I’ve been fasting on Yom Kippur since my bat-mitzvah.
In my younger years, Yom Kippur meant not eating or drinking, but definitely binge-watching something very diverting, so as to make the time fly. I would end the fast with a throbbing headache, but I would manage. I was responsible for myself only and could wrap myself in something comforting and count down the hours to breaking of the fast, traditionally at my grandparents.
Then I got married and had children. Yom Kippur cocooned at home with series and blankets became a thing of the past. Now I was at home all day, fasting, with three perpetually hungry children needing meals and snacks with the obligatory washing up in between. It was hard, and time managed to bend itself in ways that made 26 hours feel like 48, but at the end of it, we would arrive at my grandparents and my children could range free while flickering candles and wine and delicious food and my wonderful family soothed my frazzled nerves.
Once my children were a bit bigger, I clicked to the fact that spending the whole day at shul on Yom Kippur made the day more manageable, and full of time spent with other people who had clicked to the same idea. It was amazing. I was away from the temptation of series and bed, my children were lovingly catered for with snacks as well as friends to play with. The day at shul became its own kind of cocoon, a bubble of people going through a similar experience. I’ve had some amazing conversations among friends, sitting on the Astroturf, or the steps of the piazza, soaking up some gentle sun between services. I missed those friends so much this year.
In 5781 I recognised how far I’ve come in my own Jewish journey; I spent Yom Kippur without any of the helpful crutches I have had so far to help me through, except for my Machzor and copy of Eli Wiesel’s Night which thankfully live in my house. I had, for the first time, been worried about what the day would end up looking like and if I would ‘pass’ this test.
Catering for breaking of the fast has also seemed to me to be the final frontier of Jewish adulthood. Getting married? Easy! Having kids? Walk in the park. Catering and preparing for 20-30 hungry people on a day when you are fasting yourself? Very, very grown up. In fact, I had made a promise to myself only to start doing it when my kids had children and were going through that phase where they need the flickering candles to sooth their frazzled nerves after a day of fasting with kids.
This year I had to cater for Yom Kippur myself. I know it was just for my immediate family, but still. I hadn’t ever had to do it before, and I seemed to have a mental block around thinking about feeding people on a fast day. At the same time, I had to step up to the plate without any of my usual crutches for the actual fasting.
Not only that, but the sweet traditions that follow the fast weren’t in place this year. My mom-in-law didn’t turn to me in shul at the final shofar blast and pop a sweetie in my hand to break the fast on. We didn’t go to my step-grandmother for breaking of the fast as I’ve done every year for practically my whole life. My aunt and uncles weren’t home with us from overseas. My mom wasn’t with me, looking effortlessly graceful and only moderately subdued from a day of fasting.
I ended up looking at it as a ‘mikveh-of-fire’. No crutches, no community, no breaking with my extended family, and I did it!
I hope you all fasted meaningfully this year, and that 5781 sees us being able to practice all our family traditions, in the ways that are most familiar and beloved to us.
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