All You Need is Chalk and Water for This Rosh Hashanah Ritual

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Doing a Rosh Hashanah ritual

My husband and I don’t belong to a synagogue, but we still want to celebrate Jewish holidays with our family and friends. Being in an interfaith marriage and having a group of friends from many backgrounds, we’re always looking for new, inclusive ways to celebrate and connect with our community. We love spending time outdoors, especially walking around the pond where we live near Boston. Having a body of water near us often brings us back to the present moment.

Tashlich is a ritual during Rosh Hashanah that offers us a space to transition into the Jewish New Year by letting go of things from the past. We wanted to find a fun way to practice this ritual with a group of friends who aren’t all Jewish (and to avoid feeding “junk food,” aka bread, to the ducks). Thinking creatively about this tradition led us to using sidewalk chalk to write down the things we want to let go of going into the new year. Most important, we wanted the experience to be accessible, fun and comfortable for anyone to do. Here’s what it looked like:

Instructions:

  1. Gather a group of friends and family outside, where you have a surface you can write on with chalk. Being near a local pond, lake or beach is great, but if you don’t have a body of water near you, the beauty of this activity is that you can bring your own water. You can even do this on the sidewalk outside your home.
  2. Bring washable chalk and some cups/bottles of water.
  3. You can open the ceremony by welcoming everyone and giving a brief explanation of tashlich for those who might not know about it (learn more here).
  4. Ask everyone to think of something (or multiple things) they’d like to let go of and “wash away” heading into the new year. It can be as specific as you’d like. Here are some things we wanted to let go of: anger, resentment, jealousy, fear, control.
  5. Quietly write down your word or phrase on the ground with the chalk.
  6. Take a moment to reflect on why you want to let go of this thing.
  7. Once everyone is done, grab a cup of water and wash it away. You can do this when you’re ready or all at once.
  8. If you’d like, you can say a blessing or read something to the group. Here is one option:

    We are present in this moment.
    Help us let go of shortcomings from the past year.
    As we wash away the words below, relief will follow.
    Help us move from the past to the present as the new year begins.
    Keep us grateful and present today and in the year ahead.

  9. Allow space for everyone to process the ceremony.
  10. Enjoy the conversations that will arise from this experience.

 

If you don’t have a body of water near you or you’d prefer to stay indoors, here are some other ways to celebrate:

  • Write things down on using a washable marker on paper and then submerge them in a dish of water.
  • Use washable ink to write on a rock and then place it in a dish of water.
  • Use a small chalkboard to get the same effect indoors.

 

Walking back to our house afterwards, we talked deeply about what we want the upcoming year to look like–our hopes, dreams and aspirations. We talked about continuing this feeling of being present in our communities and celebrating our uniqueness while honoring our heritage and traditions. This experience brought us closer together and we already started planning gatherings for the year ahead.