The economist Jennie Litvack, who died on June 27 at the age of fifty-five, made important contributions to the study of developing countries. But her two great passions were the trumpet—she had befriended the great jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie when she was fourteen—and Judaism. She also found a way to combine these two passions, as the Economist writes. (Free registration required.)
The call came, appropriately enough, while she was walking through the Old City of Jerusalem, her husband [Robert Satloff] said. They had stopped at a small shop near the Roman Cardo. By the door stood a barrel of shofars. Not regular ram’s-horn shofars, but the long, curved Yemenite instruments made from the horn of the greater kudu, an African antelope. She blew each one in turn. What emerged was a deep throaty musical summons that almost quivered, casting those who heard it back to one of the most significant moments in [the Hebrew Bible] when God stopped Abraham from sacrificing his own son and ordered him to kill a ram instead.
In the street a crowd began to gather. They had never heard such a sound before. And then, somewhere in the barrel, she found it—the shofar that produced the perfect deep baritone, the primal call she’d long dreamed of but never made. When she blew it, the crowd fell silent. Shopkeepers, tourists, old men pushing carts: they all stopped. They knew this one was different.
With some practice, Litvack became the designated shofar-blower at her synagogue:
After every morning service through the month of Elul [before Rosh Hashanah], . . . Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt, her friend, would call out: t’kiah. She would respond with a single note, the awakening summons to Jews to focus on the year that has passed and think about the type of people they would like to be. Sh’varim, the cry from the heart, the triptych of notes that speak of a sense of brokenness. T’ruah for the nine staccato notes that, like an alarm clock, she would say, would summon the listener, “Wake up, wake up, wake up. Now is the time to do something.” And then T’kiah g’dolah, the final long note, that refers to a oneness, a total unity coming together. Over 100 notes in all, more than an orchestral horn player would expect to sound in an evening concert.