JHOM - The Shofar Blower


That Shofar Blower by Yiddish poet Kadya Molodowsky was written in 1945 is almost self-evident by the repeated reference to darkness and blackness in every verse. The guilt of survival is played out here (as in several other of Molodowsky’s poems such as The Fife Player of Sodom and Only King David Remained), with the man blowing the ram’s horn, affirming at the same time the continuity of Jewish tradition in the face of utter destruction. Writes translator and commentator Kathryn Hellerstein: “Reconnecting to this tradition gives the poet her strength to keep on writing and living.”

Hellerstein notes also that the Yiddish/Hebraic word for darkness, khoyshekh, that appears in Line 5 denotes utter darkness, especially the primordial darkness of Genesis 1:1. The Germanic word for darkness, finterskayt, in Verse 2, has a very different feel than the Hebraic khoyshekh.

The poem refers to the Hebrew instructions for blowing the shofar during the Rosh Hashanah service. Teki’ah denotes the blowing of the shofar; teru’ah denotes the succession of tremulous notes sounded on the shofar; shebarim denotes the tremolo or broken, disconnected sounds of the shofar.

The shofar blower keens a melody,
An old melody to God.
Above him—
A sky without stars,
Primordial darkness lost in darkness,
The shofar blower keens a melody:
Teki’ah, Teru’ah, Shebarim.

The blackness—a wind, a wall,
There is no congregation,
No quorum at all.
The shofar blower keens a melody,
An old melody:

Near him, an extinguished thorn,
As he stares into even blacker darkness,
The shofar blower keens a melody,
An old melody,
And waits—
The thorn shall begin to burn,
A flame shall inscribe on a wall.
Above him, a sky without stars,
And primordial darkness,
And deadly venom.
But this does not interrupt,
Does not silence the horn:

Man blowing shofar (above left); Litkoa ("to sound the shofar:): details from
14th-century German manuscript,
Courtesy: HUC-JIR Klau Library
Click to view enlarged


Opening words from the poem
Click to view complete Yiddish text

excerpted Barnes and Noble linkFrom: Kathryn Hellerstein, translator, editor, commentator, Paper Bridges: Selected Poems of Kadya Molodowsky (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1999)
excerpted The Shofar: Ten Reasons, Saadiah Gaon
The Shofar in Art, Ida Huberman
Kadya Molowdowsky, Yiddish Poet and Writer, Kathryn Hellerstein



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