"Of course," I said. It made perfect sense.
When the day arrived, we drove to meet their family down by the neighborhood lake. In the privacy of our own car, I tried to explain the ceremony to my family and begged them (particularly Max and Ryan) to refrain from silliness, to try and be thoughtful and respectful. After all, I explained, it isn't every day we celebrate the Jewish new year.
We went down to the lake and stood on a small bridge; it was important to find a spot where the water was moving. Nancy explained the tradition to us: the new year is about seeking forgiveness from those we have hurt or offended, giving up our sins, and promising God a new and improved version of ourselves in the coming year. We then break pieces of bread and toss them into the water, giving each one the name of a sin we pledge to forsake this year. The water then carries them away. Kind of a beautiful thought, huh?
Before we got started, Nancy turned to me and said, "The most important part of this tradition is the part where we ask forgiveness from others. So, I'm sorry if I've been a pain in the ass to you at any point over the last year."
I laughed. "Likewise," I said.
We turned and faced the water. Nancy tore a piece of bread and threw it as she exclaimed, "Impatience!"
I was still holding my piece of bread, trying to decide how to organize my sins--alphabetically? Or in order of most grievous?
"Impatience! Impatience! Impatience! Impatience!" she rattled off, a small tear of bread for each one.
I already felt behind. I tore a piece and tossed it. "Financial stupidity," I said.
"Good one," Nancy said. "I'm going to use that one too. Financial stupidity!" She threw another piece in.
And then it was as if the floodgates opened, the sins lined up in orderly rows for each of us, anxious to be announced and airborne. We all stood there, tossing our sins over the edge, one after another after another, and watched them pool in the slow-moving water below.
"My temper," someone said.
"Expecting too much of others," said someone else.
"Breaking someone's toy," said a voice that sounded like Max.
"Jumping to conclusions."
"Not being present."
"Making a big deal out of small things."
"Not doing things the first time I'm asked."
"Not taking enough time for my spirituality."
"Being too hard on myself."
"Being too hard on others."
"Fighting with my sister."
"Making fun of my brother."
"Hitting my sister with a piece of bread." (Those Jews are hilarious.)
"Not reaching for my potential."
"Hurting other's feelings."
"Being too sarcastic."
"Wanting what I don't have."
"Obsessing about things I want."
"Not enough exercise."
"Not listening to my kids." (I think this one got an "Amen.")
The lists went on.
Sometime around the point when my piece of bread was nearing vanish, Max came next to me, urgent to get another piece of bread. He hadn't been standing by me, and I hadn't been paying close attention to him. I was too caught up in casting away my many sins, I guess. He took a stale roll and tore a piece. He flung it out into the water and yelled, "Recycle!" and then tore another piece and shouted, "Be good at school and don't get in trouble for talking too loud."
I watched him out of the corner of my eye as he tossed piece after piece, shouting each statement with gusto.
"Love Jesus!" (This made the Jews laugh.)
"Be nice to America!"
"Don't yell at your mom!"
"When you meet a new kid, go up and say, 'Hi! What's your name?'"
"Don't lock your bedroom door ever again!" (His only real sin of the day. I'd spent an hour dissecting his doorknob.)
"Don't break your brother's toys!"
"Be nice to Barack Obama!" (I guess he's been reading my mom's emails.)
"Eat good food for your body!"
"Love someone in the heart!" (That's the maximum amount of love, according to him.)
He went on and on, until the stale little roll was gone and a scatter of little crumbs sat at his feet. I was wearing sunglasses; they hid my big, fat tears. I hadn't expected him, a six-year-old, to be so.....introspective. He seemed to be so careful and thoughtful about this, and his observations were so universal. I should have thrown another piece of bread and said, "Not giving Max enough credit."
But all the bread was gone.
We stood around for a few minutes. We thanked them for inviting us and walked back to our cars. I felt a little lighter, a little sober, more committed to a better new year. I looked at myself, my husband, my children, my friends, with new eyes. I thanked God for an unexpected spiritual moment.
And as our bread crumbs slowly made their way down the stream to disintegrate and dissolve into the memories of last year, we continued our celebration of Rosh Hashanah by going out for Chinese food all together. It made perfect sense.