While many people can make a sound with a shofar, the challenge is to make the sound meaningful. That is what Stewart Edelstein will try to do as he coaxes notes out of the exotic instrument at Rosh Hashanah services this week and Yom Kippur services in early October at his synagogue, B’Nai Israel in Bridgeport.
“I try to create a sound that will penetrate into the souls of the people in the congregation,” said Edelstein, chair of the Litigation Department at Cohen and Wolf in Bridgeport. “Once you hear it, you don’t forget it,” he said of the shofar, which he practices almost daily a month before the services begin.
Year round, he doesn’t practice the shofar, but the French horn, which he began playing when he was nine.
“A few years after starting my legal career, I realized that something important was missing from my life,” said Edelstein. “I hadn’t picked up my horn in over five years. I dusted off my horn case, took out my horn, and played…. It was dreadful, such sour notes.”
So he took a year of lessons to get his chops back in shape and “re-learn what I had forgotten.” He put together a woodwind quintet in 1978, and it’s been giving performances ever since.
Twenty years ago, he took up the shofar. “The embouchure [mouthpiece] for the horn and the shofar are similar, so blowing the shofar for a horn player is a natural.”
More difficult is to get a sound that reflects the spiritual nature of the two holidays, which are the Jewish New Year and Day of Atonement.
“I seek to create a sound that will create an awareness in each person in the congregation that this is a time for self-reflection, a time to take stock that this is what really matters in life and a time to commit to make changes with that awareness,” said Edelstein, who turns 60 this week.
“The primary purpose of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is self-reflection and time to take stock of your life and of your conduct with other people and whether you should improve your dealings with other people.”
‘Value And Meaning’
Edelstein, who represents Fortune 500 and other corporations and municipalities and people in legal matters, says he tries to keep his spiritual values in mind while he does his high-powered day job.
“It’s important for me to help other people and as a lawyer I’m the person of last resort where there’s a business dispute that people cannot resolve and I find value and meaning in helping people who cannot resolve their dispute,” said Edelstein, who has taught a course in trial practice at Yale Law School and was recently admitted to the American Association of Arbitrators.
He began playing the shofar at B’Nai Israel in Bridgeport just after he joined the congregation, when the former shofar blower moved away. Edelstein said his shofar is the horn of a kudu, which is an African antelope.
Now Edelstein conducts classes for members of his congregation on how to blow the shofar. He is also working on an instructional CD for Sunday school students on how the shofar blasts are part of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services.
They are “an alarm clock for the soul,” Edelstein said. “A summons to take stock of our lives. A wordless prayer. The mysterious sound of the shofar is beyond description.”