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The Secret Shofar of Barcelona

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  • Posted November 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Do you know what a shofar is?

    Do you know what a shofar is? It is a musical instrument that is made from a ram's horn and used by Jewish people. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand decreed that everyone in Spain must be Catholic. Most people of other faiths were forced to leave the country or convert. Some Jews who remained and pretended to follow Catholic ways were called "conversos" and had to hide their religion from the Inquisition. There is a legend about one such converso named Don Fernando Aguilar, who was a famous composer and/or conductor of the Royal Orchestra of Barcelona in the late 1500s, and this book is based on that legend. Author Jacqueline Dembar Greene notes, "While such a man may have existed, there is no mention of him in history books. Nor is there record of a Royal Orchestra. But music was an important part of Spanish life." Rafael Aguilar was listening to a new piece that his father had composed and was to conduct at a concert celebrating Spain's colonies in the New World. It had parts for many strange instruments that were used by the natives of those colonies. At the same time, the Aguilars and their friends were planning to hold their secret observation of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, since it would appear that they were only celebrating the festival. Rafael had the idea of including a part for the shofar as a "native instrument," saying, "Maybe it's safest to hide the shofar in plain sight," so that hearing it would encourage the Jews. But who would be brave enough to play the shofar in public, and would they be able to get away with it? With period-appropriate illustrations by Doug Chayka, The Secret Shofar of Barcelona will be of special interest to Jewish children, but it is a well written story that all youngsters should enjoy reading.

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