BY TEQUILA MINSKY
Under a clear and sunny sky with an autumn chill, a special Rosh Hashanah Tashlich took place at the Hudson River at 43rd Street with members, partners and friends of Lab/Shul, a Jewish congregation that is among other things an experimental community for sacred Jewish gatherings.
The High Holiday tradition of Tashlich is the symbolic shedding of transgressions—part of Rosh Hashanah observance. The casting out in the form of breadcrumbs are thrown into a body of water— it’s about a clean start for the New Year. This is the Hebrew New Year 5781.
Before cruising past the Statue of Liberty, Lab/Shul gathered at Pier 83 for a brief ceremony, a reading of Emma Lazarus’ sonnet embedded in the Statue’s pedestal and a sounding of the shofar, which has religious symbolism and is a wake-up. The well-known poem, The New Colossus, begins: Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.
Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavi and board member Craig Kanarik, who is also CEO of the Circle Line, talked about the difficulty of celebrating a High Holy Day season without anyone being able to be in the same physical space as each other.
“The impact of COVID-19 has been severe on everyone, and the High Holidays is usually a time when people come together in a community — sometimes the only time of year they are part of a Jewish community,” Kanarik said.
“We talked more about the impact of social justice and the fact that our boats sail by the Statue of Liberty,” he added, and mentioned the possibility of doing something outdoors on the Circle Line vessels.
They surmised, “It would be particularly poignant if Tashlich took place by Lady Liberty.”
And so the cruise became a part of Lab/Shul’s High Holiday celebration.
As almost 100 people gathered on the pier, congregation members held hand-made signs reading: Welcome.
Janee Graver of Lab/Shul’s Immigrant Task Force explains that a number from the congregation volunteer as conversation partners in the Riverside Language Program, which provides free English language instruction for documented, recently-arrived immigrants asylees and refugee adults. Forty-five language students joined Lab/Shul as invited guests.
Graver says, “Judaism teaches us to welcome the stranger, as we were once strangers in a strange land.”
In his welcome remarks, Israeli-born Rabbi Lau-Lavi explained that when he first came to the U.S., he spoke no English and had to learn the language.
This year’s Tashlich—seeing friends in person—was particularly rewarding; it had been five months of only seeing Lab/Shul participants on Zoom. The ritual took place as the cruise passed the Statue.
Over 300 watched Rosh Hashanah services streamed live from the Lab/Shul portal. Others accessed the Lab/Shul Facebook page or YouTube channel to watch.
Lab/Shul’s team of eight musicians (guitar, percussion, violin, flute and vocals) and religious officiates provide an engaging, unusual with tradition High Holiday service.
Beginning Sunday night, Yom Kippur services broadcast from the Hudson Valley City Winery will be similarly available.