Rosh Hashanah observed with riverside gathering in Northampton

  • During a Rosh Hashanah gathering organized by Circles for Jewish Living at the home of Chris Young in Florence, Monday, guests start by eating apple slices dipped in honey. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Alison Morse, center, who is the director of Circles for Jewish Living, facilitates a gathering for Rosh Hashanah, Monday at the home of Chris Young in Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group of people toss bread into a brook during Tashlich, a Rosh Hashanah ritual, Monday at the home of Chris Young, of Florence. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Participants in a Tashlich ceremony toss bread into the brook in observance of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Monday at the home of Chris Young in Florence. Below, Alison Morse, center, director of Circles for Jewish Living, organizes the gathering. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Guests at a Rosh Hashanah gathering at the Florence home of Chris Young sing together after Tashlich, Monday. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • A group gathered for Rosh Hashanah at the home of Chris Young in Florence walk to a brook for Tashlich, Monday. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 10/3/2016 11:48:17 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Silently descending single file to the edge of the North Branch of the Manhan River, about 40 people completed their journey Monday by tossing pieces of bread into the water, representing the behaviors they wish to get rid of.

Wiping the slate clean is the idea of Tashlich, an element of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year being observed Monday afternoon.

“It’s celebrating the new year and getting to start over and thinking about what you could do differently, and do better,” said Rebecca Busansky of Northampton.

A founding parent of Circles for Jewish Living, an independent and nontraditional organization whose families are mostly unaffiliated with a synagogue, Busansky said she appreciates that people of all ages were together for one of the most important occasions on the Jewish calendar.

“It’s nice to have kids and parents come together for this,” Busansky said.

The two days of Rosh Hashanah are the beginning of the High Holidays for people of the Jewish faith that will be capped Oct. 11 and 12 by Yom Kippur, a more somber day of atonement that includes fasting.

Organized by Alison Morse, founding director of Circles for Jewish Living, Tashlich participants gathered in the back yard of a Westhampton Road home. As they entered the property, each person was encouraged to enjoy a sliced apple and honey. “It’s a greeting for a great new year,” Morse said.

After writing their names on name tags, and starting a bonfire, welcome circles were formed so each person could examine relationships with themselves, with their community and with the source of all life, or God.

Morse thanked people for participating. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Morse said. “You cannot have community unless you show up.”

Then the people gathered around chairs set up on the lawn with signs stating some of the qualities and values they hope to emulate and improve over the course of the year, including compassion, truthfulness, courage, righteousness, care for one’s body and sticking by one’s friends.

Finally, the silent walk began to a spot along the river, and when they heard the shofar, or the traditional horn, bread crumbs could be thrown into the river. This was followed by sing-alongs, including “Down by the Riverside,” performed by David Weidenfeld of Easthampton.

Darius Greenbacher of Northampton, who came with his wife, Alisa, and daughter, Annika, said he enjoyed being outside and connected to nature for the evening.

“It brings these celebrations back into people’s homes and the community in such a personal way,” Greenbacher said

He added that Morse organizes events in such a way that allows people to understand what the holiday means and ensures inclusivity even for those, like himself, who do not practice the Jewish faith.

Annika, 9, said participating in the celebration, as well as the vegetarian potluck that followed, was fun.

“I liked throwing bread crumbs into the river, and then eating good food,” Annika said.

Other area Tashlich events included Congregation B’nai Israel at the Mill River and the Jewish Community of Amherst celebrating at Groff Park.

Second-day Rosh Hashanah services are scheduled Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. at Congregation B’nai Israel in Northampton, while a mountain service for the Jewish Community of Amherst will take place from 9:30 a.m. to noon at Bare Mountain, accessed through the Notch Visitors Center.

Yom Kippur services will take place Oct. 12, with Mincha and Ne’ilah services at 4:30 p.m. at the Jewish Community of Amherst, and at 5 p.m. at Congregation B’nai Israel.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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