My First Tashlich – From Rhode Island To Texas To Victoria Lake

BS”D

I am most definitely telling the truth that the first time I said Tashlich, was when I travelled from Rhode Island to Texas and then stood at the banks of Victoria Lake. The total travelling time amounted to less than 7 minutes. I was accompanied by many older men on my journey, along with the Rabbi and it was an experience that I remember to this day.

This whole journey took place in my home town, St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Victoria Lake is situated today next to Texa-Tonka Park. This park is very close to Texa-Tonka Shopping Center, where I would often go with my parents to purchase our everyday needs. In that same place, there was a pharmacy named Mike Zoss Drugs. That name was made famous by the Coen Brothers.

To clarify my first sentence, I am referring to street names, not the states themselves. St. Louis Park named one set of 26 streets in alphabetical order using the names of States. Of course, some letters did not have a state name to represent it, so other places were used. But I am referring to two streets – Rhode Island and Texas, which were two blocks away from each other. And then a few blocks further was Victoria Lake.

Tashlich means “to cast,” as in, to cast away our sins. It is traditionally done after Mincha on the first day of Rosh Hashana, or the following day if the first day is Shabbat. And it can be done up until the last day of Sukkot according to many authorities.

It is interesting that when I learned about Tashlich, it was emphasized that I should say it next to water that contains fish. Because fish have no eyelids which remind us that G-d is constantly watching us, similar to G-d constantly looking after Israel.

But here in Israel, there are many places that have no lakes or rivers and therefore you will see men standing next to buckets of water or even places that once had wells saying Tashlich. This is also an acceptable custom and ties in with my last Blog where I emphasize the importance of water in our daily lives. In other words, Tashlich can be performed using only water.

I mentioned many Blogs ago, that my first experiences when becoming religious took place in a Shul located on Rhode Island Ave. From that Shul is where my first Tashlich experience took place. When we lived in Johannesburg, and I brought my children to visit my parents, I would also visit another neighborhood in St. Louis Park that I met many people who helped answered questions that I had about Judaism, which was around three miles away from my parents’ house. There I would find the only Orthodox Shuls in St. Louis Park that had proper mechitzahs to separate the men from the women when davening.

But on one of these trips, I needed to daven Shacharit as I had just arrived and wanted to daven with a minyan before I did anything else. So I made my way to the Rhode Island Shul where my Dad was staying in a nursing home located right next door. I went to check to see how Dad was and then stepped into that Shul for the first time in many years.

Nothing really had changed except the name of one of the older men who I had made friends with appeared not on one of the chairs to signify his place to pray, but on the social hall located next to the small Shul where daily minyans were being held. This Hall was dedicated in his memory. I was saddened to have suddenly found this out because I was hoping to have met him when I arrived at Shul. He was very active in Shul activities and I could not believe I would not see him any longer.

At any rate, the small Shul looked the same, no mechitzah since there were no women that davened at that time of the morning when I was last there. I also wanted to be there since it was a day on which the Torah would be read. So I rushed to put on my Tallis and Tefillin and was in the middle of catching up with the Minyan, when I saw something very strange. As I looked up slightly to see where the Shaliach Sibor (person who leads the davening) was up to, I noticed one of the congregants carrying something with straps. I thought it was a Tallis bag, but much to my amazement, it was a purse. I thought that man really had a strange habit of carrying his Tallis and Tefillin in a purse, but then I realized it was a woman.

That was just about the time they were getting ready to read the Torah. In an Orthodox Shul, the Torah is read facing the Aron Ha Kodesh. But I now noticed they were going to read the Torah facing the Congregation, which meant the Shul had now become Conservative. At least that was the custom in St. Louis Park. So before any more time passed, I quickly took off my Tallis and Tefillin and made my way to the other neighborhood to join the minyan and hear the Torah.

So the memories I had of learning in that Rhode Island Shul with Rabbi Levin I mentioned in a previous Blog, and all my experiences from there were suddenly coming back to me. But in hindsight, I was not surprised that the Shul had gone that direction because the majority of Shuls in St. Louis Park were Conservative.

Reasons To Be Confused

Before I wrote this Blog, I wanted to get some facts right and decided to see what has happened to that Shul since I was last there, as well as getting correct the street names of where we travelled to do Tashlich. I heard that the building was sold, and did not expect it to be named a Synagogue, but I was wrong.

However, after having looked into the current occupant of the building, I am now really totally confused as to who they are and what they represent. And if I am confused, I can imagine what other Jews are thinking who are looking for a new Synagogue to pray at in St. Louis Park.

But I want to say from the outset that I mean no harm to that Congregation, because it is supportive of Israel and has its right to believe in what and who they want to.

In this case, the Synagogue is now a Messianic Synagogue. It describes itself as   “a synagogue that brings together Judaism and faith that Yeshua (Jesus) is the promised Messiah of Israel”. The person leading this congregation is titled “Rabbi”.

Mostly all Jewish Orthodox, Conservative or Reform Congregations call their leaders by the title “Rabbi”. But here is someone with that title also trying to convince congregants that the New Testament should also be included. It’s hard enough to understand what being Jewish really means. But when you introduce the concept of the New Testament as well, then that is where being Jewish seems to lose its meaning.  That is my opinion having grown up with the understanding that Judaism does not include the New Testament.

So I guess, it is surprising to me that this is the type of Congregation that is now growing  and attracting people in St. Louis Park. Living in Israel, I am aware of a large Messianic Community here in Israel as well. But I want to emphasize that these people, no matter how we differ, believe that Israel should exist and that is why many have come to live here. And for that alone they should be given credit.

I also remember non- Jewish classmates who did not like going to church, and perhaps this offers people like them an alternative. Because many of those people I talked to would express an interest in Judaism and it seems this new Congregation may fulfill their needs.

But What Do Jewish Parents Tell Their Children Who Are Attracted To This Religion?

That is a hard question to answer, and I, for one, would not like to be one of those parents who has a child interested in exploring this possibility. I grew up at a time when many Jewish children who were not given a strong set of Jewish values began wondering about other religions and cultures. Many would explore such people as the “Moonies” to give one example or other cults. So the introduction of this new concept is another challenge for a Jewish parent to have to overcome.

I guess that is why I felt strongly that once I had decided that I wanted to become Shomer Shabbat, I had to find out what it all meant. It was a lot of work but at the end, by instilling those values into our children, that makes the family unit much stronger.

And taking it a step further, Israel is much easier to access today than any time in its short history. This makes the idea of Aliyah that much more attractive to those who are willing to explore the possibilities Israel offers for themselves and their children. Especially given these challenges such as those mentioned above.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         .

Gamar Chatima Tova

About the Author
Born and raised in the Minneapolis suburb of St. Louis Park. Married to a South African, we lived in Johannesburg from 1979 to 1996. Made Aliyah with our seven children on Parshat Lech Lecha. BSB Accounting Degree from the University of Minnesota. Investment Portfolio Manager and Analyst. Served in the US Army Reserves Semi Retired spending quality time with my wife, children, grandchildren and attend Kollel while analyzing current events as they relate to Torah and Mitzvahs.
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