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The spiritual story behind a South African shofar-maker

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How did a Rustenburg pharmacist become the manufacturer of shofarim that have found their way to every corner of the globe? For Marinda du Preez, it started with a visit to Israel over the high holy days, from Rosh Hashanah to Sukkot, in 1998.
by MIRAH LANGER | Sep 06, 2018

“I really got a heart for Israel there,” says the elegant owner of Shalom Shofars in Brits, a factory that has been going for nearly a decade.

Describing her experience of Simchat Torah in Israel, Du Preez says, “It was magnificent… I was in the synagogue seeing how the Jewish fathers dance with their babies on their shoulders, and how they danced through the streets with the Torah scrolls.”

But, it was during Rosh Hashanah, when she heard the blowing of the shofar, that something stirred in her. Back home, reflecting on her visit, she believed that part of her personal spiritual journey would be to make shofars.

Du Preez, who comes from an Afrikaans background, says that while she prefers not to define herself according to a specific religion, she considers herself a “believer in the word”.

A core part of her interest in Israel thus stemmed from biblical references to Jewish people. “In the bible, the Jews are the people of Hashem; then, like Ruth, you have to follow the people,” she says. “You scratch the roots, and learn more about the culture.”

Yet, once the decision was made to pursue shofar making, Du Preez wondered how she could implement it. “I was exploring a terrain that was totally foreign to me – and I am a woman – I am not technically-minded, and I don’t like dirty things.”

Yet, a sequence of events ensued that kept moving Du Preez closer to realising her dream.

“First of all, I had to have horns,” she says. After asking around, Du Preez got a lead from her vet to contact an abattoir in Colesberg which would have sheep horns. These were normally turned into bone meal.

“I didn’t know that sheep had horns. In our area, they don’t, as [we have] a different breed, whereas in the Cape, they have the Merino breed.”

Du Preez said that at first she was reluctant to go all the way to Colesberg, but eventually she and a friend embarked on the road trip in an old bakkie, with no air conditioning in the middle of December.

Laughing, Du Preez recalls how when they entered the premises and saw a wall of horns, amidst the stink and muck of the abattoir, she realised, “I had found the treasure of my life”.

Du Preez selected three quarters of a ton of horns that would become her tribute to Hashem. “I thought it would be enough to last forever.”

Once home, she encountered her next obstacle when she realised there was a huge bone inside each horn. At first, she tried to use her knowledge of chemistry to dissolve the bone without damaging the horn, which is actually made of compressed hair.

This proved impossible. However, a chance encounter with a stranger helped her to find a “simple” solution. Her husband bumped into someone who knew a rabbi in Johannesburg who knew the correct way to make shofarim.

She contacted the rabbi, who told her that all it took was extensive boiling.

The next step was to shape the shofar and its mouth piece accurately. Du Preez worked with her garden assistant. Taking out the horns she had acquired in Colesberg, they compared them to the one purchased in Israel to see what they needed to do. “We went into the garage and scratched around… We found a saw to prune trees with. I said, ‘I think we must cut it here’…”

Du Preez laughs as she remembers how they would take turns holding the horn and manually sawing, as it was so exhausting. Her husband’s friends came to her rescue, bringing her a workbench, and the correct tools.

Shortly thereafter, Du Preez managed to make her first batch of shofarim. But, she had no idea of how they would be distributed, and to whom.

Then, a friend invited her to an international prayer conference taking place in Pretoria. Someone made a brief announcement that shofarim would be on sale during the break, and it seemed to garner little interest.

“I was leaning against the door feeling bored, thinking, ‘What a waste!’ But when the break came, people stormed into the little room. There wasn’t room for me. I had to stand on a chair behind the door. People were pushing in...

“I sold out in half an hour. Then it went out into the world.”

Requests started pouring in from every imaginable location, including China, Siberia, and Malaysia to name but a few. Her range has since expanded to horns from a number of different South African animals including Oryx, Eland, Blesbok, Red Hartebeest, Angora goat, and the Impala. The variations, besides being artistically interesting, also create different sounds.

While at first the international market sustained the largest portion of her business, in the past few years, this has changed. Now locals make up the bulk of her customer base.

Du Preez puts that down to a trend of growing spirituality.

Contemplating her path, Du Preez recalls how many years ago, a woman told her that in the future she would “bring reconciliation across borders of all kinds: skin, language, religion and nations”. At the time, she simply thought, “I’m not a politician.”

Now, she says the way in which her work has created so many connections and experiences has been “humbling”.

Du Preez says she feels a special warmth for Jews. “We are indebted to the Jewish people. That is why we embrace them and love them.”

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