Skipping Stones magazine

Vol. 15, No. 4

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Down By The Riverside

The Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanna, typically falls in Autumn. This year, it begins on Sept. 26. During this two-day holiday, Jewish people spend a lot of time in Temple, and with family and friends. The ceremony of Tashlich, described in this essay, is traditionally conducted on the afternoon of the first day of the holiday (unless that falls on a Saturday, in which case Tashlich is performed on the second day). Since the New Year is a time of renewal and purification in preparation for a new beginning, this ceremony involves throwing bread crumbs, which symbolize the sins committed in the previous year, into a moving body of water.

-- Editor

The sun shines through the leaves, enveloping the ground and water in a golden green blanket. The air has begun to resume its autumn chill, but water bugs still flit silently across the surface of the creek, their tiny shapes casting shadows on the mud about a foot below them. The water gently flows through the woods behind the house, babbling peacefully around the tree roots and moss-covered rocks. Suddenly, as if out of nowhere, come the people. Walking stiffly in their best clothes, they move down the sloping ground past the neatly groomed lawn and into the mud, their patent leather shoes squelching in the moist ground. The children, finally freed from the constraints of two days in synagogue, whoop and yell as they run away from their elders, past the trees and almost straight into the water. The annual ritual of Tashlich has begun. Everyone is about to realize what matters to him/her and, for a few brief moments, discard everything else.

One man carries a small prayer book. Its yellowed pages smell of poorly-lit, tiny libraries with rows and rows of time-worn books, yet it seems to fit very well among the trees and birds. Someone else holds a long spiraling ram's horn, the ancient instrument reminiscent of strong pillars of cold brown stone. Yet another person carries a large, stale loaf of bread. "Are we all ready?" comes a call. It is answered with a strong "Yes!" and the group assembles on a grassy bank near the water. The neighbors look on with interest as the solemn ritual begins.

A long, nearly incomprehensible prayer is read in Hebrew and briefly summarized into English, begging God to nullify everyone's sins. Then the ram's horn is blown -- a long eerie sound mournful enough to make everyone's spines tingle, and yet indescribably powerful, as if its sound were giving Atlas a rest and was solely responsible for holding up the sky. Then the ceremony truly begins, with people breaking off pieces of bread from the loaf and throwing them into the water. The children feed them to the ducks and then run off to change their clothes and begin a basketball game. The adults continue throwing breadcrumbs one by one into the creek. Each crumb represents a sin to be swallowed up by the rushing water and never seen again. Of course it's only symbolic, but standing by the water, everyone feels as if he/she were truly free of all guilt and about to embark on a new, better life. Thinking of peace, of helping others, and of settling disagreements, everyone realizes the things which are truly most important to them and, for a few minutes, imagines and prays for the opportunity to accomplish those things someday.

The children's screams soon permeate the solemn feelings. Everyone realizes that he is covered in mud and goes home to change and talk or join the basketball game already in progress. Normal life is beginning again. However, a feeling remains that there is something more that can be done to help the world, something better than what has been done. The people all realize that if they try hard enough, they can accomplish more good than they had ever believed was possible. That recognition, truly, is what matters most in this world. If a handful of people realize what they can do every year, the world may improve so much, and countless people will be far happier than they were before.

-- Lauren Steinberg, 15, New City, New York.



Skipping Stones Magazine
Volume 15, No. 4, Page 20

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