Observations on Fasting

This Yom Kippur, it was a lot harder to fast than in other years. Not the actual act of fasting–no food or water for 24 hours, sunset to sunset — but the mental aspect of it, being a mother.

Even after my Bat Mitzvah (November 14, 1992!) I still didn’t really fast. I’d maybe skip breakfast and call it a fast. In college, I’d fast with my fellow Jewish friends. We’d sleep in until services at 10, nap or watch movies between services and count down the hours til we could hit up the Uptown Deli to break our fast with traditional Jewish fare — matzo ball soup, pastrami sandwiches, knishes and blintzes.

Then when I got married, I’d cook a brisket or something else I was craving. The beauty of it just being the two of us meant I could snooze when  I felt like it and still prepare a meal. And even though I’d become a mom by this time last year, Maya was still only drinking breast milk and formula — and she was napping two times a day. So it was still a pretty free, low-key day. The common thread of all these years is food wasn’t an active part of this Day of Atonement.

But this year … this year was very different! Food was omnipresent and I had to deal with it. Maya still woke up at 7 — little alarm clock that she is. And I had to prepare and feed her two meals plus snacks … all the while, retraining myself not to swipe the leftover grape in her dish or not to take a taste of her pasta to make sure it wasn’t too hot (instead, I touched my finger to it). While she sucked down two sippies of water and two sippies of milk, my mouth remained dry. Empty. As it should be on such an important day in my religion. We fast to feel pure, closer to God. A spiritual awakening.

In a way, having a child made the act of fasting that much more powerful. Having Maya home with me all day meant fasting was a very conscious act. I couldn’t sleep it away or talk it away with friends. I had to sit with it, feel it. And worse–be faced with it all.day.long. Not fun. But, I got past it. Eventually I wasn’t even hungry anymore.

As happens every year, by 4 PM, I just felt nothingness. I felt pure. Cleansed. Closer to God. But yet very present.

I snapped only a couple pictures of Maya today — instead, choosing to just enjoy watching her little face twist as she colored and put her crayons back in the box. To enjoy watching her pointing out the puppies and bicycles in the park and collecting various colored leaves on our walk. To enjoy watching her delight in her food and Elmo and babies today. To snuggle her close – and feel her sweet breath on my neck as she lulled to sleep at nap-time. To tickle her and listen to her uproarious laughter as we played and sang silly songs.

In spite of having to fast, it was a really wonderful day. We broke the fast with Five Guys. I think Luis nearly had a heart attack when I suggested it (though he happily obliged and indulged me in my craving!). But really, after not eating or drinking all day, this mama wanted a [CLEARLY non-kosher!] cheeseburger and fries!

And you know what? It hit the spot. Completely.

I’m looking forward to what this new year has to bring. I feel good, strong, awakened … and ready for a hearty breakfast tomorrow morning!


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