Tossing Sins and Giving Thanks

There was a wee little fish there too, but can’t be seen in this photo

This week was Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year (actually one of the 4 Jewish new years, but that’s a different post). Traditionally in the afternoon of the first day Jews will go down to a body of flowing water and perform the Tashlich ceremony. This is one of those fascinating customs that (most likely) grew out of superstition and pagan beliefs but became adopted and clothed in religious ceremony over time. There are many very interesting and, in my opinion, satisfying explanations for why we throw bread, why it should be running water, why there should be fish, but basically that’s all it is: we throw bread crumbs into the flowing water, symbolically casting off our sins. If only it were that easy, right?

there go my sins, floating away in the form of stale sourdough bread 🙂

Our congregation typically meets at one of the 2 parks in town, at the boat dock. This year that park was trashed by Ida and was still closed to the public by Rosh Hashanah. The congregational gathering was moved to a different town, different park, different water. Tashlich does not require a minyan – a specified number of participants – so I decided to walk down to the brook to do Tashlich. The brook is about 3 blocks from my house – and DOWN the hill thankfully.

With a little bit of storm garbage for poignancy

I grew up in this town and have seen many many changes. I used to walk down to the brook with a friend and we would go exploring. We could walk for blocks along the brook – ducking through the culverts under bridges, looking at the little fish, and in general having a good youthful time. Then more and more lots got developed, people got crankier and more possessive, and not only was access to the brook getting harder (my classmate Bobby’s family built their house on OUR access way) but the people who lived along the brook got hostile and nasty about kids walking on by. In short, it is much harder these days to get down to the brook to meander. There are still a few paths and the brook is usually only a matter of inches deep, not treacherous at all.

A typical pile of refuse from Ida

My good friends live in a house next to the brook. Either they or the previous owners – also friends of ours – sued Amtrak and NJ Transit because they owned the culverts and were NOT keeping them clear. That meant a heavy rain would back up the brook and flood the houses on both sides along the brook. The lawsuit was successful and the culverts ARE kept clear. They didn’t really help this storm, however. There was so much water that it was not necessarily a matter of the brook flooding. It was the river of rainwater flowing down the hill into the low lying houses. It was the underground streams so saturated that no more water could be absorbed. It was the rain pouring through windows and floors and walls into everyone’s basements. It was 30″+ of water on the FIRST floor of their house. That means not only do you lose your rugs, your furniture, your food (the refrigerator has less than 30″ clearance) but your electrical system is gone (water pouring through your outlets). Probably your plumbing is damaged severely as well, plus your hot water, furnace, laundry.

What it looks like when you need to empty your home

After Tashlich I walked about, unburdened for the moment by sins, but carrying a load of regret for all of my neighbors whose lives were left out on the curb, soggy, sodden messes. I’m very thankful that we had almost no water in our basement. Thankful that although my friends may have lost so much of their home and belongings, they are alive and well. The brook looks so peaceful and calm today. It’s so hard to imagine the raging merciless torrents of water of last week.

End of Grant, for those who know what that means

After the Flood

The river used to stop on the far side of those trees.

Unlike all too many of our fellow New Jerseyans, we were relatively unscathed by Ida. We had several moments of worry as we listened to the report of a possible tornado heading up the road towards us, but it evaporated about 8 miles south of town. Other than that all we had was a bit of water in one area of the basement.

There used to be land where now there are tree shadows

The water in the basement was a bit surprising. After Irene in 2011, when we lost the carpeting, some furniture, and other ‘stuff’ that had been on the floor, I did some serious re-organizing down there. Anything that can be up on blocks is up on 2″ blocks. Anything that can be stored in plastic bins is stored in plastic bins. I try to be mindful of ‘flooding floor’ whenever I move anything to the basement. If it’s not waterproof, it needs to be up. The exceptions of course are all the major appliances down there: washer, dryer, refrigerator, treadmill. There are so many underground streams here that I know that I’ll never banish completely the threat of water inside.

Don’t drive through flooded streets, especially not when that road is spanning the brook.

When I went to check on the basement Wednesday night, and found the water, I noticed I’d gotten careless and there were non-waterproof items directly on the floor. I picked them up and checked the other parts of the basement. We have French drains in the basement AND a sump pump. After Irene we also have a generator to keep the sump pump going should the power fail. I’m not sure why we got water this time. Either the pump couldn’t keep up (we got 8 inches of rain) or there is a weak spot over there, but I won’t know until I go down there and start moving everything out of that corner. Nothing there should have any damage – all on blocks or in plastic or is waterproof itself. I’ve had 3 fans going down there since Wednesday night. I’ll need to schedule some time to do major furniture movement and disinfecting the floor.

I count myself extremely fortunate, however. My next-door neighbors had standing water in their basement. I saw they had plastic floor tiles out drying in the sun yesterday. Some of my neighbors made poor choices while driving Wednesday night. NEVER go through standing water ESPECIALLY when the water is on a bridge that spans a brook. People all over town reported flooded basements and damaged property. We were spared the tornadoes that ripped up other parts of the state. There was a sink hole at the apartments on the far side of the railroad tracks. I believe that many many years ago there was a pond there. Back in the spring I was caught in a major thunderstorm. The water pouring down that hill and across the road was intimidating. A sink hole opening up at the top of that hill does not surprise me.

Can’t get there from here

The climate is changing and I’ll need to revisit my precautions. But all in all, a few road closures, some damp items, some flooded flower pots, are minor inconveniences. My friend Honour posted about the “roar” of the fish in the river. Here I share the roar of the river itself.