How Apple Juice Saved My Fast
I grew up in a household with a Christian dad and a liberally observant mom, so there wasn't much fasting going on in my house on Yom Kippur. Throughout my teenage years, I would go to synagogue and watch hungry, … Read More
I grew up in a household with a Christian dad and a liberally observant mom, so there wasn't much fasting going on in my house on Yom Kippur. Throughout my teenage years, I would go to synagogue and watch hungry, repenting Jews sneak off to the bathroom to eat the baggie of Cheese Nips they hid in their purse. My family would come home from services and eat warm corned beef with mustard, purchased from a nearby deli. I had no sense of guilt. I knew that some Jews fasted, but my family (and apparently a solid handful of other congregants) didn't.
It wasn't until I moved to New York after college that I started to get the sense that fasting was kind of a big deal. I was invited to a "pre-fast" meal before Kol Nidre – a concept that didn't really resonate with me since I was still planning to have breakfast the next day. I was struck during that meal at how reverent and aware people were of their food. The dinner guests filled their dishes with knowing looks, as if they knew they'd never eat again, not just abstain for the next 25 hours.
The next day I ate my eggs and toast and headed off to shul hop in my neighborhood. All around me were hungry Jews – truly hungry, not secretly full of Nabisco snacks. "What's wrong with eating on Yom Kippur?" I asked myself. "I wouldn't focus on praying if I was hungry." Still, I couldn't help but feel a little guilt that I stood there with a fully satiated stomach, while the Jews around me were truly experiencing a physical sense of loss which seemed so appropriate for such a solemn day. I ate a snack after shul before heading back for neilah. But I was determined – next year I was going to fast.
And so I did – up at a Jewish retreat center in the Catskills where some friends and I went for the holiday. Everything was fine – I felt newly a part of things, I could commiserate with my fellow fasting Jews and was proud of my headache, which I took as a sign that I was truly repenting. But halfway through the day, things went sour. My head surged with a terrible headache and I felt so woozy I could hardly stand. I went to lie down. I went to breathe in more fresh air, but my body was clearly rejecting the fact that I hadn't nourished it.
Feeling desparate, I found a member of the retreat center's kitchen staff and begged for their help. They gave me some concentrated apple juice, which I drank mixed with water. Reconstituted and industrially packaged, it was still the most beautiful thing I'd ever consumed. I felt my stomach settle slightly and my body regain its sense of balance. I went back to services, feeling relieved but horribly guilty. I'd failed fasting. I sucked at Judaism.
But then I realized, I was still really hungry! I'd stopped myself from fainting, but my belly still cried out for food. I could pray and I could concentrate on repentence, but I still felt far from full. This weird little mixture of sustained-but-not-satiated felt right. As I davenned at Neilah that evening, I forgave myself for the juice and the religious crisis drinking it caused. This year, I will officially instate my own yearly Yom Kippur juice fast. I have lemonade in my fridge for the critical moments, but will otherwise abstain from eating. I will take a morning walk in the park, I will go to shul and pray, I will read the story of Jonah, I will drink a little juice if need be and, come break-fast, I will celebrate my return – I hope – guilt free in every sense of the word.