Rocks for Rosh Hashanah
In my heart I hold a memory. It Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and a glorious new Autumn season. Friends have gathered in our home to perform the tashlich, an ancient ceremony in which one casts stones into a body of water to symbolize the removal of misdeeds and regrets from our bodies and souls. It is a gesture which says, "a new season has come, a new beginning, and we are ready to let go."
Although I am ordained I'm not a very good Christian. I mess with the traditions too much, I make light of the rules. But I am even a worse Jew, with only a tenuous blood line and only a beginners understanding of the feasts and the fasts. So I am nervous that this year amongst our circle is a friend-of-a-friend, Erika, a practicing Jew -- an New York Jew even! (Oi Vey!) I feel out of my depths. I make my confession of illegitimacy to our guest. "Don't worry," says Erika, "I'm not a very good Jew either. This past Seder I used a haggadah written by a gay woman rabbi, so a lot of my people would have disowned me already. It's all good." Both of us are trying to find the connections between our history and our present, so we give each other grace.
We put on our coats and shoes and gather on the front porch. Fiona has brought Heather McVoy's The Litany of Bridges and we read a passage out loud together:
We who are exiled pray for bridges
We who are torn pray for mending
We who are alone pray for community
We who are in exile pray for bridges
We let this yearning build in us during a time of silence. Then walk out into the rain and down the street to the grassy fields of Gasworks Park. While we walk, we cast our eyes around looking for small stones to gather. The rocks I stuff into my pockets weigh the corners of my coat and feel hard under my fingertips. I turn them over in my hand until we reach the edge of Lake Union, the dark water splashing gently beneath us, the rain pouring down on our heads. There at the water's edge we space ourselves out along the shoreline, each of us ready to fling our stones into the water.
As I hold my stones in my hand, I turn my attention to my six year old daughter, Eden, who is standing next to me. We take turns telling each other what the rocks represent to us, then toss each one into the water. She did one. I did one. She did one. I did one. My four stones had sunk well below the waterline as Eden pulls out her fifth, sixth, and seventh stone.
"Eden," I ask "how many rocks do you have in there?"
"Oh!" she says cheerfully, "ten or twenty!"
Who knew a six year old has so much to regret?
As we stand by the water casting our stones one by one, we watched our errors and misdeeds, our blocks and our regrets, our sins and our mistakes sink deep into the depths, never to be seen again. I am surprised by the helpfulness of this rite: the windup, the release, the satisfying plunk of the something sinking to where it can not be retrieved.
Afterwards we walk back across the park through the rain and wind. The hostess in me frets because of the inclement weather--many folks have refused the umbrellas I'd proffered and I worry that they are coming to regret the wet night. Then Alicia comes to my side and sets me at ease. "I'm glad for the rain," she explains "It make the ritual feel more significant, more important, because we didn't just stay inside warm and dry. We came out of our comfort zone to make a new start. I like it wet and rainy this way."
Back at the house we strip off our wet things and thaw our hands around warm mugs. We serve up the chocolate cake with pears and walnuts -- Fall fruits to celebrate the season--and the sweet dessert becomes a symbol of hope. We lay forkful after forkful on our tongues as a prayer for the year to come.
It is Rosh Hashanah, a new year, a new start. For what we are about to receive we are eternally grateful. Amen.
The word for carrots in Hebrew means 'abundance' and so carrots are a traditional food for the Rosh Hashanah feast. Invite a little abundance into your life with this Carrot Ginger Soup recipe from new food blogger Katy K at Food Hero.
And don't forget to check out these great Jewish Bloggers, Melissa at Stirrup Queens and Sperm Palace Jesters, Rachel Barenblat at Velveteen Rabbi, Leah at Accidentally Jewish, Ima at Ima Bima, and Sara at Frume Sara's World.
Rachelle Mee-Chapman is an alt-minister, mom, and writer blogging at Magpie Girl, and now contributing at Food Hero and Minti Parenting. She'll send you helpful links and updates if you follower her on Twitter. Thanks for reading!