ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker

SAMMY AND THE SHOFAR

It was, without a doubt, the coolest animal horn I had ever seen.

But then, I was 7.  Pretty much everything I saw was the coolest thing I had ever seen.

Still, this horn that was on a bookshelf at my friend Sammy’s house was WAY cool.  It was hollow, about three feet long and it was curly – almost like a piece of that corkscrew pasta.  It was so polished and shiny, it seemed to be beckoning me to touch it.

“What kind of animal does it come from?” I asked Sammy.

“A ram,” he said.

“Oh,” I said.  That made sense, because the only Rams I knew about were in Los Angeles, and they had curly horns on their football helmets.

Wanna hear something cool?” Sammy asked.  He carefully picked up the horn, put the small end to his lips and blew.  A low, mournful sound emanated from the larger end of the horn.

A horn that was also . . . you know . . . a horn!  That was so far beyond cool, it was almost groovy.

“Can I try it?” I asked as I reached for the horn.  Sammy hesitated for a moment, then started to hand it over.  “Just be careful,” he said.  “My Dad’ll kill me if I . . .”

As if on cue, Sammy and I fumbled the exchange and the horn clattered to the tile floor.  A good-sized chunk broke off the larger end.  The horrified expression on Sammy’s face suggested that we were in serious trouble.

I scooped up the horn and the broken piece.  “Maybe we can glue it back . . .”

Samuel!”

We looked up to see Sammy’s mother standing in the doorway, with the exact same horrified expression on her face.

“It wasn’t me,” Sammy stammered.  “I mean . . . we were just . . . I wanted to show . . .”

“It was my fault,” I said, almost simultaneously.  “I didn’t mean . . . it just . . . I don’t know . . . Sammy was  . . .”

Without saying a word Sammy’s mother walked directly to me and took the horn and the broken piece from my hands.  She studied it intensely from one end to the other, searching for additional damage.  Finding none, she gently placed the horn back on the bookshelf, and placed the broken piece next to it.

“This has been in our family for a long time,” she said.  “It’s called a shofar.  It’s part of our religious tradition.”  She looked directly at Sammy.  “It’s sacred to us.  It’s not a toy.  We don’t play with it.”

Something about how she said the word “sacred” – and the fact that she didn’t yell at us or anything – touched me, and I think it touched Sammy too.  I’m not sure we fully understood or appreciated what she was trying to tell us.  But we knew that this was important to her, and that made it important to us.

“Yes, Mama,” Sammy said.  “I’m sorry.”

“Me too,” I said.  Then I added: “I can get some glue.  I’ll bet we can fix it.”

“That’s OK,” she said.  “We’ll let Sammy’s father take care of it when he gets home.”

I wish I could tell you that Sammy’s father was able to repair the horn . . . er . . . shofar, but we moved to another state soon after and I never saw Sammy again.  Years later I learned that a shofar is blown as part of Jewish services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Which is why I think about Sammy and the shofar every year about this time.  I remember the sound of the shofar.  I remember the look on Sammy’s face when he . . . er, I . . . er, we dropped it.  And I remember what I felt when his mom said the word “sacred.” Somehow in that moment I understood that you can show respect and honor for something that is sacred.

Even if it isn’t sacred to you.

— © Joseph Walker


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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

Christmas on Mill Street A Holiday Novel!

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