When services finally ended around 3:30 (we also did Mincha) on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, I joined a group of ten others to do Tashlich, the ritual, symbolic casting away of our sins into running waters. We played real life Frogger, crossing main roads and train tracks through holes in fences before reaching the Danube River. The Danube threads the border of Buda and Pest, and is probably the most elegant and iconic natural feature of Budapest. Parliament, The Castle, churches, and other remarkable buildings line the shores of the river. Our roundabout path to the waters was a fun little adventure, and performing Tashlich at such a grand location stands in stark contrast to the 20+ times I attended Tashlich at the little stream running through the neighborhood in Deerfield.
The Danube carries with it various historical legacies. One striking one was its complacent role during the Holocaust, accepting human sacrifices into its depths. In the bitter winter of 1944-1945, Jews of Budapest were brought to the Danube and told to march up and down its banks. In horrific fashion, Jews were shot into the river, the running waters turned red like the first plague. The tragic events of that winter have been memorialized with shoes crafted permanently along the river, marking where their owners last planted their feet below their breathing bodies on this earth. Here is an article about the events and the memorial:
While that particular legacy of the Danube had never actively occurred to me yet during my time here--and I cross the river, or at least see it, nearly every day--something struck me about symbolically casting my sins into it. Here is a poem I wrote that seeks to capture my feelings of the experience.
Where I Cast My Sins
Here I humbly stand.
Pockets heavy with the remnants of transgressions.
לא החזיק לעד אפו-He does not maintain His wrath forever
I am human. I believe in a merciful God.
מן המצר קראתי יה-From a place of distress I called to God
God was both my first call and my last.
ה׳ לי, מה אירא-God is with me, from what should I fear?
He joins me in my triumph; He joins me in my suffering.
מה יעשה לי אדם-What can humans do to me?
God is with me as humans drown us both.
ואני אראה בשונאי-And I will see [my enemies fall]
God and I will both have our dignity restored.
These waters forgive me. Or so they claim.
They move onward.
Not cyclically like the round challot we eat.
These waters point to a different process.
They move onward. Away. Towards the horizon.
Never to be seen again.
New water, fresh water
Takes their place.
The water as perpetrator:
You knew what you were capable of.
You feel yourself flowing and expanding.
You have swallowed before, never totally satiated.
The water as bystander:
But maybe you had no choice.
Or chose to stay your course.
Hoping that yesterday will be as tomorrow, life ultimately unchanged.
The water as victim:
They forced you and took advantage of you.
Offering you sacrifices you didn't ask for.
A strange fire consumes the holy altar.
The water as forgiver:
Years later, you swallow my sins.
Bread tastes better; a more welcome sacrifice.
You understand that everyone errs on the side of evil sometimes.
The water as forgiven:
You try and run away, but you are forever running in place.
But I understand you, and I urge you that it is ok.
Everyone errs on the side of evil sometimes.
לא ירעו ולא ישחיתו בכל הר קדשי כי מלאה הארץ דעה את ה׳ כמים לים מכסים
They shall do no evil and shall not destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of God, as the waters cover the sea.