Feb. 17—With three wailing blasts, Rabbi Larry Sernovitz made history in the Georgia House of Representatives.
On Feb. 8, Sernovitz, the senior rabbi at Temple Kol Emeth in east Cobb, became the first person to blow a shofar at the Gold Dome.
The shofar, a ram's horn, is used in Jewish prayer to signify a spiritual awakening during Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and other moments of importance. By using it in front of the House of Representatives during the morning devotional, Sernovitz wanted legislators to wake up, comparing its effect to an alarm clock.
"Thinking about the Georgia House and all the things that are going on in Georgia right now, the biggest thing needed was a wake-up call," Sernovitz said. "How do we wake up? How do we get out of our slumber? How do we get out of having moments where we've lost our moral compass? The shofar was designed to do that."
Sernovitz got the chance to speak as a chaplain of the day, as a local religious leader who is given the opportunity to address the House. After watching previous chaplains on video, Sernovitz got the idea of using the shofar as a way to stand out from the crowd, and asked House Speaker David Ralston for permission to use it during his address. The rabbi wanted each legislator to recognize their ability to make changes, look beyond their personal agendas and do what is in the best interest of the people.
Sernovitz, who moved to Cobb County in July of 2020, from the Northeast, didn't know he had made history until after the fact. After his devotional, he was informed by C-SPAN's Howard Mortman that he was not only the first person in recorded history to blow a shofar in the Georgia Statehouse, but also in any U.S. statehouse.
"When he told me that, I was like, 'For real?'" Sernovitz said. "That is kind of cool, to know that for the first time in United States history a shofar was blown... here in the state of Georgia... it was very powerful."
The shofar's origin comes from biblical times, as it is referenced on several occasions in the Hebrew Bible.
Since moving to Cobb County, Sernovitz has visited schools in the Cobb County School District to teach Jewish history. Sernovitz' lessons focus on the Holocaust and its everlasting effects.
These school visits come after several schools were vandalized by antisemitic messages. Sernovitz says this kind of antisemitism often comes from a place of ignorance.
"There's two kinds of antisemitism. There is the kind that comes out of ignorance and lack of education, and then there is the kind that comes from those who are truly Jew haters and have never met you or don't understand Judaism," Sernovitz said.
Temple Kol Emeth is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. The Reform congregation has more than 400 families. Sernovitz is proud to be part of an inclusive congregation where "everyone is welcome."
Now that he has settled in locally, Sernovitz, along with his wife Becky and three children feel comfortable in Cobb County.
"There is a sweetness and hopefulness to southern Jewish life. People appreciate their faith ... I'm proud to be affiliated and be connected," Sernovitz said. "Wherever you go you are going to have some challenges, but I've found this community to be incredibly sweet and supportive."