How a rabbi’s shofar blast made history in Georgia

Georgians are used to plenty of hot air from the denizens of the Gold Dome. But Rabbi Larry Sernovitz gave a new meaning to tooting his own horn during his visit this week to the Georgia Legislature.

The leader of Temple Kol Emeth made history on Tuesday when he interrupted his morning devotion in the Georgia House with a sharp blast of a shofar, a ram’s horn trumpet traditionally blown by Jews to welcome important religious moments.

It was the first time anyone has blown the shofar during an official proceeding in the Georgia Legislature, said Howard Mortman, author of “When Rabbis Bless Congress.” And he said it could be the first time it’s happened in any state legislature.

“I know it’s never happened in the U.S. Congress,” said Mortman. “Anecdotally, I haven’t come across any instance in a state legislature. So Georgia’s Rabbi Sernovitz is likely the first.”

Sernovitz, who has led the Marietta congregation since July 2020, said he reviewed prior addresses by chaplains at the General Assembly to prepare for his devotion. He challenged himself to find a way to stand out.

That’s when he decided to bring the long, winding shofar to the chamber with the approval of House Speaker David Ralston, whose office consulted late Monday with a Jewish veteran of the statehouse before giving the idea his blessing.

“I wanted to use the shofar to allow the members of the Georgia House to pause and imagine how they would take in the moment if they were at the foot of Mt. Sinai when the Ten Commandments were delivered,” Sernovitz said.

After his devotion, Sernovitz was bombarded by legislators who thanked him for his prayer – and peppered him with questions about the shofar. Many had never heard the ancient instrument before.

Later, he blew the shofar in a private meeting with Gov. Brian Kemp.

“The shofar is a battle cry. But It’s also a wakeup call,” Sernovitz said. “I wanted this to be a wakeup call to lawmakers to look beyond their own agendas.”