CSZ Young Family’s tashlich at the Franklin Cider Mill-1
CSZ Young Family’s tashlich at the Franklin Cider Mill-1

Metro Detroit congregations share their customs for the holiday.

As people in Metro Detroit get ready to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, they will find many options to participate in the traditional tashlich ceremony.

Tashlich is the custom of ceremonially throwing one’s sins into a body of water as a way of starting the New Year with a clean slate. The ritual has evolved over the centuries and is easily accessible to Jews of all observance levels.

Every temple or congregation throughout Metro Detroit has its own traditions for tashlich.
Rabbi Aaron Starr of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield says the congregation gathers the afternoon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and takes a short walk together to a nearby stream where they hold a brief service overlooking the water.

Shir Tikvah’s tashlich service at Jaycee Park in Troy
Shir Tikvah’s tashlich service at Jaycee Park in Troy

“We sing songs; we read psalms; and we consider contemporary poetry reflecting the themes of the High Holidays,” Starr said.

“The peak of the service, of course, is the opportunity to cast the previous year’s mistakes and misdeeds into the flowing stream,” he added.

“While the act of tashlich does not replace our obligation to apologize directly to those whom we have wronged, it allows us to forgive ourselves for our shortcomings and to move forward with a lighter spirit and eyes gazing forward.”

Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy combines its second-day service of Rosh Hashanah with a tashlich service at a river in Jaycee Park in Troy.

“For tashlich, we use bird seed because bread isn’t good for the wildlife. Everyone takes a cup of birdseed and goes off on their own in different spots of the river to take a moment to reflect before tossing the seed into the river,” Rabbi Alicia Harris said.

“We get a chance to think about what matters to us and how we were this year. We talk a lot in our culture about the idea of sin, but I really like the idea of missing the mark, and where did we go wrong? Where do we need to do better next year?”

After the services, the congregation enjoys the park and has a picnic in a BYOP (bring your own plate) lunch.

“We do it in the same place every year, but we are very different people every year. It’s just like the reason we restart the Torah again because every year we approach it differently,” Harris added.

Creative Options

Rabbi Mark Miller of Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township says they hold their tashlich services at the Franklin Cider Mill in West Bloomfield. Instead of bird seed, they use frozen peas.

“Tashlich is a beautiful supplement to Rosh Hashanah,” Miller said.

“It’s a hands-on opportunity to get out of the synagogue and go down to a natural body of water. We go out there and we try to say the things we want to let go of. What are the sins we want to leave behind? And we literally toss them into the water so they will be carried away, never to be seen again.”

Miller said he loved how the temple continued to carry on the tashlich ceremony during the pandemic when they couldn’t be together in person. They came up with a ceremony that anyone could do in their backyard with a garden hose.

“I recognize it isn’t the same as a stream or a natural body of water, but, symbolically, it’s running water. Then we purchased environmentally safe dissolving paper and sent them to our members along with instructions on how to use it.”

Temple Beth El leaders were able to continue services virtually through Facebook Live and lead people in a little ceremony where they wrote down things that they regret or their sins on the piece of paper and used the hose to dissolve it away.

Temple Beth El’s 2021 tashlich program on the water in West Bloomfield.
Temple Beth El’s 2021 tashlich program on the water in West Bloomfield.

“Symbolically, it felt similar to what we do at the tashlich ceremony. But it was unique due to the COVID protocols keeping us apart. We were able to continue our traditions in a way, and I think people really enjoyed that.”

Miller emphasized the importance observing the High Holiday traditions in person and the virtual experiences available this year.

“I would really encourage people whichever they choose, either in person or virtual experience. The High Holidays continue to be as valuable and meaningful as ever, even if they might look a little different. So, if somebody isn’t quite ready yet to go out, please take advantage of our or someone else’s spiritual opportunities.”

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