Romaniote Memories: A Jewish Journey from Ioannina, Greece to Manhattan: Photographs by Vincent Giordano

Shofar Blowing

The shofar is an instrument made of horn of antelope, gazelle, goat, or ram.

The Torah simply identifies Rosh Ha-Shanah as the first day of the seventh month (Tishri), which should be observed with “loud blasts” (Lev. 23:23-25). This description is the source for sounding the shofar. For Rosh Hashanah, a ram’s horn is considered best because of its association with Genesis 22 (the Akedah or Binding of Isaac), which is read on the holiday as a reminder of the covenant between God and Abraham. 

In the Bible, the shofar is mentioned as being sounded in religious, military, and ceremonial contexts, but today is associated exclusively with the Jewish High Holidays. In Jewish art, the shofar is understood as a uniquely Jewish symbol, and signifies God’s covenant with the Jews, and God’s revelation on Mount Sinai and the gift of the Torah. 

In 2006, because Rosh Hashanah fell on the Sabbath, there was no shofar service on the first day, as would normally occur. Therefore, the shofar services, what many see has the climax of the Rosh Hashanah observance, occurred on Sunday, the second day of the holiday. There are two distinct shofar services during the day. The first is immediately after the Torah service, and the second comes later during the repetition of the Musaf Amidah. Congregants stand when the shofar is blown.

In Ioannina, this was a momentous event, since according to Hazan Haim Ischakis (as told to Vincent Giordano), this service had not occurred in the Ioannina synagogue for more than 30 years. The daily service began at 8:15 am and lasted about 5 hours. Vincent wrote: “Men were called to read the Torah in the same fashion as on the Sabbath.  The crowd was very large…we estimated about 120 people”.  Then, before the shofar service, Hazan Ischakis prepared the congregation by giving a history about why this was important and what it all meant.  According to Vincent “This was, he said, because many of the Romaniotes have not practiced for so long.  For them to be involved and to understand, he wanted them to be informed...Ischakis [who had led all the services for several days] was tired and blowing the Shofars was an effort.  He used four different horns, each for their sound, as a musician would.”  Two shofars were his own and two belonged to the synagogue which he had found them in the basement and cleaned for use.

The structure of the Shofar service is derived from Numbers 10:1-10 when long (tekiah) and short (teruah) shofar blasts are described. This was later expanded by the early rabbis with the addition sound of three broken notes (Shevarim).

Vincent Giordano wrote, “After the service, sweets were served in the courtyard, under the Sukkah.  Everyone gathered…this was the last day of the reunion celebration.  Everyone said their goodbyes, snapped photos and then left for home, wherever that might be.”  

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