The Goodwill Shofar

An unexpected thrift store find

When I walked into a Goodwill to donate clothes, I didn’t expect to walk out with a shofar.

The shofar is an iconic Jewish object, blown by priests in the ancient days of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews still use this instrument made from a ram’s horn to herald in Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It’s not the sort of thing you usually see in a thrift store.

But when I walked into my local Goodwill in Jackson, Mississippi, there it was: a shofar, smack dab in the front of the store, atop a display of boys’ clothes.

I was incredulous. How did this special object, this holy piece of Judaism, end up here? Picking it up, I checked the price. Thirty dollars.

I was immediately upset. That’s how much they think this is worth? I fumed. Does anyone at this store have any idea how valuable this is? And who would just give this away? How is it that such an important piece of Jewish culture is being sold at a thrift store?

Still reeling, I quickly texted some friends. One of them, a fellow Program Associate at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life (ISJL) who is planning to attend rabbinical school, asked if I could buy it for him. I carefully placed the shofar in my cart and continued shopping.

As I sifted through varsity jackets and trench coats, vinyl records and vases, my mind remained with the shofar. Perhaps it was my pessimism which caused me to overlook the fact that the shofar soon would be in a better place and in the possession of someone who recognized its value; instead, I kept focusing on the fact this sacred piece of Judaica was in a thrift store.

When I went to check out at the cash register, the lady behind me asked in a sweet southern accent: “Oh, wow, is that an animal horn?”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied, and I explained how the shofar is an important part of Judaism.

“That’s right,” she said. “I know they used to blow that back in the day. I saw it in one of the Left Behind films.”

Left Behind follows a group of people “left behind” after the rapture, an event many Christians believe will mark the end of the world. While I appreciated the lady’s interest, I couldn’t help but feel sad; probably the one person in the store other than me who recognized this as a ritual object still didn’t really know its Jewish symbolism.

Maybe it was just happenstance, but I believe I was meant to see the Goodwill shofar that afternoon, not only so that I could rescue it and give it a better home but also because it made me think deeply about the current state of American Judaism. I’m not a very observant Jew, but Judaism is still of vital importance to me. Seeing the shofar on a stack of discarded clothing was a really stark reminder: this is our responsibility.

If, as American Jews, we increasingly choose to not attend synagogue, to not send our children to religious school, to not observe Jewish holidays and to not keep Jewish traditions… then how will we prevent our shofrot, our siddurim, our kippot, and even our Torah scrolls from becoming relics? How do we ensure that these pieces of Judaica, which are not merely symbolic items but represent a 4,000-year-old people whose manifold contributions to humanity have made the world a more just and learned place, do not become cheap objects in a thrift store?

The Goodwill Shofar is a reminder of why we, as the next generation of Jewish lay leaders, writers, scholars, athletes, rabbis, and artists, must choose to live a Jewish life. Yes, Judaism is not a monolith and can be expressed in a variety of ways. Yes, you do not have to believe in God or attend synagogue or read Hebrew to be a Jew. Yes, you do not have to own a shofar (although if you have one you’re planning to discard, skip the thrift store and give it to a family member or donate it to a Judaica re-homing project).

But we do need to remember just how ancient our traditions are, how they have helped us maintain strength and clarity through the horrors and convulsions of history. We too live in convulsive times. We can’t afford to discard our heritage, on the off-chance someone else will pick it up and save it. Therefore, it is only right that we each do our part as Jews to express our “goodwill” toward each other, our ancestors, and the world by keeping alive our sacred and beautiful culture.

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