I never make New Year’s resolutions because invariably I break them. Don’t gossip. Drink less coffee. Eat fewer bagels. (These are all, admittedly, terrible examples. I would never commit to any of these. I might as well resolve to be miserable.)
This week is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Thankfully, there are no resolutions involved — mostly just apples and honey and phone calls home to Mom and Dad. But there are also a few rituals associated with the holiday that are markedly different from the one celebrated on Jan. 1.
As a child, my favorite Rosh Hashanah tradition was Tashlich. Literally, it translates to “to send.” Tashlich is understood as a way of casting off your sins as the new year begins. In practice, it means that you toss pieces of bread into a flowing body of water; your crumbs are carried away along with your metaphorical sins as you begin the year anew.
When I was younger, my family and neighbors would walk down to the Hudson River with our prayer books. As the sun dipped low over the New Jersey skyline, we’d hurl bits of old rolls into the water. My family used to tease me for taking too long as I wracked my brain for every last vice. “Fighting with my brother.” “Chewing gum in class.” Then I’d watch the breadcrumbs bob down the Hudson as the sky turned sunset saffron and my neighbors turned to one another with a new kind of lightness.
In some ways, Tashlich always seemed to me the direct opposite of a New Year’s resolution. It’s a letting go instead of a taking on. It’s a wave of relief, rather than Post-it notes stuck to our mirrors with new promises: Go to the gym! Call home! Do all your reading before section! It’s a release of guilt instead of 10 new reasons to feel guilty.
At some point, I dropped this annual tradition — maybe because it felt so intentional, so grandiose. But also because it’s a practice we get worse at as we get older. At Yale, we’re so good at taking things on and so bad at letting things go. Making resolutions comes naturally to us. We’re practically wired to add on commitments, tacking our name onto some new panlist. But pausing to consider what needs release isn’t as easy.
I think part of it is that time can feel so warped here. Two days go by in what feels like a month. We tend to forget that new habits and grudges formed don’t need to stick. Tashlich is a reminder of the agency we have over our own sins — the times we’ve fought with our roommates, the times we’ve let our friends down. All of that can dissipate with the summer heat.
But what I like most about Tashlich, and what I think makes it so unique, is the emphasis it places on community. As a child, I never really understood why my entire neighborhood joined together for the ritual. Looking back, I realize there was a tacit sort of forgiveness in the act. As you release your own set of vices, you also support those around you in letting go of theirs.
In one of my all-time favorite books, F. Scott Fitzgerald describes how “life was beginning over again with the summer.” I’ve always felt that way about autumn. With the newness of leaves changing and schedules signed and breadcrumbs dropped into water, we all get the chance to give ourselves a clean slate.
Emma Goldberg is a senior in Saybrook College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .