Yesterday, Jews around the world celebrated Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year. Like most of 2020, the way in which we observed the holiday bore no resemblance to years past. For our part, we hosted a RHBBQ (Rosh Hashana Barbeque). We were a small but mighty crowd of some, but not all, the people I love. I have to say, it was among my most favorite RHs ever. Below is something that I wrote and shared as we participated in Tashlich. Don’t know what Tashlich is? Read on.
Correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is safe to say that none among us would debate that this past year, 2020/5780 will go down in history as one of the worst. Forget the forced isolation, anxiety, and fear that is part and parcel of a global pandemic – that’s just icing on the cake. I am 100% confident that each of us has faced our own personal struggles and demons. Whether the battles were internal or interpersonal, the fears real or imagined, the anger just or unjust, no one is immune to the ongoing assault of life.
I speak only for myself in saying that this was among the most challenging years of my life…and that’s really saying something!
Everyone here is a warm, kind, and loving person. Although, if we are being honest, none of us is immune to having behaved in a way that could be considered less than warm, kind or loving. We’ve barked at one another. We have pushed – sometimes too hard. We’ve talked in unflattering terms, criticized, and judged. We’ve thought we knew better – or more – than those around us. We’ve been quick to anger. We’ve been inpatient. We’ve been either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. You haven’t? You, then, are a better person than I.
In a normal year, this morning we’d have gone to synagogue. For some, it is about the liturgy. For others, the social connection…something we all crave now more than ever. Regardless of your reasons for going, or not going as the case may be, we’ve been robbed of the ritual.
In a normal year, we’d have put on nice clothes, the men in suits, relieved when it was time to go home, mostly for the joy that comes with kicking off shoes that pinch.
A cast of thousands (no one was ever turned away) would be gathered around the table at my in-law’s house. Bursting with delicious food, wine and more desserts than we could possibly consume, three generations came together, some family, others, friends who would leave (complete with to-go food) feeling like family.
This, however, is not a normal year.
I don’t always participate in Tashlich. Okay, truth: I actually cannot recall the last time I did. I do love the concept, though and always say, “next year”, but, alas, it hasn’t happened. This year, I became fixated and maybe a little bit obsessed with making it happen. It’s meaning, beauty, and, perhaps most important to me: the ritual.
Tashlich comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to cast,” referring to the intent to cast away our sins. The act of throwing bread crumbs into the water can be cathartic while joyful, intense while freeing, simple while complex. It pushes us to take a look inward and acknowledge our weaknesses while looking ahead and focusing on our strengths. The bread you toss into the sea might represent something as simple as that time you talked smack about someone or as complicated as the time you held onto a blatant lie. It could be your neglecting to point out to the cashier that they had forgotten to charge you for the turkey (that might have happened) or walking past someone on the street who could really have used your help. It could even be giving yourself props for owning your stuff and then letting it go. Ultimately, it is accepting the challenge to do everything within your power to become the very best version of yourself.
You need not share what you choose to cast away. This is for you, your peace of mind, and your own personal journey…no one else’s. It can be tricky business, but I suspect it will be worthwhile. Just the act of throwing something, anything, is a release and offers a freeing of your soul.
Okay, I know I just finished saying it is no one’s business what you choose to cast away, however….
A few weeks ago, I took a baby step out of my comfort zone and went tubing. I had never done it before, even as a kid. As I (not so gracefully) climbed onto the tube, I talked myself out of worrying that I would get hurt, or dizzy, or would lose a contact lense. At 40 MPH, bouncing in the waves, water splashing in my eyes, wind whipping my hair into a frenzy, I was truly joyful. And then I (not so gracefully) fell off. After quickly (and with great relief) retrieving my bathing suit bottom from my knees, I noticed that my engagement and wedding rings were gone. I didn’t freak out. I didn’t panic. I actually, and I know how crazy this sounds, felt a little bit, well, free. To be clear, I adore my husband and loved both the rings and their sentiment, but I knew in my heart that there had to be a reason this happened. I couldn’t for the life of me imagine what the reason was, but I just knew it.
Yes, it helped that my husband and brother, my two greatest cheerleaders, were there to comfort me. It further helped that my brother reminded me of three important things: 1. It wasn’t my father’s bracelet (that I have not taken off since his death) which completely irreplaceable, 2. I have Barry for a husband (read: he didn’t freak out) and, 3. it was insured. At that moment, I realized that, although I loved my rings, they were ultimately just things and not the important ones. In hindsight, it was in that moment that I actually knew everything was really going to be okay. As my father used to say, “Everything is going to work out, perhaps not how you expected it to, but it will.” I, like my rings currently residing at the bottom of Lake Cochituate, was free (okay, freer..let’s not get crazy.)
That night, I dreamt that my teeth were falling out. The teeth, though, were covered in beautiful crowns (the kind royalty wear on their head, not the kind that cost a fortune at the dentist) adorned with sparkling gems in reds, oranges, and that perfect blue. Of course, I Googled the meaning of this highly disturbing dream and discovered that, while, yes, indeed, dreaming of losing one’s teeth can symbolize loss and death, it can also represent rebirth. I chose to run with the latter.
So, how does this loop back to my fierce need to make Tashlich happen this year?
As I embrace feeling lighter and more at peace now that I can ever remember, I want you to have the opportunity to feel the same. Of course I still have things to cast away but I now appreciate that the very act of tossing one’s sins, struggles, and challenges into the ocean and embracing a new start is way more powerful than I could have imagined.
Now, in an effort to continue to venture out of my comfort zone, I am going to blow the Shofar. Up until two days ago, I had never even held a Shofar, let alone attempted to blow it. Thank you to Barry and the boys for patiently (for the most part) teaching me. They can (and better!) attest to the fact that I have had many successes in making the Shofar sound. I have, though had an equal (or greater) number of failures which have truthfully frustrated me, yet I have kept at it. (Aside: turns out there is a strong correlation between one’s ability to blow Shofar and being able to whistle. I have never been able to whistle. Just sayin’.)
I am proud to have not given up (a pretty solid habit of mine) and will stand here today trying and trying (and probably trying some more) until I make it happen. Take that, 2020.
p.s. Turn up the volume. 😉
Here’s to freeing ourselves from the sins of the past year, and welcoming a new year of peace, contentment, and joy.