Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Thoughts on fasting and Yom Kippur

As many of you know, tonight is the first night of Yom Kippur, so I will be fasting for the next 24 or so hours. (It might not be 24 hours exactly depending on when GG and I eat tomorrow and I ate kind of late tonight, but still...) I was talking to a co-worker who is taking tomorrow off since it is Yom Kippur and she is fasting. I have no idea if she is going to a synagogue tomorrow, but I would not be surprised if she was. So I started to think about why I am fasting this year. I have not been to a synagogue in at least 2 or 3 years and not regularly since I graduated from undergrad seven years ago. So why am I fasting? It is not related to the idea of fasting to concentrate more on prayers, which never made sense to me in many ways as it was harder to focus having not eaten. It is not because I am especially religious. It is not even because I think that this is God's commandment, so I must follow it. I am a cultural Jew, someone who does the routines and rituals like fasting for Yom Kippur, lighting the menorah and eating latkes for Chanukah and not eating bread for Passover. I don't even light the candles for Shabbat or do any of the rituals like I used to do. But the fasting is the only one of the rituals for a holiday (I am not including the Shabbat rituals here) that I really follow for reasons outside of this is just part of my identity and Jewishness.

I fast because it is a reminder to me that I am lucky to have food on my table. I am lucky that I can eat three meals a day and snacks in between if I want. I am lucky that I do not have to decide between food or bills or gas. I am lucky that I have never truly experienced food insecurity. I went through some rough times, where I had to watch my food budget, but I was always able to eat. I work in public schools now where the snack that we feed to kids may be their breakfast or their lunch depending on whether they are in the AM or PM session. Where the fact that they get milk or juice and some cookies or crackers means that they will have eaten at least once that day. This may not apply to all of the kids that I work with, but I suspect that at least some of them do not eat at home before they come to school or at least not three meals at home. I think about the fact that I have the luxury to make a choice to not eat for a day and that many people for whom this is not a choice. There are days at the end of the month where there is nothing to eat for some, something I have not had to experience. I think about the fact that when tomorrow night comes, I will be able to eat again, not always an option for everyone. Fasting is hard, it is difficult and I seem to think more about food and drink when I am fasting than usual, but I know that this is only temporary. I know that I have people who care for me and that will help me if I ever truly do have issues where I cannot afford to pay for groceries. This year I also think about those families who are now struggling more than ever. Those families who got stuck in sub-prime mortgages or other tricks by shady lenders and are experiencing economic distress that they are not used to. I think about how some of these families are still trying to live the same way they had, while others are now just trying to now put food on the table and keep the electricity turned on. I am lucky to not have these struggles and so I fast for those who do, so that I may be more empathetic.

I also think about how this is supposed to be a Day of Atonement. There are many things I am sorry for, but I really think that our national leaders need to atone for what they have done to us as a nation. They need to atone for sending people to fight a war over oil. They need to atone for the lives they have cost us as a nation. They need to atone for the economic crisis that is now dragging our country down. And they need to atone for the hatred and bigotry that they have allowed to flourish i.e.-homophobia, racism and sexism. My actions probably affected one or two people, probably no more than ten, but when you send people to war to die you are affecting many more than my ten. I think there is a passage during the Yom Kippur prayers where we ask God for their forgiveness of our national leaders, I cannot do that. Our leaders need to ask forgiveness from first the peoples of this nation and then if their are so religiously motivated, their God.

To those of you who are fasting like me, I wish you good luck in your you fast. It is hard and by tomorrow night I will be ready to eat whatever we have for dinner, but I also like to try and make this fast meaningful to me and so I hope that if you are fasting you do it with meaning.


FranIAm said...

Oh my dear Boxer- you never fail to amaze and to move me with your words.

Thank you for this reminder of what is really important... All kinds of rituals are done in the name of religion, but if they are not filled with intention they run the risk of emptiness.

Peace my brother.

Ɯbermilf said...

I am going to tuck this away for Lent (I am a Catholic in the FranIam-ite order).

I had a similar view toward the similar atonement rituals of Lent (why am I doing this stuff again?), but thinking about it this way makes a lot of sense to me.

Distributorcap said...

i am a lapsed jew - totally - not one religious bone in my body - and i dont fast. but your thoughts and words are very inspiring and rationale in a time of depressed faces and lunatic voices.

we should give thanks for what we have - to bring some meaning.

thanks for this

Comrade Kevin said...

Atonement only occurs in those who admit they have made mistakes.

We seem to think often times that we have a birthright to always be right and to never admit our wrongdoing.

The Cunning Runt said...

I hope your fasting produces the desired insight and empathy. I know it prompted some thoughts about my life, and that in itself is a positive result of you sharing these thoughts.

Good luck, BR.

Tim said...

Boxer, got her via Fran and, once again, I owe her a multitude of thanks. I've never read or heard anyone explain fasting with such eloquence and sincerity. It transcends religious observance and belief to speak to the human heart. Being a Protestant--a reformed fundamentalist, at that--fasting was never instituted as a yearly ritual like Lent or Yom Kippur. It was more of an ad hoc practice and I've not done it for a long, long time. You've moved me to reintegrate it into my life. Its lessons of gratitude cannot go unattended.


PS: Re our leaders: take their food away, outfit them in sackcloth, and send them to the ash heap until contrite humility overtakes them and they apologize to us, to the world, and to their God for their wickedness!

Anonymous said...

Well, my son, well said. If only more people would reflect & appreciate their lives and bounty it would be a much better world. A world w/o such greed and need for more and more and more. Aha, maybe the economy would not be where it is today!

There is a prayer for national leaders in the Yom Kippur service, but I could not bring myself to read or say it. They certainly do not deserve any special recognition.

L'shana tovah

Boxer's mom