MARBLEHEAD — When Temple Emanu-El of Marblehead holds its annual Tashlich gathering at Preston Beach this year, it will start later in the afternoon than in past years. That way, the tide will be lower, opening up more of the beach for social distancing.
This is one way in which the traditional Jewish New Year ceremony of Tashlich has been impacted by the Covid-19 response. Synagogues are continuing to offer in-person gatherings before a body of water for individuals to symbolically cast off their sins – but this will now be done in a masked, socially distanced and less populated setting.
In a normal year, Emanu-El’s Rabbi David Meyer would lead a group walk to Preston Beach for Tashlich, a nearly 30-year-old tradition at the temple that annually attracts between 300 and 400 people. Meyer and a colleague sound shofars, and attendees cast breadcrumbs or birdseed into the surf, which always attracts some hungry seagulls.
This year, the temple is eschewing the group walk and anticipating fewer participants.
Of the high turnout from past years, Meyer said, “We just can’t do it socially distanced, even with masks. We’ll meet a little bit later.” He added that he hopes congregants will “get to see one another in small numbers, safely.”
Meyer said Tashlich is the only in-person option for the High Holiday services at Emanu-El, with all the rest being virtual. It’s a similar situation at other congregations on the North Shore, such as Temple Sinai in Marblehead.
“Since we are doing services online we are using the opportunity to gather (socially distant and [with] masks) to also listen [to] the shofar and sing some of the holiday songs people love,” Temple Sinai’s Rabbi David Cohen-Henriquez said in an email. “Time and place are dependent on the weather and tides on that day.”
At Chabad of the North Shore, however, Tashlich is part of a series of in-person, outdoor gatherings for the High Holidays, with all gatherings requiring social distancing and masks. Tashlich will be held on Sunday, Sept. 20, at Kings Beach, across the street from the Chabad center, and will be limited to the state cap of 50 people for public gatherings. There will also be a mini-Rosh Hashanah service for those unable to attend New Year services at Chabad.
“Our plan is to ask people to RSVP [for Tashlich] and we will cut off reservations once we hit the maximum number of people allowed,” Rabbi Yossi Lipsker said. “As far as what we are putting together, it will be as in the morning outdoor services at Chabad … taking every precaution, following all the CDC and state guidelines.”
He noted that the Tashlich ceremony will occur in a public space, and that other people may be there.
One Boston-based community for young Jews is offering a unique Tashlich opportunity for social distancing on the water.
The Riverway Project – a community for Jews in their 20s and 30s – has planned a kayaking Tashlich, “(Th)ROW Away Your Sins,” in partnership with Trybal Gatherings.
“We wanted to use the experience of adapting during Covid-19 to be as creative as possible,” Rabbi Jen Gubitz, director of the Riverway Project, wrote in an email. “By going out on kayaks, folks can be in a group together but remain physically distant. And my husband came up with the clever title to (Th)ROW your sins away.” She added, “We really value puns in our household.”
The event will take place from Charles River Canoe and Kayak in Kendall Square on Sept. 20, with options to participate in a kayak or on land. Temple Israel is also holding a socially distanced Tashlich event along the Muddy River on Sept. 19.
For the kayaking Tashlich, Gubitz said, “People will go out in groups, we will provide them with a sheet for reflection and something to cast into the water (perhaps small stones this year).” And, she added, “The option to remain on land is because we want to make this accessible to people with mobility issues.”
Three years ago, Gubitz began offering Tashlich ceremonies in Cambridge for young adults who might not have gone to daytime Rosh Hashanah services when Tashlich is usually held, she explained. This year’s format is different from before – in previous years there was an option to go into a restaurant for drinks and appetizers, something many would not do today.
Whether participating from a kayak or at a lower tide than usual, Tashlich will have a different look for 5781. Yet its purpose remains as timeless as ever, and current events give it an added relevance.
“A lot of times, people think about Tashlich [in terms of] letting go of negativity and behavioral traits [that are] unwanted or unhealthy,” Lipsker said. This year is “really an opportune time to let go of a fear that is often paralyzing about our fate, what’s going to happen to us.”
“Letting go of fear does not mean letting go of caution,” he said. “But once we’ve done everything we possibly can, Tashlich is a moment to remember [it’s] all in God’s hands and to do everything in our power – as we let go of, or throw away, our fear – to commit to live every inch of our lives more fully, more passionately. If anything, the ‘letting go’ of Tashlich this year is also letting go, throwing away, of ambivalence. If [there’s] anything we learned during these harrowing times, it’s [that] we have to savor every moment.”