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Oct 6 2011

Why I Fast

By at 9:40 am

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.

Oct 4 2011

A Whale of a Snack for Yom Kippur

By at 11:32 am

With a little imagination, a snack and a doll quickly become a Yom Kippur scene.

It’s great to lavish time and effort into homemade, handmade treats for holidays, but it’s also great to find thematic goodies that are instant. As in, open a package and you’re done.  No fuss, no oven, no investment whatsoever except a buck at the Target Dollar Spot.

Which brings me to an ideal nosh for kids at Yom Kippur. It’s instant, kosher, crunchy, cute, cheesy (in more ways than one) and it’s fittingly thematic: whale crackers from Stauffer’s. Why whale crackers? Well, what’s the story Jews hear on the afternoon of Yom Kippur in synagogues all over the world? Jonah and the Whale.

The plot twist is pretty memorable: Jonah gets swallowed by the whale. All part of God’s plan, no doubt. Some say the whale swallowed Jonah to keep him safe, so that the reluctant prophet could make it to Nineveh and finish his assignment—to warn the people to change their ways. And throughout the story, we see that Jonah embodies the values of the High Holiday season: forgiveness (selichot) and repentence (teshuva). But, whether we blame the whale for gobbling poor Jonah or not, to eat whale-shaped crackers right after hearing the story tips the karmic balance just a smidge. At any rate, it’s fun. Plus, our kids can literally embody an element of this elemental story: they eat it.

But the best time to think about this is before Yom Kippur, when the rest of us—not just the preschooler crowd—can eat, too. Make the teeny whales special. They can be eaten out of hand, sure, but consider serving that handful in an ocean-blue, paper cupcake liner.  Whales can top homemade or store-bought mini-muffins or cupcakes, or float on blue jello.  The  dye-free parents among us might sprinkle a few on a small bowl of blueberries. The not-so-careful among us might sprinkle a few on a big bowl of blue M&Ms. It’s all good. It’s all Jewish. It’s all about celebrating and making connections and having fun with our kids.

I had never heard of these crackers till I saw them last week at Target. At first glance, these crackers do look like the ubiquitous (and non-kosher) Goldfish crackers, especially to fasting adults with plummeting blood sugar and dry eyelids. One must look closely to make out the stylized whale and his cheeky grin. But these crackers aren’t fish, they are whales, by golly.  The whale ate Jonah, and now we’ll eat the whale.

My point is that even ordinary snacks, if thematic and if reserved for a particular holiday, can sharpen a child’s anticipation, inject a bit of levity, add a layer of meaning, and stick in the memory as something Jewish and fun. And they are easy. This year, I’m hoping the kids will enjoy crunching mini whales in a moment of role-reversal.  And hopefully, no one will go overboard on the idea and start spewing whales.

Sep 27 2011

What Makes a Manicure Holy?

By at 2:10 pm

From left to right: honey, apple, shofar, and a pomegranate.

You probably can’t find this offered at your local salon amongst the spa pedicure options, but one New York rabbi is setting a trend in nail couture. Every week Rabbi Yael Buechler paints her nails to be themed to that week’s Torah portion, and on holidays–well, she takes it to another level. You haven’t seen manicures until you’ve seen what she does with the 10 plagues at Passover!

I like her Rosh Hashanah manicure. But the real question is–how do you represent Yom Kippur on your nails?

Looking for other ways to celebrate Rosh Hashanah? Check out these activities to do with your kids, read our favorite books, and find out why you might not want to put away that kiddie pool just yet.

Aug 29 2011

The Hurricane Hoarder

By at 8:14 am

My hurricane hoard.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m good in crisis. When something happens all of the sudden, I stay calm, cool, and collected. (Don’t believe me? Read here about how I handled being on a cruise ship that caught on fire.)

But as it turns out, I’m not as calm, cool, or collected when I have warning of a crisis coming my way. Don’t get me wrong–I didn’t flip out or anything–but I over-prepare. Let me explain. The first warnings of Hurricane Irene coming towards New York City started on Wednesday. On Thursday morning, I was at the supermarket buying canned goods. Spaghetti-O’s, to be specific. More cans of Spaghetti-O’s than I could possibly eat. Ever.

And then I went back to the supermarket a few hours later because I forgot to buy a few things. Then I went back again on Friday afternoon. And then again on Saturday afternoon. (Oh, and I sent my husband out on Thursday night because I’d forgotten a few things.)

So as it turns out, when you take a somewhat overcautious and paranoid person and add a few messages from the Office of Emergency Management, she turns into the Hurricane Hoarder. I know, it’s ridiculous. But I felt good to know that if we did lose power, or if we did have to evacuate, I was prepared. And I feel incredibly blessed that not only were we safe, but we did not experience any flooding or power losses. I know that we were quite lucky and that many of you, including some of our regular bloggers, have been dealing with flooding and property damage. I am thinking of you.

But the positive that comes out of all of this? Many synagogues have a food drive on Yom Kippur, requesting canned goods to give to local food pantries. The concept is that as we fast for a day, we should give the food we would have eaten to those who don’t have enough to eat. I think it’s a beautiful premise, and regularly do it. This year, I’ll be making an even bigger donation (as you can see from the photo above!)

But I’m not giving up the 6 gallons of bottled water sitting in the corner of the bedroom. Those are going to stay…just in case.

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