New beginnings: Jewish Congregation of Marco Island celebrates Rosh Hashanah

Lance Shearer

The Jewish Congregation of Marco Island is ahead of the Christians. Not only is it New Year already, but according to the Hebrew calendar, the year is already 5780.

This week brings the High Holy Days, or Days of Awe, in Jewish tradition, with Rosh Hashanah or New Year celebrated this past Monday and Tuesday – in Jewish tradition, the day runs from sunset to sunset – and services for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, held on Oct. 9.

Judaism stresses the personal responsibility people should take for their own lives and actions, and the Days of Awe provide the opportunity for reflection, atonement, and making the determination to live a better life in the upcoming year. Along with the two major Jewish holidays that bookend the period, additional rituals highlight the desire to cast away sin, said Rabbi Mark Gross of the Jewish Congregation of Marco Island (JCMI).

One of these time-honored observances is Tashlich. On Tuesday morning, congregation members gathered at the temple, then made what could be considered a very short pilgrimage, down Winterberry Drive to the first canal leading to Caxambas Pass. There, where the property owner had given permission for the gathering, they listened to Gross speak of the reasoning for Tashlich, and cantorial soloist Hari Jacobsen softly intone hymns in Hebrew. Then each participant took crumbs of bread provided by JCMI, or small chunks they brought themselves, and cast them into the water by the seawall.

“With Tashlich, we express our desire to get rid of sins,” said Gross, stressing that the gesture is symbolic. “We don’t accomplish that by throwing panko crumbs into the water. This is a token act of affirmation.”  

The Tashlich ceremony goes back to the days of the patriarch Abraham, said Gross.

“Tradition holds that it was on this day of Rosh Hashanah that Abraham prepared to sacrifice everything he had out of loyalty to God. Because the merit of that deed would win grace and forgiveness for his descendants for a thousand generations, a Jewish legend holds that God’s accusing angel tried to confound Abraham by causing a mighty river to spring up in his path.”

Undeterred, the elderly Abraham entered the torrent, where he would have drowned, but the fish made a wall of their bodies to hold back the water and let him pass safely through to do God’s will. Because of the piscine connection, if at all possible, the Tashlich ceremony is held by water in which there are fish.

So, said Gross, in casting bread on the waters, celebrants at Tashlich perform a double service – not only the casting away of sin, but to “offer a reward of thanks to the fish. Let us remember that, just as fish can be caught in a net, so too even the best of us can be caught up in old mistakes and bad habits.”

Additional observances at JCMI during the New Year period include a memorial cemetery visit on Oct. 6, a Pre Kol Nidrei dinner (by reservation) and service on Oct. 8, and morning and afternoon services on October 9 for Yom Kippur. Following the afternoon service will be “break the fast” dinner at the temple, again by reservation.

Celebrants will break their fast on traditional foods including poached salmon, smoked whitefish, deviled eggs, bagels, lox and cream cheese, blintz casserole, four different kugels, and two dessert tables, said JCMI elder Bert Thompson.

In one of the first stirrings of the upcoming winter season, one well-known JCMI tradition that is an event for the entire Marco Island community will return just after Yom Kippur. On Oct. 14, Monday night bingo returns to JCMI for the 21st year.