We are currently in the midst of the most important holidays on the Jewish Calendar. The high holy days. We just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with our family to ring in the year 5779. Today is Yom Kippur, which is the holiest day of the year and it means, “Day of Atonement.”
On this day you cleanse and sacrifice for G-d to forgive and purify you from all of the sins committed during the last year. In order to atone for these sins, we abstain from eating, drinking, washing, marital relations, among others. We don’t work or go to school. Instead, the day is spent in synagogue, praying for forgiveness from sunset to sunset. As Yom Kippur approaches, a phrase I’ll hear repeatedly is “have an easy fast.” Here’s the thing though – I no longer fast.
Following and observing the holidays is important to our family. At Chanukah time we say the prayers and light the Menorah. During Passover we attend Seders and eat matzoh instead of bread. At Yom Kippur though? I do not fast. I used to, but I no longer do.
I’m a Jewish woman and I’m very proud of my heritage. Both of my parents are 100% Jewish, as is my husband and his parents. There is much that I do not know, but I do feel a connection to the traditions and customs of modern Judaism and we are raising our kids as such. My son had his Bar Mitzvah in December 2017 and my daughter is currently in Hebrew School, which she loves. She will have a Bat Mitzvah in a few years and we’re all looking forward to the service and the celebration.
My children attend/ed Hebrew School not only for the Bar/Bat Mitzvah education, but also to develop a knowledge of history and traditions, the “whys” behind them and to meet local Jewish peers. My parents did not fast when I was growing up, but I started to fast during my teenage years – in a way partly because of peer pressure. I mean, no one coerced me, but my close friends fasted and I decided that I should do it as well. I can safely say that I started to fast because my friends did. It became a tradition on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to walk around our neighborhood and attend services. We’d run into friends as we roamed around – some who we may not have seen since the previous year’s holidays. It was really a very nice yearly tradition.
College was similar, where a group of us attended on campus services and broke fast together at sundown on Yom Kippur. As I got older, I understood the reasoning and purpose more. I felt connected enough for observe and fast. When I got married, it was more of the same – until my son was born.
My son was born in November 2004 and shortly after I was blown away with sadness and intrusive thoughts. And I was in pain. So much pain – both physically and emotionally. I didn’t know what was happening, but I was certain that I was dying. The chest pains I had surely meant that I wasn’t going to be around to see my son grow up. At other times I simply felt like running away because clearly my son would be better off without me. Not knowing what was going on, I couldn’t see an end point. I begged and I prayed to no avail. I was a terrible person. This is who I was now and this is who I’ll always be. That was terrifying.
As many know, it turned out that I was suffering from postpartum depression and postpartum obsessive compulsive disorder, for which I was not officially diagnosed with until January 2006 – when my son was already 14 months old. I received much needed help and was finally headed towards recovery. At last I was headed to a good place where I’d not only enjoy being a mother, but one where I’d enjoy life again.
Finally! I felt joy, adored my son, and life was good! Although as Yom Kippur rolled around later that year, I couldn’t help but reflect about the meaning and the sacrifice to atone for my sins. Didn’t I sacrifice enough? I’m not sacrificing another day. I had already sacrificed enough for a lifetime. There was something “in me” that needed to get back at the illness for sucking the time away. I owed it to myself to counter the suffering somehow. When the second Yom Kippur rolled around after his birth, I realized what that was. I was no longer going to fast.
Spiritually, I’ve always believed that if you are a good person, good things will happen to/for you. And I’m a good person – a good friend, employee, daughter, wife, etc. I’m responsible, loyal, dedicated, and even though we all have our weak moments, I aim to do the right thing. I follow life’s “rules.” And although, I followed what Yom Kippur asked of me as a Jewish person and observed the traditions, I still got this illness that kicked my butt.
Intellectually, I know these situations do not have any correlation at all. My life was in limbo for over a year and so I often thought “what did I do to deserve this?” Nothing. Of course I didn’t get PPD because of something I did or didn’t do.
But it was also that loss of control. I had no control in the fact that I suffered from PPD and essentially “lost” time in living the full life with my son when he was little. I do have control on whether I fast or not. My decision was a way for me to gain back the control from “whoever” or “whatever” took it from me in the first place. Almost like a vindictiveness, I had to stick it to the man. To the extent that I can, I’m in control of my life – not the circumstantial situations that happen to me.
I know what you’re thinking – “Well, that makes no sense, lady.” I hear you. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense to me! Maybe this is a silly way to approach it, but to me – it’s my way of saying “insert inappropriate word” to the universe. A bit of rebellion, maybe?
Now I don’t eat like a glutton and probably do eat less on that day than others – but I do eat. There are many schools of thought on religion. I respect those who fast. My decision has less to do with organized religion and more to do with my spirituality. Maybe I was fasting for the wrong reasons all along?
My apologies to those who believe I’m doing sacrilegious, contradictory or a bad example for my children. I mean no disrespect. I love being Jewish and I love saying that’s who I am. But not fasting doesn’t make me any less of a Jew, but it does meet my need for doing something for me.
As @thegoodquote on Instagram says “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.”