Jewish High Holy Days a time for prayer, introspection

MANATEE -- Chicago White Sox third baseman Kevin Youkilis hits baseballs with a vengeance and can pick ground balls with the best of them.

But how is he at blowing a ram's horn?

Can he produce a deep, shrill, tone on a shofar that would be effective enough to announce to the masses that the Jewish High Holy Days are coming?

This is what Bradenton's Erik Polin, 11, really wants to know. Erik is learning to blow the shofar himself and studying what it means to be a Jew in religious school at Bradenton's Temple Beth El.

"I'd like to hear how the Big Youk blows the shofar," Erik said this week of Youkilis, who happens to be his hero and happens to also be Jewish.

Jews around the world will soon be hearing shofars, or ram's horns, to announce the beginning of the Jewish New Year, marked by the Jewish High Holidays.

The holidays begin with Rosh Hashanah -- 10 days of intense introspection, evaluation and prayer -- at sundown Sept. 16 and end with the fast day, Yom Kippur, Sept. 26.

During this time, Jews ponder how they did the past year in God's eyes and what they could do to be better people, said Temple Beth El Rabbi Harold Caminker, who will be celebrating his fourth High Holidays

at the Bradenton synagogue, which holds its services in the 500-seat Unity Sanctuary, 4200 32nd St. W.

A boy like Erik, proud to be a Jew, proud to be learning Jewish customs like the shofar, naturally wonders if a fellow Jew he admires so much can deliver a tone out of the shofar that would bring chills, Caminker said.

Now a sixth-grader at Center Montessori School in Bradenton, Erik, who plays tennis, baseball, basketball and soccer, amazed his family when he was 9 by doing his fourth-grade project on what it meant to be Jewish and what the holidays signified.

"It's an honor being Jewish," Erik said when asked to summarize what he believes. "God taught the Jews to treat each other with respect."

This year, Erik is taking Hebrew lessons at Temple Beth El as well as religious lessons, and he has reached the point in his education where he feels it is time to master the shofar, the instrument whose mission is to call all Jews to contemplation.

"It's kind of weird, pretty awkward," Erik said of blowing the horn for the first time. "But I play the trumpet in the jazz band at my school, so it is easier for me. The sound is very high-pitched."

The Big Youk just must be good on the shofar, Erik figures.

"He's just like me, but for me it was Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax," said Michael Polin, Erik's dad and a new board member at Temple Beth El.

If the Big Youk is unavailable for a jam session with Erik, the Tampa Bay Rays' Sam Fuld, who is also Jewish, will do, Erik said. Or former Ray Gabe Kapler.

If Fuld and Kapler are tied up, Erik says maybe other Jewish ballplayers can come to Bradenton and show off their shofar skills with him.

The list, according to the Jewish Herald-Voice, includes Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Ian Kinsler of the Texas Rangers, Ike Davis of the New York Mets, Jason Marquis of the Washington Nationals, Danny Valencia of the Minnesota Twins, Craig Breslow of the Oakland Athletics, John Grabow of the Chicago Cubs and Scott Feldman of the Texas Rangers.