On Yom Kippur, Tea Instead of Bread

[This post appeared originally on PolicyMic.]

Today is Yom Kippur, and I just did tashlich with tea.

Let’s not talk about why I’m drinking tea on a day of fasting (I happen to be coming down with a cough), or why I’m doing tashlich at the last possible minute (because I’m forgetful and lazy), or why I’m doing tashlich with tea instead of bread (again, forgetful, and I happened to be walking along the river drinking tea).

The point is, I finally did tashlich.

Tashlich is a beautiful tradition in which we tear up pieces of bread, throw them into flowing water, and repent our sins; one torn piece of bread, one sin. It is supposed to be performed during the Days of Awe, the just-over-a-week nestled between the High Holidays Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

As a kid, I would tear my bread into a few pieces to appease the Hebrew School teachers, throw most into the Raritan River (sorry, little sister), and shove the rest in my mouth. As I got older and stopped going to synagogue every week, which bizarrely coincided with my Bat Mitzvah, I haven’t stopped performing tashlich, no matter the inconvenience.

When studying abroad in Jordan I waited an extra week out of both necessity, it being a desert and all, and profundity, as we were going on a trip to the Jordan River. In college I would tuck a prayer book into my bag and wake up early to go down to the Schuylkill before class. I’ve even left synagogue early during High Holiday services in order to make it back home in time for high tide. Today I used tea instead of bread, determined to perform this ritual before sundown and time ran out.

Tashlich is one of the only traditions in Judaism that I feel is of critical importance for my own Jewish identity. In the Judaism I grew up with, there are communal rules or traditions, but in the end, each person’s learned interpretation of these is correct. I am religious in my own way, observant in my own way, spiritual in my own way, and I practice in my own way, vaguely guided by the lessons of my youth. Religion might have become obsolete for many of us in our twenties, but it doesn’t have to be: the way I practice and identify with Judaism has morphed to complement my secular life choices, not the other way around.

I usually forget religion exists at all. I don’t feel or think about being Jewish, really, until the holidays when I look around and realize I am the only one, all alone, so far outside my home planet where everyone does tashlich and whines and (mostly) fasts. It is this need to be a part of some amorphous far-away community that makes me so desperate to repent for my sins I perform this sacred rite with Earl Grey on my way home from the coffee shop (next to a pizza parlor, insult to injury, I tell you) where I was drinking the tea and writing the next few installments of my Abortion Watch series and dreaming about the seriously un-Kosher Break Fast I intend to have in a few hours.

I almost passed the creek on the walk home, actually, but generations of Jewish guilt instantaneously clouded over my head and I stopped. I can’t not do it. The water’s right here. Tea, bread, what’s the difference? I have to do it.

Do I believe throwing pieces of bread (or drops of tea), symbolically endowed with my sins, into flowing water are going to earn me any points come Judgement Day? Do I even believe in Judgement Day? Do I believe I’ll be washed clean, inscribed in the Book of Life? Do I think God is listening, that he/she is going to forgive me, or that those whom I’ve wronged are going to magically forgive my multitudinous, egregious sins against them and society?

Probably not, but that’s not the point. Asking forgiveness, however it is done, is fundamentally self-reflection and encourages us, on our own terms and held accountable only to ourselves (or God, I guess), to be better next year. In the end, being a better person is the whole point, whether the endgame is to be written in the Book of Life, to reach heaven, to experience salvation, or to attain Enlightenment.

As I was dribbling my lukewarm tea into a creek in the mountains of Colorado, I asked forgiveness for sins against my community: for not speaking up for what’s right, for being apathetic, for believing in futility. I asked forgiveness for sins against myself: for not living up to potential or expectations, for being dishonest with myself, for being afraid of failure. Maybe next year.

Beertime.

A new brewery and two new beers have appeared at the local pub (conveniently called The Pub).

Upslope began distributing this past fall and has just gotten over the Divide into Winter Park. One of my options was an IPA: not my style, so I went with the Craft Lager. Just a hint of hops, but a very basic lager-type beer. Certainly drinkable, but not highly differentiable from its like-colored-brothers. Well, at least it’s a break from the 1554 I’ve been drinking all week (one of my all-time favorite anytime beers).

LIFE, LIBERTY, and my PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Colorado has large mountains and they are very beautiful. Skiing is very fun and it makes you feel good about yourself when you do things like go down double black chutes without dying, or ski better than Dan (granted, sometimes he telemarks). However, chairlift conversations can be lacking in intellectual substance, which quickly becomes stifling and/or regressive to one’s own mental capacity. Everything is a tradeoff, I suppose.

Still, subsisting on sub-par levels of O2 makes a girl realize a few things about the world, humanity, and herself.

THE WORLD

The world is big, and sometimes it falls on your head. This is not recommended. Sometimes your head falls on the world, though this is not recommended either, as it causes headaches, and in extreme cases, concusses you.

Going down is easier than going up, but that makes it scary because it is fast. Slowing down is also very difficult. For a non-strenuous interaction with the world, we recommend going horizontal.

The sun is strong when the atmosphere is thin. This means your face will hurt if you are not adequately prepared.

Heavy, wet snow is less gnarly for shredding, but it is much better for staving off dehydration as it actually melts into water droplets.

HUMANITY

On a chair lift, even Winston Churchill would be reduced to speaking in the following manner: “Dude, I totally f*cked up my skis in those trees on that last run. I’ve got like this mega core shot.” “Dude, I don’t know, those trees were sick.” “Dude, did you see that skittle just take a total face shot and yard sale?” “Dude, check out those gapers.” “Dude, I caught so much air on that jump.” “Dude, you should check out ____, it’s totally untracked. Freshies!” “Dude, this pow is gnar. I’mma shred it so hard.”

Speaking like this is natural and encouraged in this environment. Other acceptable topics include how much PBR you drank last night, how much weed you smoked in the hut between the Haul brothers/how much weed you are going to smoke in the hut between the Haul brothers, reveling in the amount of powder, bemoaning the lack of powder, how much PBR you’re going to drink as soon as you get down to the base (or to a hut, or on the lift), “grumbling” about gouges/scrapes in your skis/snowboard but really just showing off how badass you are, and general overuse of the words “dude,” “like,” “gnar,” “shred,” “pow,” and any and all curse/swear words. (Mom: you should bring your jar to Colorado. You’d be rich.)

Conversations about politics, world affairs, government, current events, religion, culture, movies (unless related to skiing and/or that one about the kids who get stuck on a chairlift and are subsequently eaten by wolves), music (unless telling people what you’re rocking out to but only if they ask), food (except when referring to pizza as ‘za and as long as you simultaneously mention how much PBR you are going to drink with it), work, Texas (unless you’re making fun of gaper Texans), and generally anything suggestive of an IQ above, say, 90.

MYSELF

I do NOT want to be the kind of person who “goes on vacation.” Going on vacation is hard. It is a chore. You have you ask your boss, and then you have to plan it, and then you have to stress out about it, and then you have to pack, and then you have to sit on a plane with other crazies who are “going on vacation” and are ridiculously stressed out about it. (Oh, you have to gate check that steamer trunk? Maybe you should have thought twice before bringing three blow-dryers and your entire collection of Barbie dolls.) The worst is knowing that a “vacation” is invetiably going to come to an end.

I much prefer “going away.” It is indefinite, glamorous, and romantic. People with the last name Hepburn probably “go away,” to Europe or South America or other formerly exotic locations. Yes, I am going away to the mountains, to Colorado, no I do not know when or even if I shall return, so sayonara, that means good bye, until next time…

Yet still people insist on wishing me a “nice” or “good” “vacation.” Oooh and it makes my toes curl; not in the good way. Me? Someone who goes on vacation? Why, that’s simply impossible. I’m a rebel! A renegade! A revolutionary! I do not do such commonplace things as vacation. People who go on vacation have jobs and apartments and boring, real people lives. They have sick days limiting how much they can be sick, and vacation days, dictating how often and for how long they can disappear.

But me, on vacation? I must have lost my magic! I am no longer interesting or unique; I am a sheep, one of the masses! I have forsaken my spirit, my individuality, by inadvertently wandering wayward onto the path which deigns to allow me such lofty privileges as to “go on vacation” one week at a time for the rest of my life. I am just like everyone else, and that makes me sad.

On the Road to Nowhere

When I woke up this morning I had in my head the idea to go on a grand adventure. Where to? Why, into the wild, of course! Several topographic maps and a cup of coffee later I was out the door with naught but hiking boots, a pair of jeans, my camera, and a couple of layers for warmth (the thermometer did read 40).

By my not-so-expert reading of the topographic maps, I could essentially walk straight up the road, and keep going, and keep going, and I would somehow or another reach the top of the continental divide. Quite the ambitious plan for it already being 10:30 am, but what the hey, not much else to do. To avoid being stuck in the woods forever with nothing but a Sigg full of water and some dried fruit (and a headlamp, just in case), I gave myself the turn-around time of 1 pm. If I couldn’t reach the divide by 1, I’d turn around. At least I’ll have had a nice long walk.

Two hours later, after much trudging through the fresh snow of the last three days on Forest Service roads (thank god for Smartwool), I reached the Vasquez Peak trail head and the entrance to the Vasquez Peak Wilderness Area. Further exploration would have eventually led me to my goal, but it was almost one and I was hungry. I turned around, leaving the peak to be conquered another time. Possibly with snowshoes. And definitely with food.

Sometimes, I guess, you don’t know what your destination is until you get there.

Total elevation gain: Almost 2000 ft.
Total time: 4 hours
Total distance: I have no idea, I was walking through snowy woods.

A Misguided Rainstorm

“And in Winter Park today, 34 degrees and sunny.”

Then what’s all this white stuff coming down from the sky? Did the sun turn into particles and is collapsing to Earth? Is it opposite day? Is this about relativity, like it’s sunny here compared to, say, a hurricane? Because that’s certainly true. Thirty four is no lie – these sun particle flakes are fat and wet and cushy and the roads are clean, if wet. But I’ve yet to see the clear blue sky and ball of flaming gas and mountains on the not-so-distant horizon.

These poor rainclouds, they think they’re going to be spitting rain every once in a while and then moving on but “oh no, we can’t have that,” says the Continental Divide. “Your rain will turn to snow and we will trap you here for days and days on end.” It’s very Winnie the Pooh and he’s just a little black raincloud.

Good Day Sunshine

Waiting for the bus this morning, the product of a cloudless night, I was freezing. Six hours later when I left work (Hallelujah!) at 1:30, I could walk around in a t-shirt. The bus ride home was flooded with daydreams of the epic mason jar beverage I would consume upon arrival at my home while sitting outside soaking up some long-awaited Vitamin D.

Aviators, iPod, nail polish, bathing suit, and a mason jar filled with a delicious blend of juices, soda, frozen fruit (we are out of ice, sadly), and the rest of a bottle of Goslings accompanied me for my three and a half hours of no-atmosphere Colorado winter sun. Yes, a bathing suit. Yes, I have a sunburn. Yes, it was awesome. No Mom, I don’t have any sunscreen.

Hey, if you can’t ski…

When Worlds Collide

I went into the little gourmet food store around the corner from my house just to see what they had, and to my amazement a dazzling array of Stonewall Kitchen goods met my eyes. Jams, sauces, jellies, mixes, and mustards were scattered throughout a collection of delicacies originating all over the world and the country, but it was the Stonewall Kitchen products which threw me for a loop. I associate Stonewall with the Old Port, with free snacking while wandering downtown, in a word, with home. To see a jar of Wild Maine Blueberry Jam tucked onto a bottom shelf alongside apple and pumpkin butters from Colorado and Italian fruit sauces seemed supremely out of place. Wild Maine Blueberry Jam (personal feelings on wild Maine blueberries aside, DAD) is a hallmark of summers in Maine. Our blueberries are like our lobster and our moose; world famous, probably overrated, but the underlying reasons for many Mainers’ livelihoods nonetheless. While it is an honor (and a feat of Stonewall’s marketing, I’m sure) to Maine that its blueberries are so well renowned, it is an affront to my own philosophies on eating and to my escape from Maine to see jars of Maine jam on a shelf in a tiny gourmet food shop in the middle of nowhere in Colorado in December. It just seems absurd to me to buy Maine blueberry jam out here. Colorado should have their own fruit to make a jam out of. Leave the blueberries to us Mainers, and let me live my new life in peace without such interjections from the old.

On the brighter side, I did buy my first cookbook out here: The Bread Bible. (There are two of them…this now means I’ll have to get the other also.) I’m psyched – if only I hadn’t just used the last of my flour on the loaf I made earlier.