A Jewish Recipe for Relief
EVERY YEAR, when an old friend writes to bid me a happy and healthy Jewish new year, he asks
if I will be doing tashlich. I should, I always think. But I never do. Or never did. Until last year, that
I’d always meant to participate in this annual Jewish ritual of symbolically casting
away sins by throwing bread crumbs into a body of water. Somehow, though, I was invariably too busy, preparing for holiday
guests. Last year, however, everything felt different. My mother was ill -- gravely ill. Then, that spring, she
died, bringing sharply into focus the truth that sometimes there isn't a next year, or next month, or even necessarily tomorrow.
If you mean to do something, don't put it off until you aren't busy. Life, face it, will always be busy. Don't wait.
Do it now.
I did not participate in the official ceremony held by our rabbi, to which the congregation
was invited en masse. My event was on a smaller scale. Much, much smaller. Semi-private. A gaggle of geese. A school of fish.
I was totally spent by the time my relatives departed after Rosh Hashanah, having devoured vast
vats of chicken soup, brisket, noodle kugel and tsimmes. The sky was already verging on sundown. There
were beds to change and dishes to do. Still, I felt like a woman on a mission. A sacred mission. For so many
years I'd put it off. I would not fail again.
I'd recently bought a new clipboard
with a "to-do" pad attached. Quickly, I jotted down a list, not of errands to accomplish, but burdens to unload.
Negative feelings to purge. Accumulated angst slowing me down, as if I were lugging around a bulging bag of garbage instead
of throwing it out.
Then I drove to my favorite scenic local spot, Elizabeth Park. On this balmy
evening, it was crowded with joggers and picnickers, making me feel self-conscious. Then again, who'd know or care
what I was up to? Its central pond was teeming with geese and fish. They would destroy the evidence.
Perched at the water's edge, I reached into the plastic bag of bread I'd brought along. Grasping a few crumbs of
shredded whole wheat, I began reading my list aloud, softly. Each time I uttered a word or phrase, I paused to toss in
a handful. "Self-doubt!" I announced. "Sadness! Uncertainty!" Each time, within seconds, several fish
rose from the murky depths and made it disappear.
What kind of fish were these
creatures? Carp? Koi? They looked like goldfish on steroids, brilliant orange with dark speckles or stripes, but nearly large
enough to eat a cat, rather than be eaten by one. Whatever they do eat, it must not be enough. Throw anything remotely
edible into this pond and a ravenous horde rises to the surface.
And I do mean ravenous. Ever been "hungry
enough to eat a horse"? Well, these sea demons were hungry enough to eat anything. Feelings of defeat.
Despair. Malaise. All my sins, as well as my sources of self-loathing. From hopelessness and indecisiveness to regret and
fear. Fear of failure. Fear of success. All gone in one swift gulp.
I had been thinking toxic waste.
They were thinking, "Dinner!" The geese,
lolling on the shoreline as dusk descended, didn't stand a chance.