Fasting

by tamarjacobson

The last time I fasted on Yom Kippur was 26 years ago when living in Ramat Hasharon, a small suburb outside Tel Aviv, Israel. In fact, before that, I used to fast each year, visiting our neighborhood synagogue at the beginning and end. It was a tiny building where most of us had to stand outside, unable to fit into the main room to hear the final prayers before breaking our fast. So many people would gather around. The synagogue was just across the road from our long project-like apartment buildings. Many of the people living there were neighbors and friends. Through the years, we helped each other with our children, lending and sharing, crying and laughing, celebrating and mourning together. It was a community in which I felt safe and supported. Where I felt a sense of belonging, probably for the first time in my life. Indeed, I do not recall that feeling of belonging before or since.

At the time, 26 years ago, my son was nine and he and I were living alone. I had begun to fast and went to the synagogue for the evening service. When I returned home, I sat and read aloud to him through all the sins I was repenting. It took a very long time. Suddenly I closed the book and looked at him. It seemed absurd to be talking about sins in this way. It also seemed absurd to have to repent for a day and then carry on as if nothing had happened. It did not seem responsible or meaningful for his education. I decided then and there to stop the fasting gig! I made us a glorious dinner of steak and french fries and we both sat smiling and eating together as if we had achieved something great.

As I look back I realize that I was just coming out of a difficult divorce and felt guilty for all the failings in our marriage. Indeed, in general, I felt to the core of my being that I was a really bad person. Reading that list of "sins" out loud must have tapped into the darkest side of my self esteem. Years earlier, as a yogi and yoga instructor, I had been fasting once a day every week from sundown on Saturday through Monday morning, in an attempt to purify my soul. It was only when a friend of mine studying to be a psychologist said to me, "Tamar, you might as well swallow a bottle of bleach for all the purification you are attempting," that it dawned on me what I was trying to do to myself. For, as much as I fasted and fasted, I still could not seem to wash my sins clean. I simply felt I was too bad – a lost cause – a hard nut. After almost a year of constant purification, I gave it up. Just as, later I gave up fasting for Yom Kippur.

Lately I watch in horror as Palin and McCain whip up hatred and fear and, worse still, how they appeal to the "mob" mentality, collective ignorance, and the darkest side of peoples' psyche. It is like watching a public lynching. As they tear down Bill Ayers, rage rises in me and mostly I weep with frustration. For anyone writing A Kind and Just Parent cannot be all these terrible things that he is being called. Indeed, this morning I signed a petition in support of William Ayers.

And so, this year I decided to fast on Yom Kippur. This time though, 26 years later, the list that I might read aloud to my son would be thus:

  • Fast for Obama and the change we need 
  • Fast in support of William Ayers, a colleague I admire so much for never giving up his activist work for social justice, especially in education 
  • Fast for the future of this country and the world
  • Fast in gratitude for all the good that I have in my life right now

There are probably more reasons why I feel like joining in the Fast today. As the day progresses I might reflect on them and find out a few more. In my own, small, personal way, I feel I must do something to combat the evil, hysterical atmosphere out there in McCain/Palin Land, as it intrudes into my body and soul, and dignity, and as I hear these deranged and vile attacks on people I respect and admire. 

Fasting seems to be the way for me today. 

I lit a candle and incense this morning when I awoke and felt the cleansing and healing begin. Somewhere deep inside me I hope fervently for all of us, that the better part of our nature and hunger for integrity and respect for our collective intelligence will prevail. 

A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Today