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Danbury Synagogue Celebrates Jewish New Year With Unique Lake Tradition

From left, Cantor Penny Kessler and Rabbi Stefan Tiwy prepare for Rosh Hashanah at the United Jewish Center in Danbury. Photo Credit: contributed
Members of the United Jewish Center in Danbury celebrate Rosh Hashanah at Bennett Memorial Park in Bethel with a special tradition of throwing bread into the lake to represent getting rid of one's sins from the past year and starting fresh. Photo Credit: contributed

DANBURY, Conn. -- For the Jewish New Year, about 75 to 100 members of the United Jewish Center in Danbury gather around the lake at Bennett Memorial Park in Bethel to take part in a unique Rosh Hashanah tradition.

Everyone takes pieces of bread and, at the same time, throws them into the lake. The bread is meant to represent their sins from the previous year.

By throwing the bread into the lake, the participants are casting their sins away and making a fresh start to the new year, which will be 5777.

"This is a tradition myself and former Rabbi Brad Boxman started in 1998," said UJC Cantor Penny Kessler, a Bethel resident. "It started as a replacement for what was an afternoon kids' family service."

In addition to bread, everyone brings food for themselves and to share with the rest of the attendees. Many also bring lawn chairs and blankets. Pets are invited, provided they are leashed and cared for while at the park.

In the event of rain, there is an overhang so a sound system and microphones can be set up. The prayer leaders — UJC Rabbi Stefan Tiwy, Kessler and congregant Miles Barel on guitar — lead the service.

According to Kessler, Rosh Hashanah is a time to experience both internal spirituality and God's creation.

"It's considered a celebration of the birthday of the world and the UJC acknowledges that by spending the afternoon of the first day at Bennet Park at Tashlich.

"Tashlich is a ceremony where people get rid of all their past year's sins, attitudes and behaviors by tossing them into a body of water," said Kessler, who has been cantor at the UJC since 1995.

The idea of casting one's sins away into water is referenced in the prophetic readings in the Hebrew Bible, Kessler said. As a formal ceremony, it dates to the Middle Ages.

"Bennett Park is a nice way to combine that tradition and get outside," she said. "After a day spent inside a synagogue, being able to be in nature is a gift. We are fortunate to have access to the park where we can enjoy the Southern New England beauty of nature."

Barry Abrams of Danbury, his wife, Lisa, and their 13-year-old son Spencer have participated in the tradition every Rosh Hashanah for the past 11 years.

According to Lisa Abrams, as part of the service, Kessler "does a meditation to get you thinking about the past year, and to reflect on its positives and negatives.

"For me, last year, I remember thinking of my resolution in the coming year to be more patient with those who are close to me," she added.

"Tashlich is one of my family's favorite events of the year," said Barry Abrams. "Obviously, it has a spiritual/religious component to it. That is why we are there, as a way ceremoniously to cast our sins of the past year into the water and let them float away.

"However, in a period of solemnity and introspection, Tashlich really stands out because it is also a lot of fun. The religious component notwithstanding, it essentially is a big afternoon garden party. We bring a lot of food to a park,and the event becomes a community picnic."

The UJC Tashlich event will be Monday, Oct. 3, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Bennett Memorial Park, 14 Shelter Rock Road, Bethel. The ceremony is free and open the public.

Families are encouraged to bring bread, as well as food for themselves and something to share. Beverages are provided. No RSVP is necessary.

For more information, call the UJC at 203-748-3355.

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