Jane Stark stood by the water’s edge at Lake Nummy and tossed in pieces of challah bread as a symbolic way to cast off her sins from the past year.
The ceremony, known as tashlikh, takes place worldwide on Rosh Hashana, the two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year that started at sundown Sunday and ends at nightfall Tuesday.
In Israel, Jews throw bread into the Mediterranean Sea. In New York City, they throw it into the Hudson River. In Margate and Ventnor, they throw it into the Atlantic Ocean.
On Monday, a small group that attended services at the Sam Azeez Museum of Woodbine Heritage came to Belleplain State Forest to throw their challah into a former cranberry bog.
“I have more sins,” said Stark, executive director of the museum, which meant she needed more bread.
Tashlikh means “casting off” in Hebrew. The practice came from a section of the Book of Micah in the Old Testament that describes throwing sins away into the water.
“He will turn again, he will have compassion upon us; he will subdue our iniquities; and thou wilt cast all their sins into the depths of the sea,” reads one verse, in which “he” refers to God.
Any natural, flowing body of water will work for the ceremony. This was the second year that the congregation from Woodbine came to Lake Nummy.
Woodbine’s history is firmly rooted in its Jewish heritage, having been created in the 19th century as a place for Russian Jewish immigrants to come and start life anew.
The Sam Azeez museum is housed in the historical Brotherhood Synagogue. It is named after the late Woodbine resident who went on to become successful in a number of business ventures, and whose son spent millions rehabilitating the old building before donating it to the Richard Stockton College last year.
After a three-hour service at the synagogue on Monday morning, a small caravan of cars traveled through the forest to the park that sat nearly silent on a pleasant afternoon.
Visiting Rabbi Susan Schein led the celebrants to the lake’s beach where she first led them in a traditional prayer, Avinu Malkeinu, which means “Our Father, Our King.”
She then told them a short history of the tashlikh tradition, describing how it evolved over the centuries and telling the tale of Kurdish Jews who actually jumped into the water themselves.
“Next year we’ll wear bathing suits,” said Debbie Zweigenbaum, of Woodbine.
After they read contemporary poems titled “Each Crumb Tells a Story” and “At Water’s Edge We Seek Your Presence,” Schein told the group to think about their failures over the previous year before casting the bread into the lake.
“You want to throw away what hasn’t worked,” she said.
With that, they reached into resealable plastic bags, pulled out the yellow bread and tossed handful onto the serene water’s surface to be gobbled by fish or Canada geese.
“There’s always the joke that we are throwing our sins to the poor fish, and then they have to eat them all up,” said Schein.
The rabbi from Philadelphia said that the tradition is a useful one, though, because she believes it provides an effective way to get people to really feel the spirit and meaning of the High Holiday.
“To do a ritual when you can physically throw it away helps you to reflect,” she said.
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