Rosh Hashanah memories take us to our shuls, homes and families. They remind us of promises made about how we would change our lives and rearrange our priorities. There may also be memories of the delicacies we ate when we were children – the chicken soup, gefilte fish and great desserts. And one sound, the sound of the shofar blasting away with its shrill notes of tekiah, shevarim… and finally the long, very last sound – the tekiah gedolah.
For me the most unique memory of the shofar blowing did not come in a shul or a home, but rather while doing my reserve duty here in Israel. And although it happened many years ago, it seems like it was yesterday. Reserve duty, miluim in Hebrew, is a 2-4 week period of guard duty, or patrols that one is required to do after completing compulsory army service. After we moved to Efrat from Beersheba I was assigned to a local unit that patrolled the Gush Etzion area (about 10 minutes south of Jerusalem). We did eight-hour shifts along with an officer who had significantly more training than us. But we all had our M16s, and had to shoot a few bullets to make sure that we remembered how to pull the trigger.
One September evening I had just completed my eight-hour shift and was allowed to return home to sleep. But before retiring I turned on the 11 p.m. news. The lead story was a terrorist attack on a jeep that fortunately did not result in any injuries, but had taken place in the exact area that I had just finished patrolling. I was shocked. The area has many Arab villages, and there was always the possibility that something dangerous could happen. Somehow, I just never thought about this real possibility.
Two days later was Rosh Hashanah, and I had been told that I would be allowed to be home for the holiday. Everything was prepared, and I was excited to be home with the kids and friends. But then I received a phone call informing me that I would not be able to stay at home; rather I had to be on duty in case there were any more incidents. Sad as it was there was no choice, and even though I would be only walking distance from Efrat I would not be able to actually leave the base.
I packed my machzor and clothes, and my wife gave me some kugel and cake. But the one thing I didn’t possess was a shofar. What would I do without a shofar? Would someone come to the base, or would it be a Rosh Hashanah sans shofar blowing?
I recall being the only religious soldier on this small base, and it was lonely having to do all the davening alone. However, the meals were eaten together with the others, and I was given the “duty” of reciting the Kiddush. The following morning I again took my machzor in hand, and went up the lookout tower (called a pill box due to its shape). Right before I got to the Mussaf prayer that has all the shofar blowing I heard steps, and there was one of my fellow reserve soldiers, Rav Uri Dasberg, with shofar in hand! I couldn’t believe it. Uri lived even closer to the base and was allowed to stay at home, but came especially for me. As I had done in my own shul for many years, I called out the sounds of the shofar and Uri did every note to perfection. He was my personal shofar blower.
The following day, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the same pattern was repeated. I considered myself very lucky. I thanked Uri profusely for personally helping me out. At some point that second day the base commander informed me that I could walk home to Efrat, but I had to tell one of the other soldiers to replace me.
My wife and family were so excited and surprised to see me; I would be able to spend a few hours of Rosh Hashanah at home with my family. As I devoured the many dishes that my wife had prepared, I relayed the story of what had happened to me in the tower.