Yom Kippur, the most important day on the Hebrew calendar, begins this evening. With food being such a major part of Jewish tradition, it seems fitting to me that the holiest day of the Jewish year is a day of fasting. Nearly every Jewish holiday has some sort of food component – matzo on Passover, latkes on Channukah, sweet foods on Rosh Hashanah, cheesecake on Shavuot. Yet on Yom Kippur we are asked to stop eating and drinking for 25 hours, from sunset on Friday to one hour past sunset on Saturday. No food, no water… instead, we are offered the ultimate in spiritual nourishment.
Yom Kippur is an opportunity; we are invited to atone for our sins and become better people. I heard somebody once say that we must fast on Yom Kippur because it is the supreme day of judgement. “We are facing our Creator and asking forgiveness. It is the day that God seals our fate in the Book of Life. Who can eat?”
But to me, Yom Kippur is not about being fearful of God’s judgement. God and fear don’t mix in my world. Instead, I look at fasting as a small sacrifice in a year full of blessings… it’s a chance to thank God for the gift of life. It’s also a way to remember people who are less fortunate than myself. Hunger, poverty, and sadness exist all over the world. For this one day a year, I humble myself by putting my physical comfort on the back burner. I connect with the energy of those who have suffered pain, both past and present. I remind myself that part of my job in this life is to help and inspire others. True happiness comes when we reach outside of our own existence; when we share our energy with those who truly need it. Yom Kippur reminds me of my responsibility to give back, that I must always work at becoming a better person. It’s a day full of gratitude and hope for the future.
I converted to Judaism earlier this year (for those who don’t know why I still call myself a Shiksa, please read this). But this won’t be my first Yom Kippur fast. Last year, I did a complete fast and spent the day in prayer and reflection. I can’t tell you what compelled me to do this; it wasn’t a logical decision. And it wasn’t easy. Yet a voice inside me told me it was the right thing to do. I felt called to be part of something much larger than myself.
Now, looking back over the past 12 months, I realize that this has been the best year of my life. I became Jewish. I traveled all over the world and spent three glorious weeks in Israel. My family has never been happier. And I started this blog – The Shiksa in the Kitchen – which means I connected with all of you who are reading this today. What a blessing! I never could have imagined that in nine short months our community would have grown to over 13,000 members. To know that you are reading this, and joining me on this journey, is deeply moving.
Did all of this happen because I fasted on Yom Kippur? I don’t know. What I do know is that we all have the power to change our lives for the better. There are many ways to connect to our higher power… prayer, meditation, learning, loving, remembering, honoring, gratitude. This year has taught me that it’s all about mind over matter. I believe that God wants us to learn, grow, and become better human beings. We are capable of so much more than we realize.
I feel like we have all become friends here; we’ve built a community united by a love of home-cooked Jewish food. Many of you aren’t Jewish; some of you aren’t even religious. Yet all of you are interested in Jewish cuisine. Food is the unique bond that ties us all together. How cool is that??
Everybody is welcome here, no matter who you are or where you come from. Bring your appetite, your curiosity, and your positive attitude. I’ll do my part by continuing to share more delicious Jewish recipes, in addition to the personal stories, history, and traditions that make Judaism unique.
Let’s make this coming year one of peace, prosperity, and understanding. For those of you who are observing Yom Kippur, I wish you a deep and meaningful fast. Gemar chatimah tovah!
Love and Light,