Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Seattle's 'Master Blaster' Welcomes Jewish New Year With His Shofar

Gabriel Spitzer
Jon Lellelid practices his shofar every day this time of year, outside his Marysville office.

The Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday at sundown, and Jews around the world mark the Hebrew calendar’s new year with a clarion call from the shofar. The horn, usually made from the horn of a ram or an antelope, is a tricky instrument to learn. But it’s become a passion for Jon Lellelid, known as Seattle’s “master blaster.”

Lellelid was at a temple function in 2002 when the cantor asked him to blow the shofar next Rosh Hashanah. Lellelid used to play trombone, so it seemed like a good fit. But there was a hitch.

“I think there's going to be a problem because I'm not Jewish,” he said.

There are rules about this sort of thing, so that year Lellelid played just for the kids’ service. He turned out to be a natural.

Lellelid’s wife is Jewish, and he was considering converting. His budding shofar career gave him a kick in the pants, and by the next year, he was cleared to blow at Rosh Hashanah services.

“That’s one of the reasons people come,” he said. “To hear the shofar blown, it’s a commandment. It’s to shake people up, get then to start the new year over again, and come to their senses.”

Lellelid takes the role of master blaster seriously. Starting in March, he practices every day. Normally he ducks out of his office at the Sno-Isle library system, finds a spot on the scruffy edge of the north parking lot, and rehearses. He said he’s been mistaken for a moose once or twice.

His shofar blasts have a remarkably clear tone, sounding very much like a brass horn. That’s in spite of the fact that they come out of an instrument made from natural materials that were once growing on a live animal.

He practices the four basic calls, all based on the two tones a shofar makes. It culminates with Tekiah Gedolah, held as long as the blower can manage and sometimes called the “Red Note” (for the color it turns the blower’s face).

The shofar is in some ways the heart of High Holidays services, which in turn are the center of the Jewish calendar. And for Lellelid, it’s when he’s most in touch with his adopted faith.

“It makes me feel closer to God, and I just find it very spiritual,” he said.

This is Jon Lellelid’s 13th year blowing the shofar at Seattle’s Temple de Hirsch Sinai. In 10 days it will be Yom Kippur, and he will blow it again.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.