“I’ll blow wherever,” he said.
On the eve of Rosh Hashanah — Friday, Sept. 18 — Potek will sound his ram’s horn from the rooftop of Sixth & I Historic Synagogue, where he is a rabbi, as part of a coordinated mass shofar blowing dubbed “The Blast.”
The event is aimed at bringing the Jewish community together in a year when opportunities to gather in synagogue or for Rosh Hashanah meals have been greatly restricted by the coronavirus pandemic.
At 5 p.m. next Friday, just before the holiday begins, organizers are encouraging Jewish leaders and individuals from around the District to step outside and blow their shofars or other noisemakers and, in unison, usher in the new year.
Potek, 34, organized the event with two other young rabbis, Hannah Goldstein, 36, of Temple Sinai, and Sarah Krinsky, 29, of Adas Israel. The idea, Potek said in a phone call, was a “divinely inspired moment.”
There are more than 30 local co-sponsors, from synagogues to campus Hillel houses to the D.C. Jewish Community Center. There’s also a website (Theblastdc.com) where participants can “pin” their general blow-cations on a map so people can join and listen at a safe distance.
Other cities are throwing their own mass blowouts. Both Chicago and Manhattan are offering Shofar in the Streets. And Winnipeg is hosting its first-ever Shofar Blowing Drive-Through, which will be held in a parking loop with eight people stationed around the circle who will take turns blowing their shofars as cars ride by.
The call of the shofar, one of the most ancient and holy ritual objects in the Jewish tradition, is a reminder to look inward and reflect on the past year. The ritual involves a series of notes, a sort of spiritual Morse code ranging from one big blast to a series of short, staccato sounds, ending with a prolonged, mournful note.
“It’s the Jewish version of a primal scream,” said Potek, sounded during morning prayers every weekday of the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah; on Rosh Hashanah itself; and at the end of the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.
On Wednesday morning, Potek brought his shofar to the front of Washington’s “Watermelon House,” a rowhouse off Logan Circle named for the brightly painted mural on its side.
He sounded the notes and filmed one of his shofar-themed TikTok videos, set to the song “Watermelon Sugar,” by British pop singer Harry Styles.
“I’m not amazing at blowing a shofar,” Potek admitted, adding that he received one shofar for his bar mitzvah and a second, larger one when he became a rabbi in his native Chicago. “But when you grow up with the practice of blowing it 30 times a year for 20 years, you get good.”
When they’re not in use, both shofars live in his bedroom closet.
Krinsky said she comes from a long line of shofar blowers. Her paternal grandfather was a rabbi who put his son, Krinsky’s father, to work sounding the notes at the age of 6. “I didn’t inherit the shofar gene,” said Krinsky. “But can I make a sound that will awaken my spirit? Sure I can.”
Unlike Potek, Krinsky won’t be blowing her shofar from the rooftops on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Actually, she said this week, she’s not sure yet where she’ll be blowing.
And that’s okay. Because when she welcomes in Rosh Hashanah, she will be embracing that disquietude, a lesson she says she learned over the past year — 2020 for the secular world and 5780 by the Jewish calendar.
“We have no idea what the future brings,” Krinsky said. “That uncertainty scared me. But now it’s serving me.”
Goldstein has a little more clarity of what to expect in the coming year: something positive in days marked by upheaval. She is 8½ months pregnant with a baby girl.
Her Rosh Hashanah sermon, which she prerecorded to deliver to her congregation online, will discuss creation in the midst of destruction.
“I keep thinking about the intensity of the liturgy around life, around death, around sickness,” Goldstein said. “But then, there is this whole new person in the world coming.”
In ancient times, the shofar was blown every Friday in Jerusalem, shortly before sundown, to herald the arrival of the Sabbath.
Today, in a vastly expanded and modernized city, a siren is used in its place.
“But it wasn’t the sound of dread,” Potek said, recalling when he lived in the city in 2009 and heard the Shabbat siren each week. Instead, like the shofar, he said, “It was the sound of unity.”