I Used to Hate Fasting on Yom Kippur, and Now I Love It
Back in 2011, I celebrated my first Yom Kippur. I wasn’t born Jewish but was dating a Jew, my now-husband, Danny. He had taken me to his parents’ house for the holiday. I did not know what I was getting into.
Danny told me that in order to fully participate, I’d have to spend the day in synagogue with him and his family reciting prayers and fasting.
No food. No water.
So I did what I thought would get me through this 25 hours of pure torture: I overate like crazy at the pre-fast meal.
I had chicken soup and salad and roasted chicken and potatoes and brisket and challah bread and dessert.
And then the meal was over, and the fast began.
I got through the night and even the first half of the day without a problem. Then around 3 p.m., the hunger hit. I was fantasizing about every single piece of delicious food I’d ever tasted. I prayed for services to be over soon. When they were, I went home and took a long nap, convinced I was probably going to die.
But I didn’t. I woke up and came back for evening services and the glorious break fast.
There were bagels, cream cheese, cookies, cakes, tuna salad, and orange juice.
This had been my first time fasting. So I ate and ate because I didn’t know what else to do. It caught up with me. I felt nauseous. And then I thought, what was all that fasting for?
Over the next six years, I learned more and more about Judaism throughout my Orthodox conversion process, and I tried to understand exactly why we fasted on certain days of the year. It was just my luck that I now had to add Purim, Tisha B’Av, the Fast of Gedaliah, and some other fast days to my calendar.
I. Hated. Fasting.
Aside from Tisha B’Av, I especially did not like Yom Kippur. The day was so long and at times just so boring. I couldn’t concentrate because I was hungry, and therefore, didn’t feel such a connection to the Almighty like I was supposed to.
I loved Shabbat, the holidays, praying, and eating kosher, so I was determined to love the fasting days, especially Yom Kippur. It was Danny’s favorite holiday. I wanted to find just as much meaning in it as he did.
So a few years ago, I tried a coping trick: For weeks up until Yom Kippur, I would dread the day. I would think over and over how hard it was going to be to fast and even secretly hope in the back of my head that I would possibly get sick and not have to fast. I didn’t want to get that sick, of course, but just sick enough that I could get a permission slip from a rabbi to not have to participate.
Thank God, that never happened. But I found that dreading the day worked. If I built it up in my head that it was going to be terrible, then it wouldn’t turn out so bad. And it never was.
I was proud and told Danny about how I survived the holiday. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t be dreading Yom Kippur,” he said. “You should love it.”
He explained that he cherished it because it was his chance every year to not think about all the physicalities of his life and just focus on connecting with G-d. When else did we get an opportunity to do that?
I thought about it. Every other day of the year aside from Shabbat and the holidays, we were on our cell phones. We were working. We were going through the motions and routines of our daily lives. We were preoccupied with everything else other than God. We never got such a great chance to really hone in on our relationship with God.
So last year, I took Danny’s advice, and I didn’t dread Yom Kippur. Instead, I looked forward to it. I wanted it to be an enjoyable day.
I had learned how to fast easily with all the tips I’d accumulated over the years. I ate soup and filling foods and most importantly, drank tons of water before the fast. To my surprise, by 3 p.m. on Yom Kippur, I was not craving a burrito as usual.
Instead of leaving synagogue to go take a nap, I wanted to fully absorb the holiday. I stayed there with Danny and his brother-in-law as well as members of the community and learned the story of Jonah.
When everyone came back for evening services, I was ready to close out the day with a bang. The worst was over. I’d made it through the late afternoon, when hunger was supposed to have struck.
I prayed with intent. I listened to that last Shofar blow and really felt God’s presence.
I felt high. I felt connected. I felt loved.
And then the break fast opened and I had four bagels.
Hey, I’m not perfect.
But I’m getting better.