Rosh Hashana ritual draws Jews to Detroit River

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit – — The sight and sound winding across Hart Plaza on Tuesday turned heads: dozens of people following a drummer-led procession, bags of bread in hand.

Quietly streaming past the Gateway to Freedom monument and down to the Detroit River, the large group of mostly Jewish families, young adults and others then tossed crumbling handfuls into the rippling waves below — delighting seagulls flying in the summery sunshine.

Ending Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year and start of the High Holy Days, the participants were observing a tradition from the holy period: the Tashlich, or ceremonially casting away “sins.”

“It’s really an opportunity to have a fresh, clean slate as we’re heading into a New Year so that we continue striving to be the people we really want to be,” said Rabbi Dan Horwitz with Temple Israel in West Bloomfield Township and founding director of The Well.

His group, a Jewish community-building initiative launched this year, partnered with NEXTGen Detroit, Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, Hillel of Metro Detroit and other supporters to coordinate Tuesday’s event. The aim was not only to celebrate the New Year 5776 but connect with the city, Horwitz said.

“It’s symbolic of the fact that we as Jewish people, the Jewish community are committed to being part of the fabric of the city of Detroit in a symbolic way,” he said.

And for curious passersby who aren’t familiar, the gathering aimed to “educate people about Jewish traditions,” said Neil Cantor, director of Jewish student life for the Hillel of Metro Detroit.

The Tashlich, he said, “is a very important ritual that a lot of people don’t know about. And it’s such a family-friendly ritual. It’s something you can not only do yourself individually, but also with the community. That makes it even more special.”

Dozens of supporters from across Metro Detroit flocked to Hart Plaza for the festivities, which also featured live music — including songs in Hebrew — and food commonly served during the Days of Awe: donuts and apple slices.

Holly Owen and Corey Lague of Southfield, who attended with their two young children, reveled in the scene.

“It’s a great way to bring the community together,” Owen said.