Finding renewal at a dump

Jewish women clear clutter as a symbol of spiritual cleansing

September 23, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin heaved a rattan chair into the concrete trash pit. Robin Yasinow tossed a stack of papers from a project that didn't go well, and said good riddance to a stuffed bear given to her by an old flame.

Claire Landers unloaded scrap wood from building a deck this summer and weeds and dead leaves from her garden. Then, she shouted, "Happy New Year, everyone!"

For the small group of women, the Baltimore County landfill in Cockeysville became nothing less than a holy site yesterday. With Rosh Hashana less than two weeks away, they prepared for the fresh start promised by the Jewish high holidays by ridding themselves of items unwanted or unneeded.

"You watch this stuff of life, these things cluttering your home, your mind, and you watch it fall to the depths and you've truly released it," Cardin said before the brief ceremony early yesterday morning. "In casting away the clutter, we cast away the burdens, the fears and the heaviness of our lives that so often weighs us down."

As dump trucks chugged by, Cardin, a rabbi at Baltimore's Jewish Community Center, read from Isaiah and Psalms in the Bible and quoted excerpts from a Feng Shui book: "Clutter drains one's energy, slows one's progress and eats away at our limited time and space. ... The reason why clutter clearing is so effective is that while you are putting your external world in order there are corresponding changes going on internally, too."

Yasinow, a 38-year-old public relations consultant from Baltimore's Homeland neighborhood, nodded her head in agreement.

"I've had this pile of papers in my office. I look at it, thinking about this bad project, instead of thinking about all the good work I have to do. It takes up a lot of energy.

"This gave me the permission to get rid of it," Yasinow said. "Sometimes you need the ritual."

Cardin and her assistant, Rabbi Randi Nagel, didn't tell very many people about the first JCC-sponsored landfill event. Including them, there were four people in their group. "I wasn't sure if people would think it's too irreverent," Cardin said. "It's got a humorous side, but it's also spiritual."

Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is Oct. 4 this year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is nine days later. Rosh Hashana is marked by a ceremony known as Tashlikh, when Jews throw bread crumbs into a stream or river, symbolically casting their sins into the sea.

"This built on that idea," Cardin said. "Today, we're casting the clutter of our lives, the physical and the emotional."

Although the weekend might seem a more convenient time for a trip to the dump, Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath and on Sundays the landfill isn't open. So, the women chose 7:30 a.m. yesterday, hoping a few people would find time to dump their things on the way to work or as they dropped children off at school.

Nagel brought her 2-year-old son, Daniel, and placed an old toaster on the dump's metal recycling pile. And Cardin put several old rusted bicycles that her 24-year-old and 13-year-old sons rode next to the other tricycles and bent 10-speeds.

"They sort of represent my children's youth," Cardin said. "But one of my sons is getting married in the summer. ... You think as long as the bikes are in the garage, someone's going to ride them."

The "emotional negotiations either with a spouse or yourself" to determine what no longer has use or value in your home and life are an important part of the process, Cardin said.

As Yasinow has watched and listened to reports about Hurricane Katrina, she said, she's been struck by how many things she has that she doesn't need or cherish. "I've been thinking: `What would I miss?'"

Some things should be given to charity, Cardin said. But other items simply need to be destroyed, either because they can't be reused or because it will help move beyond a past event. For example, Cardin said, a friend of hers getting over a divorce felt better once she threw an old platter with her married initials into a Dumpster. "It represented the breaking of the relationship," she said.

Landers, a 42-year-old Jewish educator from Pikesville who had her 5-year-old daughter, Felice Falk, in tow yesterday, said she felt better after discarding two bags of "junk."

"With the deck stuff, it means the project is really done. It wasn't when we still had these scraps hanging around," she said. "Now it means we can move on to another project. There's always some other project."

Cardin had gone to the Cockeysville landfill during the summer when she was clearing out her garage. As she threw her junk over the 12-foot side of the concrete runway where bulldozers plow back and forth, scooping up the discarded piles, Cardin said she wanted to come back before the holidays and bring others to share in the cathartic experience.

Next year, Cardin said, she'd like to invite synagogues, and perhaps other faiths, to join them at the landfill.

"It's very unusual to have a spiritual experience at a dump," Cardin acknowledged. "But I'm sure people will warm to it. Everyone has junk."

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