Casting Away Barriers to Community: Tashlich Together

By Rabbis Elan Babchuck, Barry Dolinger and Sarah Mack

Each year at Rosh Hashanah, Jews around the world gather at bodies of water of varying sizes to cast off sins in the form of bread crumbs. This year, in Providence, Rhode Island, we cast off something more: our institutional boundaries, our movemental constrictions and our prior notions of community. It was a joyous occasion this 5775 when for the first time ever, the three largest congregations in Providence (Reform, Conservative and Orthodox) gathered for Tashlich together.

It was not always so. Each year for over a decade, three congregations gathered separately to perform Tashlich at the Seekonk river in Providence, Rhode Island. We convened at slightly different times and a few blocks apart and never even knew that the other was there.

Three blocks and fifteen minutes kept us apart for over ten years.

When the three rabbis began working collectively on young professional endeavors (see (401)j), we realized that there was no reason for us not to extend this collaborative spirit to other parts of congregational life as well. There was nothing to lose. So we began the new year with a pluralistic spirit and a community Tashlich.

And a beautiful moment it was. Hundreds of Jews, from varied backgrounds, singing, praying, casting bread into the Seekonk river as one community. The collaborative spirit of (401)j could be felt throughout the crowd. Friends who never expected to run into one another were shouting from one end of the river bank to the other, surprised to run into each other at an event that used to be exclusive. Our children and dogs ran and played with one another. In a moderately sized city like Providence, the reality is that our relationships already extend beyond congregations. To gather together for a new tradition that matched what in our hearts and lives was already true was a blessing.

It was such a thrill to be able to lead a prayer service with clergy from other denominations, and in turn to watch our respective congregants shoulder-to-shoulder, arm-in-arm, celebrating the New Year together.”

A collaborative spirit, a diminishment of ego and the willingness to think innovatively taught us all about the true meaning of Jewish community. We hope this is a sign of things to come – of collaboration yet to be established, or joint programs yet to be imagined, and of a shared future yet to be envisioned. We are looking forward with joy to Tashlich 5776.

Rabbi Elan Babchuck has served as a rabbi at Temple Emanu-El of Providence, Rhode Island since July of 2012. He also serves as an active lay leader for JOIN for Justice, as the Chairman of the Executive Board of the new venture, Tzedek America – a social justice-oriented Jewish gap-year program based in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Barry Dolinger has served as Rabbi of Congregation Beth Sholom since 2011. He also serves as Vice President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island, and as a member on the Vaad Harabonim of RI.

Rabbi Sarah Mack has served Temple Beth-El in Providence, RI as a rabbi since 2003 when she was ordained from the NY campus of HUC-JIR. She is the President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.