To celebrate the Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashanah, members of the Abbe Center for Jewish Life and HWS community volunteers performed the tradition of Tashlich with a focus on environmental activism and sustainability.
In the Jewish faith, Tashlich is celebrated on Rosh Hashanah. The ceremony includes reciting prayers alongside a running body of water while participants throw pieces of bread into the water, symbolizing the act of casting away one’s sins.
To engage with the international dialogue on human impact to the environment, the organization Hillels of the Florida Suncoast have reimagined the tradition. Through the Hillel Blue/Green Initiative, they launched “Reverse Tashlich” to encourage people to think about water health as a part of our commitment to environment and sustainability.
As part of a “Reverse Tashlich,” instead of disrupting the natural supply of food available to diverse species in a water ecosystem, participants removed pollutants – including plastics, recyclables and other waste, along the shore of Seneca Lake. The act of picking up trash serves as a symbol for removing sins from the water, instead of throwing sins into the water.
“One of the Jewish teachings behind this is “tikkun hayam,” which means ‘repairing the sea,’” says Director of the Center for Jewish Life and Hillel Adviser Julianne Miler. “It’s a variation on a Jewish teaching called “tikkum olam,” which refers to our responsibility to help repair the world (olam means world, yam means sea – hayam is the sea).”
Sustainability and LGBTQ+ representative to the Hillel Board Meg Quint ’21 and Miller joined the Hillel Blue/Green Initiative in the spring of 2019. “We discussed with their director how to integrate Jewish teachings into conversations about caring for oceans and bodies of water,” Quint says. “The commandment of bal tashchit prohibits waste or unnecessary destruction. Additionally, there is a principle known as pikuach nefesh which commands us to preserve human life over all else. To preserve human life and to avoid unnecessary destruction we must work together to care for our Earth and from this care economic development and fair trade will arise.”
The event was held in collaboration with the Finger Lakes Institute, the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning, the Office of Sustainability and the Year of Water.
This event is one of many efforts on behalf of the Hillel Board to integrate sustainable practices into worship and Jewish life. Another effort includes integrating reusable silverware and dishware into Shabbat dinner. Quint says the effort contributes a regular effort on behalf of the Abbe Center to divert waste from landfills. “During Green Shabbat this past spring we finally switched from plastic cutlery to washable silverware and from plastic plates/cups to paper plates/cups. This allows us to compost all of our waste rather than toss it in the trash.” Green Shabbat is a celebration of sustainability and the holiday of Tu B’Shevat.