With COVID-19 making it difficult or impossible for many to attend traditional High Holiday services, Chabad of Montreal has created a database of outdoor Rosh Hashanah services, centered on the sounding of the shofar — the key observance of the holiday.
ShofarMontreal.com is a centralized listing of over 100 locations around the Greater Montreal area where the shofar will be sounded on Rosh Hashanah — Sunday, Sept. 20 — outdoors and free of charge. The site also offers the opportunity to sign up for an at-home shofar service, as hundreds of volunteers will visit people outside their homes and sound the shofar for them while maintaining distancing.
“Our goal is to make the shofar — the central mitzvah of Rosh Hashanah — accessible to everyone,” said Rabbi Leibel Fine, Director of Chabad of Dollard. “Chabad of Montreal has been bringing the shofar to Montreal’s Jews, wherever they may be, for many years. This year, the reality of COVID-19 means that there may be even more people who won’t be able to make it to synagogue, so we’ll be bringing the service to them.”
While many of the holiday observances can be easily adapted to be done at home, the shofar requires the proficiency of an individual specially trained in sounding the series of notes prescribed by the Torah. Typically, the shofar is heard during the course of High Holidays prayer services, but this year, the necessary restrictions on indoor gathering has meant that many will pray at home on their own. Recognizing the challenge that this presents, Chabad of Montreal sprang into action, creating a database of locations where those unable to make it to synagogue will be able to hear the shofar and mobilizing a team of volunteers who will visit individuals who can’t make it to the outdoor shofar services either. These locations include the over 30 Montreal Chabad centres — many of which are holding multiple shofar soundings in various neighbourhood spots — as well as many local synagogues who are opening their shofar services to the public.
“The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, considered the most influential rabbi in modern history, insisted that the observance of hearing the Shofar— the key observance of Rosh Hashanah—be made accessible to all Jews — even those not attending synagogue,” Rabbi Shmuel Cohen, Director of Chabad of Kirkland explained. “Chabad of Montreal has always prioritized making Judaism available to all. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this has taken on a whole new meaning, but our mission to serve everyone remains the same.”
As the country reels in the wake of the economic recession caused by the pandemic, and with many hurting financially, many may find the cost to attend services not affordable. Many more are simply unaffiliated with a synagogue. Chabad of Montreal is dedicated to removing entry barriers and ensuring that all who wish to participate in a meaningful celebration of the Jewish New Year may do so. By listing and providing these shofar services free of charge, Chabad of Montreal hopes to accommodate many for whom this observance would otherwise not be possible.
“According to Jewish tradition, the gates of Heaven are open on the New Year, and G-d accepts prayers from everyone,” said Rabbi Fine. “That serves as our inspiration to keep our services open and accessible as well to the entire community.”
Chabad-Lubavitch has brought shofar to the streets since 1953 when the Rebbe directed his followers to hit the streets between prayers on Rosh Hashanah and blow the shofar for those unable, for whatever reason, to attend synagogue. There was, from the beginning of this campaign, a special emphasis on visiting and blowing shofar for bedridden hospital patients, and on Rosh Hashanah, volunteers would spread out through New York City, Chicago and Miami, among other cities, enabling thousands of patients to hear the cry of the shofar. And this year, during the COVID-19 pandemic, ShofarMontreal.com will continue this mission, bringing the sound of the shofar to thousands.
Note: While the shofar is sounded every year on both days of Rosh Hashanah, this year, because the first day is Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath— Shabbat, the shofar is only sounded on Sunday Sept. 20—the second day of the holiday. Rosh Hashanah services will also take place the preceding day—Saturday Sept. 19 and the evening of Friday Sept. 18—but without the Shofar, as its use is actually prohibited on Shabbat.