“The whole world is a narrow bridge,” said Rabbi Nachman of Breslov more than 200 years ago. “But the most important thing is not to be afraid.”
It is thoughtful advice as you prepare to renew yourself at the beginning of the new year.
But despite the metaphorical power, members of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center have decided that a narrow bridge over the Passaic River is not the best place to conduct the Tashlich, the Rosh Hashanah ritual during which Jews symbolically cast their sins into the sea or other body of water.
The bridge, where the congregation had held Tashlich for the past few years, “was noisy,” the congregation’s rabbi, Ronald Roth, said. “Parents of young children suggested we find a place where kids can come out and play.”
So this year, congregants will meet behind Fair Lawn’s Memorial Middle School.
“On the far side of the school building, there’s a little green area and an opening by the river. There’s a sign that says ‘river walk,'” Roth said.
Roth said that Tashlich’s symbolic removal of sins comes as “we are focusing on our ability to turn from what we’ve done wrong, and where we want to improve our lives.”
Not that all observers understand the introspective meaning.
“I used to be at a synagogue where the ducks had an internal clock and they kind of knew when we would be coming and they could consume the sins,” Roth said.
While the Fair Lawn park is about a mile away from the Jewish Center, congregants at Temple Emanuel of Northern New Jersey in Franklin Lakes just have to cross the street to the Haledon Reservoir.
Members will meet there Monday afternoon, and then come back to shul for afternoon and evening services, Rabbi Joseph Prouser said.
As this is his first year serving the congregation, Prouser isn’t totally sure about the synagogue’s customs, but he assumes congregants will be throwing bread into the reservoir, though he recalls that “the custom of my home congregation growing up was not to use bread but to use pocket lint, whatever happened to be in the pockets.”
He said he didn’t believe throwing either bread or sins into the water supply would be dangerous to those who drank from the reservoir.
“We’re recycling,” he said with a laugh.
More seriously, he addressed the question of what sins congregants are letting go of this year.
“People focus on the missed opportunities of the past year, on not having made the most of the opportunities for their own personal growth, their relationships with other people, their relationship with their tradition,” Prouser said. “For each person, the specific way that dynamic expresses itself is unique, but all of us together strive to make a more concerted effort in the year ahead to maximize the opportunities.”
In Cliffside Park, Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer of Temple Israel Community Center discourages his congregants from using bread as part of Tashlich.
In part, that’s because from their Tashlich perch a mile north of the shul, behind the Palisadium at Winston Towers, congregants can see the Hudson River – but they can’t pitch to it. Any bread crumbs will land at the foot of the Palisades, in Edgewater.
Even if the river were in reach, though, Engelmayer would urge the congregants not to throw crumbs, “because it is halachically impermissable to do so. It’s avodah zarah, idolatry, pure and simple. It’s a purely pagan custom of feeding the gods so they will grant you a good year, or at least stay out of your hair for the next year,” he said, noting that the first recording of the custom – by the 15th century German Rabbi Jacob MÃ¶lin – explicitly forbade putting anything into the water.
He does remember observing Tashlich on the East River when he was a child. “There was a family in our shul that always brought a whole loaf of bread. Gevalt, the kind of sins they must have had that they thought they needed so much.”
In Glen Rock, the Glen Rock Jewish Center gathers at the creek behind the duck pond in Saddle River County Park.
Rabbi Neil Tow said that last year the congregation started a new practice. “We daven mincha right at the creek right after Tashlich.”
Provided, of course, that the weather is agreeable.
Tow said he likes to think of Tashlich as “clearing the way for a new start. Every year we have the opportunity to start fresh, to grow, to find the forgiveness we’re looking for, to reconcile with other people. It’s a way of symbolically showing that it’s possible to take a new step forward.”
Tow also praised the aesthetic aspect of outdoor ritual.
“After a day of being inside the synagogue, it’s a wonderful way to reconnect with the nature, to take a deep breath of fresh air. It’s a very welcome change of scenery during the Rosh Hashanah days.”
In Englewood, Rabbi Shmuel Goldin of Congregation Ahavath Torah said his congregants observe Tashlich at a stream in the nearby Flatrock Nature Center.
“Everyone goes on their own,” he said. “Usually people are coming and going throughout the day.”
Jewish Community Center of Paramus is another synagogue where Tashlich doesn’t require travel. It has a brook running alongside its parking lot.
“It makes for a wonderful and convenient Tashlich ceremony,” Rabbi Arthur Weiner said.
Another Fair Lawn congregation will meet at the park at Century and South River roads. “We stand by the bridge and throw all of our sins into the water,” said Rabbi Alberto Baruch Zeilicovich. “What really saves you from being punished for your sins is teshuvah, repentance,” he added.
“What makes the year a good year is that we are going to be good people,” he said. “What makes the year a sweet year is that we are going to treat each other with sweetness, that we are going to be sweet people.”