Having A Blast In Central Park: Shofar Event Aimed At Unaffiliated

It’s that time of year in New York, when coats come out of closets, leaves turn colors — and the sound of the ram’s horn echoes through Central Park.
On Sept. 29, the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rabbi Yisrael Kugel of Chabad Centers of Manhattan will perform the ritual Rosh Hashannah shofar blowing at the Central Park bandshell. He sees the Biblical instrument as an outreach vehicle uniquely tuned to the ears of the unaffiliated and the disinterested.
"The simplicity of it is its beauty," said Goodman, 27, who works at the Chabad of the West Side that his parents started, and where he grew up.
Both the religious and the secular are taking the shofar to the streets this year. On Sept. 18, Art Kibbutz NYC, an international artist network, hosted a shofar flashmob in New York and other cities. Eli Goodman, the Surfing Rabbi of Long Island, blew the shofar with beachgoers and surfers during the world’s biggest surfing competition earlier this month.
Of course, the Upper West Side is one of the most famously Jewish neighborhoods in the world, but many of its Jewish residents are unaffiliated with a synagogue, Kugel said. That makes it a fertile field for the informal outreach methods he prefers, from streetcorner classes to pickle-making seminars at street fairs. Goodman and his wife, who works with him, didn’t have much luck with a series of beginner’s services, however.
“People are not beginners around here,” said Rabbi Kugel. “When there’s a beginners service that means there’s an advanced service and you’re in the beginners one.”
Such services should not take worshippers back to school, said Yehuda Sarna, rabbi of New York University’s Bronfman Center and a recipient of an award for excellence from Hillel International. “They should feel intellectually engaged and uplifted,” he said.
That’s where the shofar works, Rabbi Kugel said. Last year, 45 people attended a shofar service he held at the Excelsior Hotel near the Museum of Natural History.
The special events permit he secured from the Parks Department for this year’s event clears a crowd of up to 1,000 people, although he knows he won’t get nearly that many. So far, 150 have either signed up on Facebook or said they’ll come via the event’s website. Kugel is also handing out fliers up and down the neighborhood and has listings in TimeOut New York and other publications.
“Instead of learning about everything, we’ll take one simple tradition and learn that one well. People are more receptive to that,” he said.