Fred Missel confesses that he was a poor Hebrew school student.
“ ‘Not a great student’ is a compliment,” he says. “I’m the kid that would walk behind the teacher and make funny faces,” he says. “I was the class clown. I hated Hebrew school.”
At his Hebrew school in Quincy, Massachusetts, students were judged on how fast they could read Hebrew and how well they read it, he says. “I was wonderful in history and customs, but that didn’t count back then. Back then, it was how fast can you read, how fast can you pronounce?”
Then one day before the High Holidays, his rabbi brought a shofar into his third-grade class, but most of the students had difficulty getting any sound from it. As the rabbi prepared to leave, he turned to offer Missel a chance to try. “He hands it to me, gives me a little bit of instruction and I hit the note the first time,” Missel says. “That was the impetus” that led him to teach others how to sound the shofar and served as his personal connection to the Jewish community.
Before moving to Arizona about a decade ago, he gave shofar lessons for 10 years in California. For the past 10 years, he offered lessons before the High Holidays at community Judaica stores that have all since closed. He is also a b’aal tekiah (shofar sounder) at Congregation Kehillah, where he and his wife are members.
This year, he will offer a shofar-sounding lesson at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10, at Star Power Audio, 7077 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix, as well as teach students at Beth El Congregation’s Talmud Torah later in the month.
Missel recalls his grandfather showing him to pull a tallit over his head before blowing the shofar. “This is your time to block out everybody who is around you and it is you, the shofar and God,” he says.
He tells students to think of a prayer in their heads beforehand. “When you sound the shofar, it is your prayer joining the notes going up to God. That’s the key of sounding the shofar; it’s another way to pray to God.”
Most people get very excited when they sound the shofar for the first time, Missel says.
“The bottom line is they have made this connection with God,” Missel says. “My comment to them is, ‘You are doing something that is thousands of years old, that the majority of the people in the world can’t do. Not everybody can sound the shofar.’ ”
Missel says that he gets tremendous satisfaction from helping people learn.
“I consider it my way of giving back to the community,” he says. “I get the thrill of being able to teach somebody new how to do it.”
In a sense, teaching brings Missel back full circle, as he has a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Boston University. Over the years, he served as a medic in the Army, earned a master’s degree in environmental studies/urban planning from California State University, Fullerton and eventually spent 30 years as a project engineer in the aerospace industry. He retired in April 2014 and spent some time as a substitute teacher.
Missel doesn’t charge for the lesson, but he does request one thing from his students.
“Your duty is to go teach somebody else,” Missel says he tells his students. “Somewhere in your life, when you can, you teach somebody else and we keep the practice going.”
Contact Fred Missel at 480-323-6141 or email@example.com.