Around him stood all the others who had also walked slowly down the avenue to the bay to perform Tashlich at the water’s edge. As the rabbi droned on . . . reciting the ancient prayer on the rickety bridge, the members of the congregation began reaching impatiently into their pockets for the tiny bits of bread they had put there earlier in the day to symbolize the sins of the previous year that they were no longer willing to carry around with them. In a moment, the crumbs would be thrown in the water down below.
-- “ Temple, “ by Robert Greenfield
The footbridge in front of the Sampan Cantonese Restaurant on Brookhurst Avenue in Anaheim was not rickety and the rabbi chanting the prayer next to it last Monday was not droning, but the ritual was the same, familiar to Jews the world over since the Middle Ages.
By tradition, the ritual of Tashlich, meaning “to cast away,” is performed on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, if a body of water is within walking distance of the synagogue. However, it can be performed any time in the 10-day period of repentence between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which falls on Wednesday.
Rabbi David Eliezrie of the Chabad Community Center of Anaheim had just led a small group of worshipers from a nearby shopping center storefront where the congregation meets to the Chinese restaurant. While children peered down into the water looking for goldfish, the adults recited the Tashlich prayer, the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy, and turned out their pockets over the water. The prayer, composed of sections of many works, includes the passage from the prophet Micah in which God is asked on behalf of the Jewish people to “cast into the depths of the sea all their sins.”
“Many religions associate water with purity, with cleanliness in a spiritual sense,” said Rabbi Yitzchock Newman, dean of the Hebrew Academy-Lubovitch of Westminster, another Chabad institution. “We always want to link the symbolic with the actual,” he said, in performing rituals like baptism and Tashlich.
“Tashlich visualizes the passage from the Prophets,” said Rabbi Aron David Berkowitz, director of Chabad of West Orange. “People often remember the custom, and remember it fondly, although they sometimes forget its meaning. That’s the importance of ritual-- it’s something we do. And because we do it, we remember,” he said.
Chabad, a Chasidic movement which originated in Europe and now has its headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, has four congregations in Orange County: Westminster, Anaheim, Irvine and Laguna Beach. In addition to the day school, Chabad operates a number of preschools around the county. The group, also known as the Lubovitcher Movement after the town in Eastern Europe where it began, is Orthodox, but it also is known for its innovative methods of dealing with the modern world.
Two years ago, when Chabad of Anaheim was located on Euclid Avenue near Disneyland, Rabbi Eliezrie and his congregants went to the waterfall and fountain in front of the Disneyland Hotel to perform Tashlich. The Laguna Beach congregation, the county’s newest, simply walks to the beach. In 1977, students from the Hebrew Academy-Lubovitch performed the ritual aboard the U.S. guided missile cruiser Leahy, berthed at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, at that time commanded by Capt. Samuel Pearlman.
Probably the largest group of Orange County Jews performing Tashlich this year were the 500 students of the Hebrew Academy, a former Westminster elementary school that straddles the border of Westminster and Huntington Beach, on a quiet lane not far from the San Diego Freeway. Throughout one morning last week, the school’s fleet of yellow buses and vans ferried students to Chris Carr Park in Huntington Beach.
Rabbi Moishe Engel, a first-grade teacher, sat in the middle of one busload during the short ride and explained to the children the ritual’s meaning.
“We’re taking our sins to throw them to the bottom of the sea,” the rabbi said. “We know our sins are still there, but we hope God won’t notice them any more.”
The water should have fish in it, Engel told the students, who included his own identical twin sons, because the eyes of fish are always open, like the eyes of God. The fish also are a symbol of multiplication, he told them, and the hope is that blessings in the New Year will also multiply.
After reading the prayer at the edge of a park pond, commenting on the friendly ducks and showing the students how to throw their sins away, the rabbi asked, “Who wants to go play?” In less than a minute he was standing by himself.