During an annual Rosh Hashanah Tashlich service on Thursday afternoon, Stephanie Schuttera reached into a large plastic baggie, grabbed a handful of crumbs, and let them fly into the pond of Penwell-Gabel Cemetery, where a flock of geese soon would devour them.
Schuttera’s act was more than just a feeding of the geese. It was symbolic — a visible way of releasing sins and misdeeds committed over the past year.
“This is for all the times I talked like a sailor,” Schuttera said with a wry grin as she flung more crumbs into the pond.
The ritual is held each year on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year and the start of a 10-day period known as the High Holy Days.
For a number of years, members of Temple Beth Sholom, Topeka’s Jewish congregation, have gathered at a gazebo in the cemetery, located at 3616 S.W. 6th Ave., then moved a few steps to the pond, where the ritual is conducted.
On Thursday afternoon, some 30 members of Temple Beth Sholom braved a warm, windy and humid afternoon for the ceremony.
Schuttera noted this is the Jewish new year 5778. She said it marks “a new beginning” for Jews, and a chance for them to start over.
“We’re trying to see what we can do better,” she said. “We’re letting go of the sins we’ve done and asking for forgiveness.”
Though Rosh Hashanah calls upon Jews to take stock of their actions — and their sins — over the past year, which can be a sobering experience, it also is a time of joyfulness, in that they get a new start.
Such is the way of a Tashlich service, a ritual conducted on Rosh Hashanah. According to Chabad.org, “Tashlich” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “to cast,” and refers to the intent of individuals to cast away their sins by a symbolic act of throwing crumbs into a body of water.
Rabbi Debbie Stiel, of Temple Beth Sholom, said the custom of Tashlich dates to the 13th century. She said it is inspired by the phrase in Micah 7:19, “He will take us back in love; He will cover up our iniquities. You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.”
Before the ceremonial tossing of crumbs into the pond, Stiel noted some attendees gathered at the gazebo didn’t bring many bread crumbs this year.
“I’m seeing less bread this year,” she said with a smile. “I guess that means everyone’s been really good.”
Some attendees said they preferred tossing bird seed into the pond, as they believed that was healthier for the geese.
After the ceremony and as people were departing, Stiel said she enjoyed the service and the hopeful and upbeat mood that was conveyed.
“It’s just such a sweet gathering of our community in the gazebo,” Stiel said. “It’s a nice way to start the year.
“It’s a chance to think about things we’ve done this year that we’re sorry about, a chance to say, ‘I’m done with this way of living. I’m done with this habit. I’ve asked God for forgiveness and I’m starting over.’”
She noted throwing the crumbs into the pond also was a way of “doing something good” that benefits others — in this case, the geese that live in and around the cemetery pond.
The symbolism was clear to those who attended, that in spite of misdeeds, a new year beckoned, and a chance to extend goodness to others, particularly in the Topeka community through the Temple’s involvement in various social service organizations.
The High Holy Days will conclude beginning the evening of Friday, Sept. 29, with Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement,” which will end on the evening of Saturday, Sept. 30.
For more information, visit www.templebethsholomtopeka.org.