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Friday, August 29, 2014
by Debra Solomon Baker
Last year, maybe I apologized for not having enough patience with my daughter, Sarah, when she’s slow to get dressed in the morning, for threatening to leave her home without a ride. Maybe I apologized for complaining to my husband, Lorne, when he buys a super-sized bag of those dried mangoes from Costco that nobody ever eats, or to my son, Max, for the times when I was so consumed with grading papers that I didn’t listen when he spoke about the trades his beloved Redbirds had just made. Maybe I apologized to the dog for not carving enough time to walk him, especially in wintertime.
I don’t remember the details of what we said.
But, every year, the four of us, with the mutt, head to Oak Knoll Park armed with bread to toss into the water. I suppose that there is a “right” day to do Tashlich, this ritual casting away of our sins. There are probably correct prayers to say and a correct day to assemble and even a correct type of body of water. The Baker family just gathers whenever we can grab some time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We head to Oak Knoll because that’s where we’ve always gone and we like to visit the ducks and the spot where we scattered the ashes of our dog, Desmond, years ago. One by one, we name our specific wrongdoings, calling out our apologies and, with each one, we rip off a piece of bread, tossing it away. Sometimes we erupt into silliness and even some giggling, as we remember our flawed moments. Sometimes I cry. Usually we end up hugging and even saying thank you.
This unique brand of Tashlich is probably our best tradition as a family. I always walk away feeling cleansed and grateful.
Sitting here on a rainy Shabbat morning in August, a few weeks before the Jewish New Year, I am thinking about this ritual, playing a little What If game.
What if during Tashlich, we not only uttered apologies to each other, but to ourselves? What if we named specific moments where we treated ourselves unkindly, unfairly, unhealthily? What if, in doing so, we urged ourselves to be less harsh in our self-criticism, to be gentler with our bodies, to push aside work without guilt, to meet friends for lunch, even to do yoga?
And what if, while standing out there by the water, we added our own environmental shortcomings to our list, apologizing to our planet? What if we then made a silent pledge to be more aware, to plant flowers, to wash and recycle peanut butter jars even though it’s a nuisance to clean them?
And what if we didn’t wait for Rosh Hashanah? What if this year, part of our Shabbat ritual became an accounting of ways that we had fallen short? How about candles, blessings, wine, challah, celebrations, apologies? How might setting this intention help to nurture our families, to make us closer?
And, finally, what if we organized Tashlich-esque gatherings in our schools and in our neighborhoods? Imagine people of all races meeting in Ferguson not just for protest but with loaves and loaves of bread in our hands. Imagine us standing there together, calling out apologies for our pathetic stereotypes, for our hurtful comments, for whatever each of us has done to contribute to a community where children and teenagers are not always safe.
Yes, I sit here on this Shabbat morning thinking about a world where we all arm ourselves with bread rather than with guns, where we kick blame in the shins, where we stand up and cheer for Team Apology to win the game. I wish each of us a new year brimming with stories that uplift and with rituals that add meaning to our lives. And may our relationships--with ourselves, with our loved ones, and with strangers--be mended through the quiet power of forgiveness.
Debra Solomon Baker has taught eighth grade Literacy at Wydown Middle School for nearly two decades and has been a member of Congregation Shaare Emeth for nine years. She has had writing published in several places, including the anthology, Winter Harvest: Jewish Writing in Saint Louis. Most recently, Reform Judaism magazine included an essay that she wrote about her family’s volunteer commitment to Room at the Inn. Debra blogs at http://debrasolomonbaker.wordpress.com/