In October, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, the Keys Jewish Community Center (KJCC) decided to mix tradition up with a local mangrove cleanup.

Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year and the first of the Jewish High Holy Days. It’s a period of deep introspection and repentance often accompanied by a Tashlich service, or ritual “casting off” of sins. During this tradition, Jews throw pieces of bread and other foods into a body of flowing water to symbolically shed their sins from the previous year.

Josh Keller
Josh Keller holds up a mass of rope the group pulled out from the mangroves. “I love being able to continue my passion for environmental conservation through a lens of Jewish moral values,” said Keller. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

This year, to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, KJCC joined forces with the Hillels of the Florida Suncoast and Scubi Jew for a “Reverse Tashlich.” Rather than casting their sins into water, participants remove “human sins” from the water by cleaning up local waterfronts.

Reverse Tashlich was invented by students at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg four years ago. One of those students, Josh Keller, is now an intern at Rainbow Reef.

“There’s a normal Jewish tradition of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ or repairing the world through mitzvahs,” Keller said “A mitzvah is a good deed, and involves honor and privilege. Today, we’re doing ‘Tikkun HaYam,’ or repairing the sea, by cleaning up our sins and trash from the water.”

Susan Gordon, who headed up the KJCC cleanup efforts, said, “Today is a ‘double mitzvah,’ because we’re helping a member and cleaning the seas.”

KJCC selected Donna and Bill Bolton’s waterfront as their cleanup location because both Boltons were recovering from health issues that made it impossible for them to clean up their mangroves personally. Since the Reverse Tashlich is designed to bring the community together for Tikkun Olam or Tikkun HaYam, KJCC leadership saw no better way than to help a member and the environment at the same time, Gordon said.

Donna Bolton sat amazed as the community rallied to help her.

“This is where the ocean came in from the hurricane,” she said. “That’s why there’s so much trash. Now look … it’s clean. This is absolutely wonderful.”

Scouts Adrian Peterson and Tommy Cheung from Troop 912 of Tavernier joined the clean-up. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

Grateful, Bolton said, “I haven’t been able to do anything, so I had no idea there was this much trash here or that so many people would show up to help.”

Boy Scout Troop 912 of Tavernier joined the cleanup effort. “We’re just helping the environment and doing community service,” said Adrian Peterson, 14. Scout Tommy Cheung, 13, said it wasn’t for a badge. “We just want to help,” he said.

KJCC member Gloria Avner said, “These kids are having the best time doing a great thing. Today is all about taking inventory of who you are and making a commitment to improve.” Looking at the collected trash, she concluded, “What a great day for everyone.”

Josh Keller of the Hillels of the Florida Suncoast and Scubi Jew, Susan Gordon of KJCC, and Ari Poholek of Troop 912 pose together. The three organizations joined forces to clean up a local waterfront to celebrate the Jewish holiday Rosh Hashanah. TIFFANY DUONG/Keys Weekly

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