It’s 9:44 PM. All I ate today was a bagel, lox, lox cream cheese, garlic-chive cream cheese, plain cream cheese, capers, pasta with spinach and onions, hummus, a few bites of a rotisserie chicken, a shot of vodka, two glasses of wine, and a slice of chocolate-raspberry cake. That might sound reasonable for a day’s sustenance, or maybe even a little excessive, but you have to understand: I’ve eaten all of this in the last three hours. Since 7:07 PM, to be specific.
Today, Wednesday, October 9, I celebrated Yom Kippur, the holiday in which Jews atone for the wrongs we’ve committed in the last year. As part of the process of atonement, we complete a 25-hour fast (no eating, no drinking, no indulgence), using asceticism to induce self-reflection and reckoning. For this reason, we are probably not supposed to love Yom Kippur, but it’s one of my favorite Jewish holidays. Maybe this is my attraction to the mystical strain of Judaism, with its emphasis on embodiment of spiritual practice. I derive a lot of meaning from singing in community, but perhaps more than anything (and maybe this is a bit masochistic), the physical practice of deprivation reminds me that I’m alive. I’ve fasted every year since I was twelve years old, and so by now, rather than physical hunger, what I feel more intensely is a headache that feels somewhat like a large pair of hands gently compressing my skull.
This Yom Kippur, I have reflected on atonement: on the people I’ve wronged in the last year, the ways I can right those wrongs, and the ways I can avoid them in the future. As is the intention of the custom, fasting today has forced me to remind myself that the discipline required for teshuvah is possible as long as I tell myself it is required by higher law. That discipline requires me not only to fast, but also to avoid doing anything that necessitates repentance during my fast. Last year, in a moment of mutually-reinforced crankiness about 22 hours in, I got into a fight with one of my friends about Drake’s Yom Kippur observance. This year, I tried to hold my tongue.