So back when I was a kid, my family belonged to a small Jewish congregation called Chavurah Beth Chai.
It was a group of, oh, 40-to-50 families, all reform Jews. We’d have Hebrew school every Sunday and services once per month, on the campus of an all-boys reformatory school, inside the chapel. The Chavurah played a huge role in my youth—a steady stream of people I knew from 6 until adulthood; a reliable place to nod off during high holiday services, the smell of lox and whitefish salad come the end-of-Yom Kippur break fast. Because the group was small, rabbis came and went every few years. They were usually young and plucky. We had women rabbis before most places had women rabbis; we had openly gay rabbis before most places had openly gay rabbis; we had black rabb—OK, we never had a black rabbi. But were one to apply for the gig, he/she would likely be the front-runner. The Chavurah was that sort of place—always up for new ideas; new songs; new concepts.
Anyhow, one of my favorite activities always came around the high holidays, when the congregants would gather at a small pond and toss away our sins (in the form of chunks of bread). The ritual is known as Tashlich, and it’s an ode to starting anew, setting aside the bad, liberating oneself. I can still picture myself, age 9 or 10, standing alongside my brother, giggling as wads of Wonder filled the air. Needless to say, my scalp has been the landing spot for more than a few breadcrumbs.
Earlier this evening, we did Tashlich—with a twist. Instead of a lake, we went to a beach, Crystal Cove, along the Pacific. We met up with a bunch of families from our new Reconstructionist synagogue, talked, ate, played football—then unleashed a tsunami of stale bread upon the waves. It was spectacular—the seagulls eating our sins, then
exploding in midair flying off and returning and flying off and returning. The sun setting into the waves—specks of orange and yellow bouncing along the water. The air was warm, the breeze lovely, the smell fresh and clean.
I miss being a boy, and I miss the pond.
But the birds needed me.