UPPER KEYS -- Moira Knowles, 11, studies Japanese in her spare time, loves to snorkel and swim and has excelled on the FCAT exam.
But on Rosh Hashanah, which begins at sundown Sunday, Knowles will have the honor of putting a talent of a different sort on display when she sounds the shofar before congregates of the Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier.
The shofar is a ritual instrument, typically made of a ram horn, which is blown on the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah to serve as an inner wake-up call during the High Holiday season of self reflection and repentance. The shofar is also sounded in one long triumphant blast at the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which falls on Sept. 26 this year.
Ancient instruments, dating back to biblical times, shofars once were used as clarion calls to gather people for momentous occasions.
They're not easy to play. They have no mouth piece. And they require ample lung capacity.
When the horn is blown, it produces a shrill, primal sound that reaches deep into the collective Jewish soul. The four calls that make up a Rosh Hashanah shofar service variously are meant to evoke reverence, awe, sadness and joy.
Knowles likely wasn't thinking too deeply about such things, when at age 5, local physician and the KJCC's resident shofar sounder Bernie Ginsberg showed up at her Sunday school class to give a demonstration. But she certainly took to the instrument and to Ginsberg, 65.
They've been working together ever since, often on Friday nights, after the KJCC's weekly Sabbath service.
Knowles says she enjoys working with Ginsberg, in part because of his sense of humor.
"He's hilarious," she said.
But she also finds meaning in playing an instrument that is so entrenched in Jewish history.
"I just feel like I'm more connected with God, more connected with the past," she said.
By last year, Moira had progressed enough to sound the shofar for the first time on the pulpit during Rosh Hashanah.
"Her natural talent is amazing," Ginsberg said. "It is difficult to play this instrument, and she can play like an adult who is well trained."
Ever the achiever, Knowles though is quick to say she hasn't figured everything out yet. Like rams' horns themselves, shofars come big and small. When Knowles blows the KJCC's small horn, she's able to produce the various shofar calls. But she hasn't yet mastered the synagogue's much larger horn, which spirals and twists its way some two feet from end to end.
To improve her lung capacity, she has been working on swimming lengths of a pool without taking a breath -- all the better also for her snorkeling hobby.
Knowles said she is looking forward to the shofar service this year, as observers usher in the year 5773 on the Jewish calendar. The holiday's first shofar calls will be sounded during daytime Rosh Hashanah services on Sept. 17. Ginsberg, meanwhile, will be visiting family in New York, so KJCC cantor Mark Halpern will take his part in the shofar service.
But Ginsberg will be there in spirit as Knowles takes a deep breath, places her lips to the ram horn and makes a sound that Jews have been listening to for thousands of years.
"The whole idea of having a synagogue is to preserve traditions," Ginsberg said. "What would be a better way to do it than to have one of the younger children become a shofar blower?"
The Keys Jewish Community Center in Tavernier will hold a full slate of services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah begins with a 7 p.m. service Sunday, Sept. 16, and continues with morning services at 10 o'clock Monday and Tuesday. Yom Kippur begins with a 7 p.m. service Sept. 25. Services continue at 10 o'clock the next morning.For more information, call 852-5235.