By R.M. Grossblatt | Guest Columnist
Asher grabbed his shofar from the shelf and practiced blowing it. The screechy sound hurt his ears. He put his mouth to the end of the ram’s horn and blew harder. This time only air came out. After two weeks of practicing shofar with his grandfather, Asher still couldn’t blow the right sounds. And now he didn’t even have a pomegranate to eat on the first night of Rosh Hashanah.
“How can we have Rosh Hashanah without a pomegranate?” Asher asked his mother.
Mrs. Levy, in her shiny black tap shoes, was setting the table with their best china.
“We have apples to dip in honey for a sweet new year,” said Mrs. Levy, handing her son a golden fruit.
Asher put it back. “Why are you tap dancing?”
“I need to practice,” answered his mother. “Besides, it makes me happy.”
“Well, I’m not happy that we don’t have a pomegranate,” said Asher.
His mother hopped, shuffled and tapped from the dining room to the kitchen and dipped a spoon into a pot of black-eyed peas boiling on the stove. “Black-eyed peas are almost as good as a pomegranate,” she said. She blew on them, tasted a little and offered some to Asher.
Asher shook his head and turned away.
“But a pomegranate has 613 seeds like the mitzvahs in the Torah,” said Asher. “We can’t taste it and say, ‘May our merits increase like the seeds of a pomegranate.’ ”
“I tried to find one,” said Mrs. Levy, “but the supermarket didn’t have any.”
“How about the fruit stand?” said Asher.
“The farmers market?” he asked.
“I’m sorry, Asher,” said his mother, kissing him on the top of his head. “I’d like a pomegranate too, but I couldn’t find one anywhere.” Then she hopped, shuffled and tapped back to the dining room to finish setting the table.
Asher flung open the screen door and walked outside to think. He sat in the wicker rocker and looked up at the sky. The sun was moving toward the west. Rosh Hashanah was coming, and his family didn’t have a pomegranate.
The smell of jasmine tickled his nose, and tiny beads of perspiration popped out on his forehead. Although it was September and still warm in the South, few pomegranates grew here. The supermarket didn’t have any. The fruit stand didn’t have any. Even the farmers market didn’t have pomegranates. Where could Asher find a pomegranate before sunset?
Suddenly, he remembered Mr. Wang’s Oriental Market around the corner. He never wanted to go inside. Strange-looking plants grew in the window. Asher didn’t think they had pomegranates, but he had to try.
He hopped on his bike and placed the shofar in his basket. Maybe if he kept the shofar with him, he would remember what his grandfather had said about pursing his lips to blow the right sounds. But first he had to find a pomegranate. “Mom,” he called through the screen door, “I’m riding my bike.”
“Come back soon,” she said. “It’s almost sundown, and your father wants to be on time for shul.”
Asher sped down the sidewalk and around the corner to Mr. Wang’s store. As he parked his bike, he could see the plants with tangled roots in the window. With the shofar under his arm, Asher took a deep breath and walked inside.
Chinese herbs were growing in glass containers everywhere. Their roots looked like octopus tentacles, and their strong, sweet smell made Asher’s eyes tear. He almost turned and walked out, but the shofar under his arm reminded him that his family needed a pomegranate for the new year.
Asher practiced pursing his lips as his grandfather had taught him and walked straight to the back of the store, where he found fruits and vegetables. Some he knew, but others were different from the ones in the supermarket.
“Help you, son?” asked a man, cutting open a honeydew melon that looked like a cantaloupe inside.
That must be Mr. Wang, thought Asher. “Just looking,” he answered.
“Look at nice Chinese melon,” said Mr. Wang.
“No, thank you,” said Asher, who spotted something else nearby. “What’s in that crate?”
“Opo,” said Mr. Wang, putting the green squash in Asher’s hand.
“Oh,” said Asher. “I thought it was the fruit I was looking for that hadn’t ripened yet.” Asher put his head down, pursed his lips, and shifted the shofar under his arm.
“Ah, ha,” said Mr. Wang. “Look in basket near opo.”
“It’s empty,” Asher said.
“Look again,” said Mr. Wang.
Asher moved closer and tilted the basket. At the bottom, something leathery and red rolled toward him.
“A pomegranate!” Asher exclaimed, catching the fruit for Rosh Hashanah.
“Last one,” said Mr. Wang.
“Please, may I buy it?” Asher asked, putting his hand in his pocket.
“Sure,” said Mr. Wang.
But when Asher took his hand out of his pocket, all he had was a Rosh Hashanah card from his teacher. “I forgot my money,” he said. “Can you hold it for me?”
“Very valuable fruit; maybe someone else wants to buy it,” said Mr. Wang. “What can you give me for it?”
“A New Year’s card?” asked Asher.
“Too early,” said Mr. Wang. “Chinese new year comes between January and February. Is that ram’s horn under your arm?”
Asher didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t give up his shofar for a pomegranate. The shofar was much more valuable. Besides, his grandfather had given it to him.
Mr. Wang shook his head. “Don’t want ram’s horn for pomegranate, son — not fair deal. Just blow it for me. Like to hear special sound.”
Asher didn’t know if he could make that sound, although he had heard it when his grandfather practiced with him and when the rabbi blew it in shul. But he really wanted to taste the juicy pomegranate on Rosh Hashanah and count the seeds. Asher looked out the window and saw the sun sinking lower in the sky. His parents would be waiting.
So Asher put the tip of the shofar to his mouth and pursed his lips. Like before, a screech came out, then only air. He pursed his lips and tried again. This time, clear deep sounds burst forth. TEKIAH, SHEVARIM, TERUAH, TEKIAH — a long sound, then several short, quick notes, and another long one — just like his grandfather had made.
Mr. Wang clapped his hands together and bowed slightly. “Thank you, son, for beautiful sound.” Then he gave Asher the plump pomegranate.
“And thank you, sir, for the beautiful pomegranate.”
Asher pedaled home as fast as he could. His mother was standing on the porch in her new dress, looking up and down the street.
“Where were you?” she asked. “It’s almost Rosh Hashanah.”
With one hand behind his back, Asher hopped, shuffled and tapped toward his mother. Then he handed her the fruit.
“A pomegranate!” said his mother.
“Yes, a pomegranate!” said Asher. “And wait till you hear me blow shofar.”