By Shoshana Hoose
Two days before Yom Kippur, my daughter Ruby, 25, called from California. She had arranged to go to services with a friend and she was considering a fast. She asked me how I fasted and why I did so.
The second question was easy to answer. Fasting helps separate Yom Kippur from all of the other days of the year. It reminds me of how lucky I am to have enough food, a warm house and all of the other daily comforts.
For years, I struggled with how to fast. When I was young, it was a challenge in self-control: could I last the whole day without food?
As I grew older, I came to dislike focusing on the goal of not eating. Instead, I wanted to spend the day thinking about my life and how I could live it better.
I also disliked the way that fasting made me obsess about food, rather than paying attention to the service, or just reflecting. I often had a wicked headache from not drinking coffee, and frequently nodded off in services.
And then there was the gorging aspect of break-the-fasts. It seemed like a very unhealthy way to behave, foregoing food and then eating a huge meal. I ended the day feeling out of balance, the opposite of the way that I’d like to feel after the Days of Awe.
For many years, our congregation held services at Woodfords Church in Portland, just a few blocks from my house. I would walk there, and not even bother bringing a pocketbook. That led me to adopt two other forms of fasting on Yom Kippur – no driving (if at all possible) and no carrying or spending money. Now that we hold services in South Portland, it’s an opportunity to ask friends for a ride or to ride my bicycle.
Last year, I added another fast to the day: no use of email or my cell phone. Like most people these days, I spend far too much time on electronic devices. Just yesterday, I found myself walking into a local store as I talked on the phone. I always have a friendly conversation with the shopkeeper, but yesterday all I could do was mouth my apologies. I was ashamed of myself for that rude behavior. A day without devices reminds me of what’s really important.
On this Yom Kippur morning, I listened to music as I got dressed, rather than the news. I wrote an old-fashioned letter to Ruby instead of emailing her. I took a leisurely bike ride to services, appreciating the beautiful view of fall marsh grass by Back Cove.
I still do a modified food fast. Since I am an early riser, I have coffee and a piece of fruit before dawn, then fast until after the morning services.
I’m glad Ruby asked me that question. It got me thinking about how I try to make a meaningful fast. And it shows that she’s doing that, too.
By Shoshana Hoose