Today, I really started feeling Rosh Hashanah. I did some reflecting on the holiday and decided I wanted to adapt a Jewish tradition I learned about in the States. Some people go to the Mikvah, the Jewish ritual bath, before the start of the New Year. The idea is to cleanse yourself- to leave behind the sins, the hurt, the “shmutz”.
When I was in America, I would go to what most religious Jews would recognize as a mikvah- an indoor space where you disrobe and go through a series of ritual dunks and blessings.
Here in Israel, I tried something different. I bought five rolls of old bread from the grocery store and headed to the beach. I looked for something sweet to eat along the way for a sweet New Year and drank my first Israeli bag of chocolate milk (yes, that is a thing!). I felt it was appropriate because as I’m keeping my Jewish customs alive I’m also adding to them. A nice modern and Israeli twist.
I started by doing the Tashlich ceremony. Tashlich is where we symbolically cast away our sins by throwing them into flowing water. With the first few rolls, I hurled them into the sea as I thought about how I had hurt others or myself during the past year. Then, I did something unconventional (I’m a Reform Jew and reform is a verb- so we believe in an ever evolving Judaism)- I threw a few rolls to chuck away the sins others had committed against me. I asked God for forgiveness for the hurt I had caused and for justice to be served towards those who had hurt me. I asked for healing for my body and soul from the pain and I asked God to send healing to those who I had hurt.
Then, I undressed (except for my bathing suit- a dunk in the mikvah is usually naked but I had to adapt since people were still walking along the beach- even Tel Aviv has limits 😉 ). In an indoor mikvah, there are seven steps you walk down to get into the water. So I simply walked seven steps into the Mediterranean, talked out loud to God about my hopes for the year, made the bracha, and took a dunk. Each time I felt lighter and lighter. I looked up at the stars, listened to the waves crashing, and thought to myself that really everything is bigger in Israel. Instead of an aisle dedicated to your food at the grocery store, the whole store is your food. Instead of holiday greetings being limited to the walls of a synagogue, you can say “shanah tovah” to any stranger on the street. Instead of a mikvah inside a synagogue, you’ve got the entire Mediterranean where your ancestors sailed.
There are things I miss about American Judaism. For one, it took me two separate trips to grocery stores here to get ingredients for dairy kugel! And literally one store didn’t even have sour cream- thank God the Russians here appreciate this food so I found it at one of their stores. I miss the rituality of American Judaism- I even found myself watching Youtube videos of Rosh Hashanah services at Reform synagogues to hear my favorite melodies and prayers.
What is amazing about Israel is that you can take these traditions and, in a completely spontaneous fashion, riff off of them. Theoretically, I could’ve done a mikvah dunk in the Potomac River (although it might’ve required a lot of showers afterwards!), but I never thought of it. Here, this whole country is a Jewish playground. The sky is the limit. Especially when you’re staring at it from your planet-sized mikvah.