Tuesday, September 03, 2013


Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is coming up on Wednesday.  The New Year kicks off the Days of Awe, leading up to Yom Kippur ten days later. I'm not sure what, if anything, I'll be able to do for the holiday this year.

The first day of Rosh Hashanah, or I guess it can be done for a while as long as its within a window, there is a day called Tashlich. The name comes from the Hebrew for "casting off," and the day is marked by a pilgrimage to a river (or as close to one as you can get), and symbolically throwing pieces of bread into the river to stand for casting sins to be carried away.  Some turn out their pockets to symbolically empty them. The first, and possibly only, time I observed Tashlich was at Beth Simchat Torah in New York, the gay and lesbian synagogue.  We stayed up all night studying, conversing, arguing, laughing, and made a pilgrimage at dawn. We walked from the synagogue, at that time in the artist community of Westbeth, across the West Side Highway, to the Hudson river, where we stood with our tallis (tallit? talisiem?) in the grey filmy New York morning, cars racing past. We threw bread into the river, standing in contemplation.

I loved the Jewish holidays with CBST, as the Yom Kippur services were free and held in the Javits center, so it was typical to have 3,000 people at the Friday night Yom Kippur service. I normally don't love crowds like this, but as these holidays felt in direct opposition, a slowing, to the hustle and bustle of the city around them, I looked forward to them. There is something priceless about feeling a calm in the midst of chaos, and those were the times I felt it. I do not have any definition of god, but I can say that feeling was holy.

When I was in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, we walked with St. Anne's crew on Mardi Gras day.  The main ritual was a long walk to the Mississippi, where people would throw mementos of lost loved ones into the river, as well as things they wanted to let go of for the year.

The jazz band would play a slow jazz tune that gradually morphed into a celebration.

Though costumed spectacularly, everyone would arrive solemnly, but leave jubilantly, having cast off their pain into the waters. Once again, in the midst of a giant party, standing in quiet contemplation.  Even respectfully listening to the sobs of pain from someone whose loss was overwhelming. There was acknowledgement. Quiet comfort. Release.

I'm thinking about that this year.  Today alone I was worried about bees dying, global warming, Syria, and whether I would have to take in my car with a coolant leak. I didn't sleep last night because of a strange itchy nerve in my arm.  I'm piling on troubles that are and aren't mine as this part of the year ends, as we leave summer, here in LA with the most heat we've had all year. What do I want to throw in the water? What would I like carried away? How will I create the peace to do it?


Elizabeth said...

I love this post, everything in it and everything that it implies. I've also envied the Jews their most solemn holidays -- this one in particular. As a Catholic who quickly learned to look on penance (confession) as ridiculous, I feel a need for the type of serious reflection that you describe, and making it communal seems particularly attractive. Perhaps I should create a ritual for our family --

Criticlasm said...

I'm glad you liked it. I find the ritual powerful. It really is that letting go. The idea of 'sin' is so loaded, and penance as well, that the idea of just letting go works. I also love the rituals, probably because they are doing something solemn in community. Love that idea of creating one for your family.