The following short fiction by Ezra Lebovitz ’18 won 3rd Place in the 2016 Johns Hopkins Creative Minds Fiction Contest and was published in the magazine IMAGINE. The judges said of his work: “Much goes unsaid between the brother and sister at the heart of this story, but the writer does an excellent job of suggesting a much larger shared history. The sister, we learn, has been away for a number of years, and the brother wrestles with feelings of abandonment. The central question here—and an interesting one—is whether the ritual they’re enacting together will allow them, in effect, to start fresh.”
In addition, Ezra’s writing earned a Scholastic National Gold Medal for Poetry, a “Judge’s Choice” distinction in the 2017 NJ Youth Poet Laureate Contest, Honorable Mention in Rider University’s 37th Annual High School Writing Contest, and a 2016 NJCTE Bronze Medal for Poetry. Ezra is a freshman at Harvard University where he continues to hone his writing talents.
“Tashlich (תשליך) is a ritual that many Jews observe during Rosh HaShanah. “Tashlich” means “casting off” in Hebrew and involves symbolically casting off the sins of the previous year by tossing pieces of bread or another food into a body of flowing water. Just as the water carries away the bits of bread, so too are sins symbolically carried away. In this way the participant hopes to start the New Year with a clean slate.”
We go down to the water on a Tuesday, when the sky is a taut-skin smile and the grass is cracked.
“The Boston River is an unwieldy thing,” my older sister reminds me while we walk. “Hanan, don’t grab at the currents. I know you want to, but they’re powerful.”
I don’t want to go through the delicacies of telling her that she gave me this speech back when I was thirteen and that I’ve taught myself how to do tashlich since then, so I just nod quietly and that seems to satiate her.
“Do you have the bread?” she asks and I hold the bag up for her inspection. She nods– it’s met her standards and I can see her shoulders unclench.
“You did a good job,” she says, awkwardly mussing my dark hair. I shrug her off, too busy watching the way the headlights and sunsets dapple the street as we make our way down Fairmount Street. There’s something decidedly urban about city rivers, I think, but I like them anyway. I like peering off gated bridges and even more than that, I like knowing that I have the power to stop myself from falling. There are bridges in Eastern Europe, but they aren’t built like this, built like deconstructed ash.
I wonder what kind of bridges my sister prefers.
I’m still thinking about the interlock of chain fences when a car brushes past us, indelicate.
My sister bites her lip. “So, Dad tells me you’re thinking about Northeastern?”
It’s Tufts, not Northeastern, but I don’t see the point in telling her. I shrug an affirmation instead.
“It’s a good school,” she says. She looks at me, eyes tentative, and holds out her hand for a high-five, adding, “Turns out the Franklin kids really are smart, huh?”
She wants me to, so I high five her. Her hands are cold, and I wonder if she’s getting enough iron. She’s been off finding herself in Kosovo (which isn’t even a real country anyway) for two years, and they don’t have enough iron there. Probably, at least.
Just as the sun slips just below the horizon, we reach the bridge, lined with industrial chain-link fences and highway signs. Something sinks in my stomach, like the Boston river is reaching up and winding itself around my veins. It’s like drowning from the inside out.
The thing about tashlich is I have to acknowledge your sins– this slice of bread for every lie I told, this piece for every unkindness.
I don’t want to think about that.
I’m pretty sure my sister doesn’t either, because when she turns back to me from the precipice of the sidewalk, she seems almost vulnerable. Almost.
“Hanan,” she starts, like there’s something she’s trying to say.
I want to say something.
I want to ask her how she could just up and run away, how she could fly out to the wreck of a barely nation. I want to ask her where she’s been when I had sins to forgive, what it felt like to walk out of our house and not know if she was coming back, where she went for tashlich, why she left me.
But I don’t.
I don’t say anything. I just swallow, hard, and the words tumble back from the tip of my tongue to the pit of my throat and they’re acidic, like vomiting in reverse.
She reaches her hand out to me, palm splayed open and pale to the sky, veins stretched so tightly they might snap.
“Can I have some?” she asks. “To throw away?”
I press a piece of bread into it, and I think I almost touch her skin.
 “What Is Tashlich?” About.com Religion & Spirituality. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.
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