On Sunday, Sept. 10, the shores of Crystal Lake in Peabody were full of those practicing a new tradition in honor of the High Holidays: Reverse Tashlich.
Temple Tiferet Shalom of Peabody was at Crystal Lake, but thousands of others were cleaning up in their respective locations around the world, all as a part of Reverse Tashlich, an international program run by Repair the Sea – Tikkun HaYam.
“The whole idea [of tashlich] is when you do it, you focus on cleansing [yourself],” says Repair the Sea founder and chief executive officer Rabbi Ed Rosenthal. “So we just sort of flipped it on its head.”
Reverse Tashlich began in 2016 with a comment from a student at Eckerd College in Florida, where Rosenthal working for Hillel at the time. Rosenthal was holding a session on tashlich, and after explaining the practice, a student challenged him. “Rabbi,” he said, “there’s already more than enough human sin in the water – why don’t we take some of it out, instead?”
Rosenthal, an avid scuba diver and ocean-lover himself, agreed. From five initial Eckerd College students, the program has exploded across the world. More than 4,000 people were expected to participate this year.
For the last two years, reverse tashlich at Temple Tiferet Shalom has been a practice, not a part of the official program run by Repair the Sea. “Instead of casting our sins upon the water, we’re cleaning up other people’s sins,” says Edwin Andrews, co-chair of Tiferet Shalom’s Social Action committee.
The Social Action committee organized the practice for the temple, unaware that it was part of a global organization. Committee member Rebecca Liberman headed up the effort. However, this year, says Liberman, “we realized our congregation wasn’t listed [on the Repair the Sea website],” and immediately made efforts to ensure that they were listed, and thus could get access to the resources provided by the organization.
Now, Tiferet Shalom is officially registered as a Reverse Tashlich team, along with Beverly’s Temple B’nai Abraham, Gloucester’s Temple Ahavat Achim, Marblehead’s Epstein Hillel School, Swampscott’s Shirat Hayam, and nearly a dozen other temples and groups in Massachusetts. This year, Rosenthal reports, 290 teams are registered in 22 countries on six continents.
“It’s not just a beach cleanup,” Rosenthal says. “We do it every year in conjunction with the High Holidays … we’ve created a Reverse Tashlich service … we’ve created an ashamnu [Yom Kippur confession – viddui] for the sea … this is part of our teshuvah.
The hope is that it inspires people in the Jewish community to change our practices.”
Says Liberman: “There’s so many climate issues that just feel overwhelming … and you feel so helpless. But this is something that you can actually do.” Θ