Yearly act of faith links worship, nature

This Just In . . .

October 03, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

They stepped through thick grass washed in soft October light, picked a spot in the shade of maple trees along Cross Country Boulevard and cast their sins onto the little creek below. The man and the woman, both of them in dark clothing and both holding prayer books, walked to the creek from Park Heights Avenue late yesterday afternoon to take part in a brief ritual of Rosh Hashana, an exquisitely simple and symbolic custom called Tashlikh.

Others came -- whole families of Orthodox Jews observing their New Year on a perfect autumn day, full of sunlight and long shadows. They stood below the fading leaves of the trees that border Western Run, some of them at the bridges that cross the creek, others along its banks. For years, Taney Road at Western Run has been one of the most popular spots for the observance of Tashlikh in Northwest Baltimore.

The Tashlikh custom, which arose during the Middle Ages, was derived from an Old Testament verse of the Hebrew prophet Micah: "And You [God] shall throw their sins into the depths of the sea." And all rivers run to the sea, according to Ecclesiastes.

On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashana, Jews the world over go to a sea or to a river and symbolically cast their sins into the moving water. They recite scriptural verses and prayers. Some pull their pockets out and shake them. A description of Tashlikh from the Etz Chaim Center for Jewish Studies says: "By praying at the water's edge we recall the merit of the patriarchs who overcame ever-raging floods in their pursuit of goodness and imply our wish to emulate their righteousness."

As solemn as it is, Tashlikh has become a social event, a gathering of friends and neighbors, everyone sharing in the fresh hope of the new year. That was evident yesterday along Western Run.

As a religious exercise, Tashlikh appeals to me because it connects worship with nature -- and, indeed, a part of nature absolutely vital to life on Earth. Tashlikh takes the soul out into the fresh air, down by the riverside, for a kind of physical-spiritual nourishment. I am drawn to rivers, even small, urban ones like Western Run, because they are beautiful and resilient, quiet and steady, full of some of the tiniest, most fascinating forms of life on the planet. I go to a river, I feel renewed. The idea that they could take away sin and bad thoughts hadn't occurred to me before yesterday afternoon, in the hour of Tashlikh. I call that a wise use of a natural resource.

Turn here no, there

I've lived here more than 20 years and still get confused between Belair Road and Harford Road. (I know natives who will admit to the same confusion.) A few weeks ago, I again spent a good 20 minutes looking for the Hacienda Restaurant on Harford Road. (It's at 4840 Belair.) (ELLIPSIS) Speaking of the Hacienda, it's still a good, reasonably priced Tex-Mex place serving generous portions and offering family values. Kids get free bandito mustaches and crayons, too. Is this a great country?

The CEO from Mongolia?

Every year since 1991, the Japanese government has conducted a survey asking its employees to identify the person they think would make the best boss. This year, a majority of civil servants named brutal 13th century conqueror Genghis Khan. Many young Japanese civil servants regard him as "a man of organization who achieved a united Mongolia." Whoa. Can you imagine if (ITAL)this(ENDITAL) crowd worked for the IRS?

Check with the warden

I keep getting calls from people claiming to have been victims of alleged scams by the admitted con man Salvatore Spinnato. They all want to meet the guy again. I tell them I don't know his visiting hours.

That dangerous Beatle

Given the times and the paranoid man who was in charge of the FBI back then, you can understand why J. Edgar Hoover's federales kept secret files in the late 1960s and early 1970s on John Lennon. But it's absolutely moronic that, 25 years later, the bureau actually fought the release of these files on the grounds of national security. And it cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A blast from the '60s

And while we're on the subject of leftovers from the 1960s, here's a remarkable letter from a TJI reader named Ann, a person trapped in the twisted wreckage of leftist ideological stridence:

"I saw your column today [Sept. 29, on FBI agent Butch Hodgson] and had to go back over it to determine if you were talking tongue-in-cheek or if you were really serious. You were writing about someone as if he were a role model, but when you listed his 'accomplishments' it almost turned my stomach. Graduate of The Citadel and two tours of Vietnam? Where have you been living, under a rock? Were you alive in the Sixties? Don't you remember our 'boys' burning down villages and napalming civilians? And The Citadel? Get real. The only thing that it's known for is its sexist policy towards women. Grow up, Dan. We don't need to glorify macho men with an overabundance of testosterone. The world suffers enough from their ilk without praising them for it."

Pub Date: 10/03/97

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