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Jews ritually cast off sins at Tashlich Tossing bread crumbs on water lifts burdens at beginning of new year

Each year during the Jewish observance of Rosh Hashana, Ellicott Creek in Amherst takes on a heavy burden.

Dozens of members of Temple Beth Am shuffle across Indian Trail Road, through a neighbor's backyard and up to the stream's edge, where they recite a prayer and cast bread crumbs into the water.

In this brief and joyful ritual known as Tashlich, the crumbs are said to represent the sins of the casters.

The stream handled all of those wrongs with ease Tuesday, with bits of bread disappearing soon after entry.

"It's a favorite part of the holiday," said Daniel Kester of Williamsville, a longtime member of Temple Beth Am. "And the fish and the ducks like it, too."

Tashlich, from the Hebrew word meaning "to cast," dates back hundreds of years and holds deep symbolism during the High Holy Days, the time when Jews take stock of their lives, reflect on their conduct over the previous year and vow to do better.

"It's a kinetic expression of what we really want to do on these High Holy Days," said Rabbi Irwin Tanenbaum of Temple Beth Am.

Jews will spend a lot of time during the High Holy Days in synagogues understanding the meaning of the New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which will follow on Oct. 9, said Rabbi Steven Conn of Temple Beth Tzedek in Amherst.

"What we do with Tashlich is act that out in a very symbolic way," said Conn, who led a 15-minute service at a tiny stream near Temple Beth Tzedek's parking lot, where about 30 people gathered. "Literally what we do is cast off our sins into that flowing body of water. That really is a symbol of what we're trying to do the whole holiday season."

Both Temple Beth Am and Temple Beth Tzedek have observed the ritual for years, although even among many Jews it is not a well-known tradition.

"This is something even people who are Jewish may not have taken part in," Conn said.

At Ellicott Creek, many of the participants were children, including Tyler Okun, 8, and his brother, Ryan, 5, of East Amherst.

"It gets rid of the bad things we've done," said Tyler, who experienced his first Tashlich.

"That's the wonderful thing about Judaism: You get to renew and restart," said Sharon Jacobs, Temple Beth Am's director of education. "The children can understand the idea of throwing something and letting it go."

Tashlich is believed to have its roots in the book of Micah, in which a passage reads, "You will again have compassion upon us, subduing our sins, casting all our sins into the depths of the sea.

The custom of tossing bread crumbs probably dates back to medieval Germany, making it a relatively new tradition in Judaism, Conn said.

It follows in the same vein as the scapegoat, which according to Jewish scripture was sent into the wilderness bearing the sins of the children of Israel.

"The idea of putting your sins in another place is ancient," Tanenbaum said.

That idea resonates every year in Tashlich for Larry Levin, president of Temple Beth Tzedek, who has participated in the custom even during driving rain storms.

"It's just a beautiful little service," he said.


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