Shofar-driven Family

BY VICTORIA SIEGEL, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Hearing one shofar awakens the soul and even the sleepiest of congregants. Hearing seven all at once causes the hair on your arms to stand up! On Rosh Hashanah morning, that’s exactly what the congregants of B’nai El Congregation experienced when seven members of the Robert Loewenstein family took to the bimah with their shofars.

In fact, for the past 38 years, there have been between two and six members of this shofar-blowing dynasty on the bimah at B’nai El. But the story of this family really started decades before then, when Robert’s great-uncle, Arnold Weiss, sounded the shofar for B’nai El. When he stopped, Robert’s father became the bal tekiah.

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Robert began his journey as a shofar blower when he was just 10 years old. “It came with the genes,” Robert said. “My dad gave me a few tips and showed me how to hold it to my lips.”

“I started by blowing for the children’s service.” Sixty-three years later he’s still at it but now accompanied by his children (four sons and a daughter) and grandchildren.

Michael or “Mike,” Robert’s eldest son, first picked up the shofar when he was around five or six years old. “That’s when I started blowing for the children’s services, but dad probably put a shofar in my hand before that,” said Mike, who is now 49. Robert decided that Mike would start with the children’s services and then as he neared his bar mitzvah, he would sound the shofar for the adults.

Robert used this form of training for all of his sons. So five years after Mike joined Robert at the adult services, the twins Craig and Kent, just shy of their 45th birthday next month, graduated from blowing at the children’s services to blowing with their father and brother for the adults. Andrew, or “Drew,” the youngest son who is now 41 years old, joined everyone else three years after the twins, giving the congregants of B’nai El five shofarim to hear. But the story doesn’t end with Robert’s sons.

“Like the boys, I was able to blow the shofar as a child and was blowing even before Mike but it was unheard of that a female would participate,” said Cynthia, “Cindy,” Sater, Robert’s oldest child and only daughter. “Then as an adult, in my 20s, I thought, why can’t I do this?” But, Cindy was so nervous her first time on the bimah she regretted asking to participate. Her brothers had to talk her out of the car before her debut appearance with the family.

With Cindy, who is now 51, on the bimah, the number of shofarim was now six, but the tradition was about to continue to the next generation.

“Allie,” or Alexandra, Mike’s daughter, blew for the children’s services with her dad when she was around 12 years old,” Robert said. “Then she joined the rest of us on the bimah for the adult services. So now we have seven people blowing, representing three generations, who are an extension of two previous generations.”

But last week held a surprise for the whole family as well as for the congregation. Allie, who is a student at University of Missouri in Columbia, couldn’t come in to St. Louis for Rosh Hashanah. So her younger sister, Veronica, a junior at Lafayette High School, stepped on to the bimah for the very first time. And while she was a little nervous, she said it was an honor to join the family. “It feels good to be associated with Rosh Hashanah like this,” Veronica said.

“Since my sister did it, I thought maybe I’d do it too. When I was little, I always played it and learned the calls by listening to the others.”

While no one knows for sure, Robert doesn’t know of any other synagogue that has seven members, representing three generations of the same family, sounding the shofar. The Union of Reform Judaism had never heard of such a history but was unable to verify if other congregations had this tradition.

Robert’s mother even tried to research the uniqueness of her family. “My mom was very proud of me and her five grandchildren, so she wrote the Guinness Book of Records. They wrote back ‘Thank you for the inquiry but there’s no category for shofar blowers.'” So instead of getting into the record books, she made a cloth holder with pockets for all the shofars with each blower’s name embroidered on a pocket. In 1980, Robert purchased six shofars in Jerusalem and anointed them at the Western Wall by blowing each of them. He’ll be heading to Israel in November where he will be purchasing more shofars for his family.

Robert shares his mother’s pride in his family and in continuing what his father and great-uncle started.

“I’m a bit of a traditionalist and I believe in our traditions of the religion; I’m attached to those who wandered the desert.”