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Tashlich: A time to cast away sins as we start the New Year

Journal Staff

“It is always so powerful, almost surreal, to be observing this mass of people gather,” said Rabbi Lipsker.

SEPTEMBER 6, 2018 – There’s a certain weighty seriousness to the High Holidays. Congregants spend much of the day in an assigned seat, dressed in formal clothing, thinking about all of the past year’s mistakes.

After services, however, many Jews on the North Shore go home, have something to eat, and maybe take a nap. Just as the sun begins to set on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, some change into shorts and flip flops, grab the dogs and the kids, and head to the beach for a difference kind of Jewish experience.

Local rabbis describe Tashlich – when Jews toss bread into flowing water to symbolize the casting away of sins – as a relaxing time for peaceful contemplation in a beautiful place.

“On the experiential level, it’s about Jews and families and friends gathering on the beach, usually with nice weather,” said Rabbi Michael Ragozin of Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott, who will hold a Tashlich service on Phillips Beach on Monday, Sept. 10. “Part of my approach is to sort of get out of the way, and just allow the experience of connection with the ocean, with the sound of the waves, with the connections between people, the sand under people’s feet; to allow all those spiritual inputs to inform people’s experience.”

Rabbi David Meyer (right) of Temple Emanu-El and Don Ganz sound their shofars during Tashlich at Preston Beach in Swampscott.

Rabbi Yossi Lipsker of Chabad of the North Shore, who leads a service at King’s Beach in Swampscott, agreed that the joy of Tashlich comes from the experience it provides.

“Though it is framed as a prayer of repentance, I like to see it from a more mystical, experiential, place,” said Lipsker. “It is always so powerful, almost surreal, to be observing this mass of people gather while walking down to the beach, seemingly out of nowhere, all heading to the same place, in unmistakably good spirits.”

Anyone is welcome to join in any of the Tashlich services on the North Shore. Some congregations, including Temple Emanu-El in Marblehead and Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody, lead walks to Preston Beach in Marblehead/Swampscott and to a stream in Peabody, where their respective Tashlich services are held.

Members of other congregations show up on their own. At the beginning, rabbis often lead a shorter service of prayers, songs, and readings. Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman of Chabad of Peabody puts together a five-minute “slacker service” of basic prayers and the sounding of the shofar. Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez of Temple Sinai in Marblehead said his congregants are usually in a “chatting mood,” so he skips the usual Mincha (afternoon) service, and leads readings and meditations on the themes of Tashlich, often in English.

One of Cohen-Henriquez’s readings is a humorous look at the types of bread corresponding to the types of sins. For example, pretzels are best for particularly twisted sins, waffles for indecision, and sourdough for having a bad temper.

Some people stay with the rabbi for more prayers and meditations, and others, with the appropriate bread in hand, head to the water to cast away their sins.

“Judaism sometimes gets so abstract and so lost in words,” said Cohen-Henriquez. “It’s nice when you can just throw it away into the ocean. It’s very powerful.”

For Rabbi Richard Perlman of Temple Ner Tamid in Peabody, Tashlich is a chance to show “actions speak louder than words.”

“We go out of our way – we stop,” said Perlman. “We don’t just talk. We don’t just sit in a sanctuary and pound our chests. These are ways of proving things – we go out of our way to symbolically cast away our sins.”

That’s the most common description of Tashlich. In fact, the Hebrew word “Tashlich” comes from the verb for “to cast,” and the tradition is based on a biblical passage from the Prophet Micah that commands Jews to “cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”

For Rabbi Alison Adler of Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, the “casting away” is more about the act of reflection and introspection. “Just tossing some bread in the water isn’t going to get rid of it if you’ve hurt somebody or somebody has hurt you,” said Adler. “But I think that action, if you still have to maybe do some work, either repair the relationship, or forgive … can help people zero in and reflect on what those things are.”

Perlman noted that Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of a period of reflection that leads up to Yom Kippur known as teshuvah, or “repentance.” “The casting away of bread is just part of that whole process of not asking for forgiveness, but accepting the fact that we have sinned,” said Perlman.

Tashlich is also a way to unburden ourselves of any painful experience. Rabbi Lipsker called it “a powerful cathartic moment to join in a communal ‘letting go’ of fear and sadness.” For Lipsker, “the ritual of throwing the bread into the water can feel like a chance to release all the destructive psychic baggage we accumulate during the course of a year.”

Said Rabbi Goldstein, “You don’t have to live with this constant guilt,” he said. “You don’t have to live with a stone on your heart.”

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