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Fasting Makes Jews Hungry for More

One of my favorite parts about being Jewish, aside from the rich traditions and ancient wisdom that are passed down to us, is our “it’s-all-about-the-food” attitude. This expression is especially true on holidays, lifecycle events, and pretty much any given meal.

So on the one day of the year when Jews are asked to fast, Yom Kippur, I’m almost relieved to have a chance to cleanse my palette and my soul before I reach for another slice of honey cake again. That doesn’t mean that the 24-hour stretch of self-denial is easy for me. Not even close. Anything can tempt my taste buds, from when I watch Sari pour herself a bowl of granola to when I come across a stale stick of Big Red chewing gum at the bottom of my purse. When I hear Jack sneak into the pantry and tear into a plastic bag of something salty and crunchy, I start to shake and sweat. When that happens, I try to spend time outdoors and take my poodle Luci for a walk before the dried nuggets in her stainless steel bowl seem appetizing.

Another good way to distract me from being hungry is to pray at temple. At least there, I know the people around me can relate to my empty stomach and my need for spiritual fulfillment. Together with my fellow congregants, we reflect, contemplate, and pray as a community and individually. Our grumbling bellies remind us why we are here. We also see each other in a new light, especially many of the women who don’t wear makeup, jewelry, or leather handbags. Yom Kippur, which is considered the most important day in the Jewish calendar, is a time for purity when we focus on our inner selves, not our outward appearance. (Good thing this repentance ritual is only once a year).

Even though my children are too young to fulfill the commandment to fast because they are under the bar/bat mitzvah age of 13 years, they still can participate in Yom Kippur in their own way. That’s when I ask Jack and Sari to give up something they like for the Day of Atonement. For my 12-year-old son, a single day without video games is enough to send him into shock. Plus, without the remote control and animated racecars, he has a lot more free time to think about any regrets he has over the past year and how he can make the situation better in the New Year ahead. For my eight-year-old daughter, a day without cookies is a wakeup call to focus on the times when she and her brother often fight and how she can resolve those conflicts better next time.

At this solemn time of remembrance and atonement, families with children can do many activities together. We can visit the cemetery where a loved one is buried and share memories of that person. We also can give tzedakah as part of healing the soul. Another way to get into the spirit is to make a Wall of Forgiveness that simulates the Kotel, or Western Wall. Here’s how: Take a large sheet of brown or white paper or even wrapping paper, and hang it somewhere special in your home. Then, make tiny slits in the paper. Use another small piece of paper to write your personal thoughts of something that you want to be forgiven for. Everyone in the family takes a turn, even the younger children, who can draw a picture instead of writing words. Next, tuck the folded piece of paper inside the slit to demonstrate the powerful act of forgiveness and what this holiday is all about.

The Wall of Forgiveness helps parents teach their children that we all make mistakes and that God gives us another chance to become better people. For me, the most powerful message is that God forgives us for sins against God, but the hurts against other people are not forgiven until we have made peace with them.

This is a hard lesson to swallow, unlike the golden brown cheese blintzes topped with a dollop of sour cream.

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently, she is obsessing over her son’s upcoming bar mitzvah, so please feel free to send any advice to: ellie@mishegasofmotherhood.com or visit her website at www.mishegasofmotherhood.com.