Tashlich and Yom Kippur

Tashlich and Yom Kippur

Joanne Palmer

Tashlich is a ritual; like all rituals it has a symbolic meaning. You go to a body of water — the more it moves, the less stagnant it is, the better — and after you read verses about faith and renewal, you throw some of the crumbs of bread you’ve brought with you into the water.

There are of course many traditions about how to do tashlich and what it means; although it’s most frequently done of the first day of Rosh Hashanah it can be undertaken any time until the month of holidays is nearly over with Hoshanah Rabbah. The underlying symbolism is that you are casting your sins away, to be carried off by the rushing water. Often fish eat the bread, and sometimes ducks or geese gobble it as well. (That can lead not only to reverence but to jokes about what sin it might be that the fish or ducks or geese are eating. Someone at our lunch fantasized about the ducks getting ready for their annual feast. “I know I shouldn’t eat all that bread, but I can’t help it,” she imagined a duck saying. “It’s so tempting. Even though it goes straight to my thighs…” Yeah, you probably had to be there.)

There is another benefit to tashlich, though. It is the time when you get to see everybody.

We walked down to the Hudson on Monday afternoon. It was full of every sort of Jew imaginable, from men in black hats to women in jeans. There were lots of kids and quite a few dogs. Lots of strollers and many bicycles. There also were the occasionally non-Jews, identifiable because they looked so surprised.

It was a marvelous chance to see people you hadn’t seen in a very long time, not only because of covid but because of life. There seemed to be even larger crowds than usual, and it felt so entirely normal that it seemed almost odd.

We all were on the walkway closest to the river, the one you go through the various level of Riverside Park to reach. There are entrances to the walk every few blocks, and people were clumped close to them. That means that the stretches of walk between those entrances were far emptier, and that gave me the opportunity to stop and look at the river.

It was a perfect fall day. The light was golden. The river was darkish and choppy, and broke in little crested wavelets. The sun was setting, and it glittered across the river from the west. Up to the north, the George Washington Bridge’s graceful arches rose and fell. The Statue of Liberty is too far south and too tucked into New York Harbor to be visible, but you look at the river and know that’s where its waters — and the cast-away bread sins it was carrying — will go before they head out to sea.

So tashlich offered friendship, solidarity, and beauty, all in one gilded afternoon.

We hope that all our readers will have an easy and reflective and emotionally resonant fast. G’mar chatima tova.


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