Halbert Katzen is a familiar sight on the SIU campus, recognizable by the giant horn it walks around holding and occasionally blowing.
“I have the wonderful experience of getting to know a large segment of the local community,” Katzen said. “I meet students and non-students, teachers, different people [who] wander around campus and the lake at different times of the day for different reasons and I meet them all.”
This horn you see him with is a shofar, an important Jewish ritual musical instrument for religious occasions and holidays. They can be made from the horn of a ram or other animals; his is made from an antelope horn.
“I guess it was very touching to have people’s answers [because] I didn’t plan this exactly, you know what I mean? Katzen said. “All of that kind of pushed me to do that with the horn.”
Katzen is a 601-year-old Pennsylvania native who moved to Illinois to further his study of The Urantia Book regarding the upcoming solar eclipse on April 8, 2024
According Atlanticthe Urantia Book is a 2,000 book of pages published in 1955 under the direction of Chicago Doctor William S. Sadler. It gives the story of evolutionary change on Earth, known in the book as “Urantia”, and culminates in the reincarnation of Jesus.
“My research and study aids and everything, in general, has to do with harmonizing material in the spirit world,” Katzen said.
Katzen attended Brandeis University in Massachusetts, a secular Jewish university where he studied comparative religion and the philosophy of religion.
“Then in Boulder, Coloradothere was a school that made an intensive two-year study of a book called the Urantia Book“, Katzen said. “I also studied law there, so I didn’t practice law for very long. Barely a year and a half. I was more into the education and practice of it.
Katzen says he has started a project documenting his findings related to the Urantia Book in 2006 and 2007.
Katzen walks around campus blowing his shofar from 18 month and says it’s a great conversation starter that allows him to share his studies.
“You can blow really bad grades on that very easily. It’s a beast to play. It is not a user-friendly instrument,” Katzen said. “Part of the reason is that they sell them by the inch, and so they, you know, want to make the mouthpiece as long as possible to get as many inches on the horn, but that makes it small to blow, which makes it difficult.”
He lives on the east side of Wall Street and wanted to find a place to blow his horn and far enough from home to be considered exercise. He ended up walking around the campus so as not to disturb his neighbors because he was very embarrassed at first, Katzen said.
“I just started walking around the lake with the horn and you know, blow a little bit more and so it really developed very organically,” Katzen said. “As I experimented with people’s dealings with it and got better at the horn, I felt more comfortable about it.”
Katzen said he knew that over time he would be noticed for what he did and people would get curious about it.
“When you do something that stands out a little bit, you know, it helps other people feel more free in their individuality,” Katzen said. “So I’m aware of how these things work socially and I care about that and so that’s one of the things that kind of got me through the first few months where I really blew a lot sour notes.”
A good memory he has is when some students came to thank him on the moving day before they left, Katzen said.
“It’s so nice and saying that you know, it works well”, Katzen said. “To provide something that people appreciate and not to disturb them too much with my individuality.”
Katzen said he recently had a nice interaction with the SIU marching band while they practiced.
“I was from the lake and the marching band had practiced on the stadium campus”, Katzen said. “I’m going home. We pass each other. I start to honk. They light up, they start blowing their horns.
Katzen said he loved the interactions that playing the shofar gave him and that it was a way to get people to come and interact with him.
“It’s really nice to see that students have this experience of me and then engage with me in this way,” Katzen said. “I’m an old man who does intellectual stuff that doesn’t make a lot of money. So getting social engagements that way with people is very rewarding.
Staff reporter Jamilah Lewis can be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter @jamilahlewis. To stay up to date with all your Southern Illinois news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.