By Colleen Flaherty
Killeen Daily Herald
It's just September, but local followers of the Noahide faith recently cast away old sins and rang in a new year with a ceremony along the Brazos River in Waco.
The experience was a "reality check," said Noahide Gloria Culver, 68, of Killeen.
"It was a very serious time for me," she said. "It just gave you a chance to really look at what you had done and who you really are and what you could be."
Culver, who was raised as a Baptist and has been a Noahide for eight years, was one of 35 area Noahides to participate in the ceremony, called Tashlich.
Taken from the Hebrew word for "cast off," Tashlich took place Sept. 9, the first day of the new Hebrew calendar. Noahides, who are not Jewish but follow the Jewish calendar and scriptures and study under rabbis, view the Jewish new year, or Rosh Hashanah, as a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for Yom Kippur, or the day of atonement, which took place 10 days later on Sept. 18.
The Noahides' journey toward Tashlich began a month earlier, said Killeen Noahide Glenn Magnusson, 55, who was raised as a Christian and became a Noahide 10 years ago.
"Through the whole previous month of Elul, the Jewish month that preceded this month," he said, "you begin to concentrate on repentance."
The actual Tashlich ceremony, he said, "is a chance to get out there and symbolically connect with HaShem."
HaShem is the Hebrew word for "the name," which Jews and Noahides sometimes use to refer to God.
For the Tashlich ceremony, which Jews may also perform, Magnusson and other Noahides from Central Texas and Dallas met on the banks of Brazos to repent together. One follower blew into a shofar, or ram's horn, while several others said special prayers and named God's 13 merciful attributes. Finally, the group symbolically cast off their past sins in the form of bread crumbs.
"We have little bags of crumbs, and we just take those and go off by ourselves," Culver said. "Everyone has the time they need to just have time with God."
The running water symbolizes the wisdom needed to correct one's actions over the next year, said Noahide Ray Pettersen, 58, of Dallas.
A Noahide's duty between Tashlich and Yom Kippur, said Pettersen, who founded the website noahidenations.com, is to repent in one's heart and pray for awareness of sins one may not even know he or she has committed.
"You're constantly pondering God in yourself," he said. "He'll show you all the things you need to improve upon."
Though the holy period is meant for serious reflection, the overall feeling is one of hope, especially during the Tashlich ceremony, Pettersen said.
"It's mercy that allows us to seek forgiveness," he said. "God genuinely would like for us to change and correct ourselves for the coming year."
After the ceremony, the group of celebrants crossed the river and ate a specially prepared dinner at a local restaurant, tasting foods that symbolize the seven Noahide laws that God gave Noah, Pettersen said.
Those laws prohibit idolatry, adultery, murder, theft, blasphemy, and the consumption of the flesh of a living animal, and command Noahides to establish courts of justice.
Figs, for example, represent the law against theft, Culver said, while mango represents the law against idolatry.
Rabbis wrote special blessings for the group, said Culver, who was drawn to the Noahide faith due to her interest in the Judaic roots of Christianity.
"It's really what in our heart of hearts we always believed but could never define," she said.
Noahides are "true oxymorons," Magnusson said. "I'm a Jewish gentile."
Contact Colleen Flaherty at email@example.com or (254) 501-7559. Follow her on Twitter at KDHfeatures.