the trees to eat Krishna lunch.  I was really hesitant to blow the Shofar.  I mean, nobody messes with the Krishnas.  They have been here way longer than I have and will continue to be after I leave.  The team and I were discussing if we should really disturb this very nice and friendly group with Shofar blowing, and yelling, and fliers, and the whole shtyck.  Then a young hipster-dude came up to me and said, "Is that a Shofar?  Can I hear it?"
My response was, "Yes and no, I don't think it's right to disturb the Krishnas."
My new Hipster-dude friend said, "You're on the Plaza of the Americas.  This is a free space for speech and expression."
That was all I needed to hear.

I took a few steps back, co-director Jessica grabbed the flip cam, and then several other students grabbed cameras and phones with cameras to record this.  And I thought, "I hope I don't blow this."  -just kidding, that's just a little pun.

I blew the shofar, said my shtyck and the people really liked it.  But I wouldn't have done it without the support from someone who wanted to hear it.

People like shofars, they want to hear the shofar!

When was the last time someone used a Shofar for a very real and practical purpose?  How is a shofar supposed to work in the physical world?  To call the Jewish people.  In the spiritual world, to renew the soul -  but that's not my blog post.  If I had a giant iPhone 4 and had the reception (AT&T in Gainesville, ya right) but seriously.  If I had a magic phone to call every Jew on campus to tell them the High Holidays are 1 week away, and Hillel has all the meals and services you could need, I cannot guarantee they would hear me.  If I left a voice mail on every Jewish cell phone, I don't think they would be checked.  But if you blow a Shofar on campus, every single Jew will hear it, see it, recognize it, and internalize it in a very personal and very real way.

The unseen side effects of our stunt/experiment/what-have-you have been rippling through campus, the internet, and other people since Wednesday.
I had a girl come up to me yesterday while I was tabling at a campus involvement fair.  She said, "I heard the Shofar and thought you were calling me.  I saw you and remembered back in Hebrew School my teacher telling me that the ancient Hebrews would use Shofars to call to one another.  I didn't even know about services here until I came over."

Do you get it?  This girl is a student here, a Jewish student here, and she didn't know that Hillel is here to provide meals and services.  Hillel has a great reputation...with a few people. For the vast majority of our over 8,000 Jewish students Hillel has no reputation.  Again, that's another shmooze but the point is, the Shofar calls and people hear.

It is impossible to gauge how many people heard the Shofar.  I stood in the middle of Turlington Plaza blowing as loud as I could.  The Youtube video helps too.  Now many folks (about 500 from when I last checked) have seen the video and they are circulating it to relatives, friends, facebook, synagogues, etc... I have people calling me that I haven't spoken to in years just to ask, "What was that like?"  People like hearing the Shofar, and this silly and embarrassing stunt has worked far better than we could ever have imagined.

Hopefully, when you hear the Shofar this week, you can feel it calling to you and calling to your soul.

This post was written by Jeff Kaplan, the same guy you saw yelling in the video.  Jeff will be blowing the Shofar again at the Reform Rosh Hashanah service at Hillel.  If you want to contact him his email is  For more information on the High Holidays at UF, go to

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