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Oct 6 2011

Why I Fast

By at 9:40 am

mayim bialik why i fast

Several articles have been posted in the past week discussing the Jewish New Year, with a few focusing specifically on the issue of fasting for Yom Kippur. Many people don’t like the concept of fasting, and many people don’t see any religious or spiritual value in fasting. I happen to be a person who likes the concept, and who sees and reaps a tremendous amount of religious and spiritual value from fasting. I also have fasted throughout two pregnancies and through nursing babies and toddlers on demand all day and all night.

Am I better than you for fasting while nursing and pregnant? No. Do I work hard to accomplish this? Yes. Here’s why I put in the effort:

1) Fasting is an important religious and spiritual exercise. Fasting and “afflicting ourselves” on Yom Kippur is described in the Torah, which is my personal guidebook for life. I have made a commitment to find a way to apply the wisdom of thousands of years of history and tradition to modern life and it works for me.  Praying, singing, chanting, meditating, and spending time away from work and cell phones and cars and electronics is what we Jews have the opportunity to do every week on Shabbat. On Yom Kippur, doing these things while fasting takes it to a different and much more intense level. As it should be: this is the day our year is, in part, determined. It’s a heavy day and fasting sets it apart as intense and meaningful in a special way.

2) Fasting is symbolically important. By peeling away the material parts of our existence through refraining from the sustenance we live by daily, we get to see what’s left over. Without the rhythms of meals, what drives my day? Without snacks to keep my hands busy or to calm my anxiety, what can I do? Look what we think we need, and look what we literally can go without.

3) Fasting makes us angelic. Last Yom Kippur, as the 25th hour of fasting was coming to a close and we were all exhausted and starving and ready to go home, our rabbi said with a huge smile on his face, “I wish this didn’t have to end.” And through my exhaustion and hunger, I felt it too. There is a “high” you get when focusing so much on fasting and praying and just being in your head. Fasting makes us like the angels, they say. We make ourselves literally “above” the need for mortal sustenance. On Yom Kippur, we draw near to a different way of existence and it’s heavenly. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 5 2011

I’m Not Fasting on Yom Kippur, Either

By at 1:41 pm

Ok fine, I'll skip the ice cream.

For the past four years, I’ve either been pregnant or nursing on Yom Kippur, so I got a pass on the whole fasting thing. Yes, I was that super classy pregnant woman waddling her way out of services every couple of hours so I could hide behind the building and scarf down my nuts and cheese and take long, satisfying gulps from the water bottle I had hidden in my purse. It felt so wrong, and yet so, so right.

But this year is different. I’m not knocked up and I haven’t needed a nipple pad in months. (Can I get a Hallelujah here, people?) But the joy of having my body back is somewhat tempered by the Big YK. I’m supposed to fast this year.

And I’m not going to.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be chowing down on pasta or burgers, and I’ll summon the willpower to steer clear of the coffee maker and the Chunky Monkey. But I will be snacking from time to time, and I’m not going to feel guilty about it. Probably not.

The thing is, I’m a crappy faster. Within a few hours of my last meal or sip of water, I get grumpy and snappy, and by mid-afternoon, I’m downright bitchy. I lose patience and composure, and my problem-solving skills pretty much disappear. I can generally make it through the day when all I have to do is sit alone in contemplation. But this year I’ll be running around with a husband who fasts (and cooks while fasting) with a smile on his face, and a preschooler and a toddler who will be eating every two or three hours. You can imagine how well that’ll go for all of us. Read the rest of this entry →

Is it Too Hard to Fast with a Baby?

By at 9:13 am

Shana tova! Now that we are stuffed silly with apples and honey, it’s time to push through that sugar high and think somber as we prepare for the Yom Kippur fast.

I’m not the most observant Jew who has ever lived, but I do adhere to the traditions of the High Holidays. I also have my own tradition and that is to come home from Kol Nidre services as hungry as if I had spent the previous 24 hours fasting rather than feasting. Because I can’t eat, it’s all I want to do. Two Yom Kippurs ago, I got to invoke the “medically necessary” clause of eating on Yom Kippur; I was six or so months pregnant. Last year, my daughter was just starting to crawl and schlepping her tiny body around didn’t burn much of my energy. Fasting was as easy as it can be.

That brings us to this year. As I carried my 21-month-old’s 23-pound self to the car after a tot Rosh Hashanah service with thoughts of a big bowl of honey-coated Greek yogurt dancing in my head in response to my growling stomach, I got worried: How am I going to do this on Yom Kippur?

See, nowadays I expend a huge amount of energy chasing, carrying, and cleaning up after my 21-month-old. Most days I am faint with hunger by 11:30 a.m. even if I had breakfast at 8. The idea of going longer than three hours without a small refueling worries me.

Is this a legitimate concern or am I just being a baby? Since it’s my first Yom Kippur as the mother of a toddler, I can honestly say I don’t know the answer to that question.

And that leads to another: Am I a bad Jew for considering breaking my fast before I even start it?

My husband says no. He knows that I get shaky and weak from not eating and says that if I need a few bites to sustain me in order to properly care for our child, I shouldn’t think twice about it. Still, I think about all the moms – especially to more than one child – who never doubt their ability and I feel guilty.

I think I’ll go with a happy medium and a clichéd mom saying: We’ll see. If hunger is making parenthood miserable, I might help myself to a slice of challah to curb the discomfort – and remember to throw in an extra piece of bread at tashlich next year.

Aug 8 2011

It’s Tisha B’Av–See You on Wednesday

By at 5:06 pm

Jews remember the destruction of the Temple on this sad day.

Tonight is the beginning of the holiday of Tisha B’Av, the 9th of the Hebrew month of Av. And if you thought Yom Kippur was serious, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Tisha B’Av is the most solemn day of the Jewish year. It commemorates the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and is a day of mourning and fasting.

You can read more about the history and observances of Tisha B’av here.

So our offices are closed tomorrow. We hope your Tisha B’Av is meaningful, and we’ll see you back here on Wednesday morning.

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