Saturday is International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. The day is set aside to remove trash and debris from all beaches and waterways, not just those at the ocean. In the past, my husband and I have participated in this annual event at one of our local beaches, but we will not be collecting trash this year because the day coincides with the observance of Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year. I guess I am used to events coinciding with Jewish holidays but I was pleased to see a note on the website of the California Coastal Commission explaining that unlike Jewish holidays, which roam around the calendar, the cleanup day is always the third Saturday in September. Regrettably, many people who would otherwise participate will not be able to do so this year.
However, that doesn’t mean they can’t pick up trash on the beach at another time. There is always trash on the beach – what it means is that it just won’t be counted. On Cleanup Day, trash collectors keep track of what they collect so that officials can see what kinds of garbage gets into the water. I have counted endless numbers of cigarette butts, plastic bottles, soda cans, candy wrappers, and even old socks. Every year I hope I will find something “interesting” – it’s not that I want to see the trash on the beach, but I want to be able to check off the box that says “Other” and insert the description of a noteworthy piece of garbage in it.
The coincidence of Rosh Hashanah and Cleanup Day make me think of one aspect of our holiday observance, the traditional ritual of Tashlich. For Jews, Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the New Year but it is also the start of a ten-day period of reflection and repentance. Tashlich is a powerful ceremony where we symbolically cast our sins unto the water. Our congregation gathers at Eichelmann Beach, which is one of the beaches I have cleaned in the past, to toss pieces of bread into Lake Michigan to represent our sins. Every year, the seagulls hover around us, too, waiting to take those “sins” away from us.
This year we will be cleaning our souls while my fellow beach lovers are cleaning the beach. Both are noble efforts, and both need to be thought about not just on the third Saturday in September but all year long. The consequences of both sins and trash stick around longer than we care to admit.