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People toss bread into creek in Dimond Park during Tashlich ceremony

Oaklanders ring in Jewish New Year

on September 18, 2012

The sun was setting over Oakland’s Dimond Park Monday as Jewish families gathered to toss bits of bread into a small creek that ran through the trees. The practice, called Tashlich, is part of the Jewish New Year celebration in which individuals “cast off” the sins of the past year. It is also a time for new beginnings.

“Toss out your bread on the water for the fullness of your days will find it,” intoned Rabbi Judah Dardik of the nearby Beth Jacob Congregation,  reciting the words of the Torah as the crowd prepared to toss bits of bread for the sunset conclusion of Rosh Hashanah, as the Jewish holiday is called.  As we do this, he said, “we pray that Ashem will bless us with a prosperous new year.”

Children joined their parents as everyone closed their eyes and threw morsels into the creek below and then paused near the water in reflection.

“It’s an ingathering of people who all come together for the same reason of praying as a community,” said Yossi Offenberg.

Offenberg brought his family and said he enjoys the community spirit of the event. He said for him it’s a symbolic way to say that no one is perfect and to “publicly show our mistakes.”

The crowd, of approximately 100 people, hailed from four congregations in Oakland: Beth Abraham, Sinai, Kehilla Community and Beth Jacob. They have been gathering at the park each year for the past decade. Dardik said that while each congregation has somewhat different beliefs within Judaism, this was a time to remember what they have in common and to see the bigger picture.

“This is a universal holiday,” he said. “We are praying for the whole world.”

Years ago, Tashlich was held on the shores of Lake Merritt. But since many in Dardik’s orthodox congregation do not drive during the Jewish High Holy Days, the sacred time from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, Dimond Park was chosen as a more appropriate site, since it is within walking distance of Beth Jacob Synagogue. And this year, for the first time, Dardik’s congregation hosted a potluck for Tashlich attendants after the ceremony.

“I think it’s very Northern California,” Dardik said of the various sects celebrating Tashlich together. “It’s disposed to breaking down barriers.”

Lake Merritt district resident, Laura Fitch, 39, is a stay at home mom and decided to attend services and observe the High Holy Days this year for the first time in years. She said she made the choice after her son showed an increasing interest in Judaism. Fitch’s wife, who is not Jewish, is also considering converting to the religion.

“I’m coming back to it as a critical thinker,” Fitch said of the faith. “It is about joining it again, but on my own terms.”

Tashlich, for Fitch, is about “letting go of hurt and regrets from the past year so that as you set intentions for this new year you do it with a sense of freedom.”

The High Holy Days extend for ten days, commencing with Rosh Hashanah and closing with the more somber tone of Yom Kippur, when Jews are called to atone  for sins committed over the past year and to make amends with others. This year marks 5,773 on the Jewish calendar.

After the ceremonial service ended at Dimond Park, a handful of families spread out picnic cloths, on the hill overlooking the creek, and shared dinner.

For many there, this event was as much about connecting with friends and community as it was shedding past sins. Jaime Jennett, 36, lives near the Grand Lake Theater and is a public health policy coordinator. She said she loves rituals that unite people.

“It’s a tribe coming together,” she said. “It’s the spirit of it that I really love.”


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