Tashlich is the Jewish tradition of throwing bread into water to symbolize casting off one’s sins, Cantor Norman tells us. He hands the class biodegradable packing peanuts for our tashlich and we hike down to the stream. What sins could a third grader be absolved of? As I toss them into the water, I scour my mind for apologies. The peanuts bob away down the stream, catching on rocks and branches. I would continue to feel their weight in my pocket years later.
My peripheral vision is a warm, dark sea. My eyes focus on the hazy colors above me, which whirl gracefully into cherubs and painted flowers. A soft structure supports me under my legs and head. I am gently rocked, suspended in an amniotic cradle. My consciousness returns to me slowly. Lazily picking up my head, I see my grandmother’s face above me. I have fallen asleep in her arms, a child held lovingly in the JCC pool.
My father and I do not say “I love you.” Instead, he tells me to drink water. Although necessary to manage my chronic illness, drinking water has always been difficult for me. This is one of the few things my father and I talk about; please don’t tell him that I secretly welcome his badgering. Some days, a reproachful text will come, asking about the color of my urine. Today, I think my father is trying to empower me: “You are, barring endurance athletes, one of the people who actually needs to focus on regular daily hydration -- to maintain baseline health and function. Set goals, set phone appts etc. See what that does.”
I lean my head back and wave my arms back and forth across the surface, marveling at the bizarre buoyancy. My sister and I are the only living creatures for 233.6 square miles. Cradled by the world’s strangest body of water, we are water bugs suspended on a pond. We giggle at the sheer possibility that water can behave like this. A drop of salty sea enters the cut on my finger and I yelp in pain, not knowing that the wound would disappear by the time we got out. When we rise from the Dead Sea I still feel held, like when you step off a boat and feel the rocking.
My best friend and I go swimming in the night. To coax me into the freezing water, she tells me that entering the pool will be my tashlich. I immediately wade into the eerie spring, illuminated from below with yellow-green light. I have more sins to cast off now. The glowing water creeps up my white stomach, turning my toes purple and absolving me. I dunk my head.
Aliza Haskal is a 22-year old English student in Virginia. She recently won a University Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Haskal is also looking forward to publications in The Spectre Review and Diphthong Lit. More writing can be found on her blog: https://alizahaskal.wixsite.com/theobsoleteplace.