The Art of Fasting: A Secular Jew’s Five-Step Guide to Surviving Yom Kippur
The Day of Atonement is never the most fun day of the year for me (and really, it shouldn’t be) but it IS one of the most rewarding. Still, getting through 24 hours of not eating anything or drinking water, all in the name of religion and pious repenting, can be a trying time for a secular Jew like myself.
Yom Kippur is considered the most solemn day of the year and involves atoning to God through prayer and absolving of your sins. Total abstention from food and drink are the big musts, and washing, cosmetics, wearing leather shoes, and sex are prohibited. Though I consider myself an atheist in the spiritual sense, I highly value Judaism in a cultural way, so this day was as important to me as many other, more religious Jewish friends I know. And after observing YK for the past 12 years, I’ve learned a trick or two on how to get through the day.
Step One: Eat a big meal at sundown
Unfortunately, this year the last food and drink I consumed came at around 4pm Sunday as I tailgated at the Redskins game, scarffing down some bratwursts, grilled chicken, and chips with guacamole. This is not an ideal start to fasting. What you want to do is eat a Burger King triple-decker cheeseburger, large fries, and a milkshake the VERY SECOND the sun goes down. This year, I ended up fasting for about 26 hours and I did NOT sign up for that.
Step Two: Sleep late
A couple of years ago, my friend GoPats went to YK services. Very noble, I thought, but waking up at 7am can add 5 hours of conscious fasting that you can easily avoid by sleeping until noon. Because I don’t believe in god, I don’t get too worried about what he might think of this and, seriously, you’re apt to get more guilt from your Jewish mom than any Higher Being.
Step Three: Stock up on Netflix DVDs
Timing your three-at-a-time Netflix subscription can be tough. When do you return them so you get one back before the weekend? Will Netflix actually send me a DVD on time or will I be stuck with just two DVDs? There surely is a science to getting the timing right and it’s even more important when you need them on YK. Watching enough hours of the latest Rome episode or laughing through Arrested Development’s final shortened season can be crucial to distracting you from the fact that your stomach has started to digest itself.
Step Four: Avoid gentiles
Though I enjoy educating non-Jews during the High Holidays, YK is not a good day to see them. They will eat in front of you, drink long, refreshing sips of cold water, discuss their favorite restaurants, ask you to accompany them on errands, or want to have sex. Innocuous at other times, this is just ignorant behavior that can be excruciating to experience. I am lucky that The Princess, my lapsed-Catholic shiksa, is always thoughtful during these times. Yesterday, she took her beans and cheese quesadilla out of sight and did all our laundry without asking me to help. Still, knowing that she is not suffering like I am can make me even crankier than usual. All in all, it is better to interact strictly with god’s Chosen People.
Step Five: Remember why you’re doing this
During a 24-hour fast, there is always temptation to cheat. "Who will know I ate a piece of fruit?" you might think. "What harm can one tiny glass of water do? If I don’t believe in a Supreme Being, then who will know? " Well, this is the biggest challenge, because it is at these times that you must remember why you’re fasting to begin with. I do it because of personal reasons. It is important to me to feel connected to Judaism, my people, our culture. It unites me with my family, most of who are 3,000 miles away in LA or in another continent in South America.
In the end yesterday, I broke fast (after 26 hours) with The Princess, who made me spaghetti with veggie meatballs, deliciously cooked brussel sprouts, and a mushroom salad. I took two Ibuprofen for my headache and moaned as my stomach rebelled against my antics. I reflected on the past year of my life, considering what went right and what went wrong, and vowed to improve this upcoming year.
Yesterday, for at least 24 hours, I was a real Jew.