“But if you’re also half Italian, why do you choose to fast for Yom Kippur?” It’s a question almost as old as the Old Testament itself, and one I’m asked every year since I was a child.
I was raised both Jewish and Catholic, with neither parent adhering to traditions of the holiest day of the year in Judaism– Yom Kippur. Yet, once I was old enough to understand that the 25 hour fasting period was about introspection, appreciation, and atonement I began to observe it on my own in my own ways.
Yom Kippur is considered to be the holiest day of the year in the Jewish faith, on the heels of Rosh Hashanah (the new year). It’s also believed to be the day in which one is closest to God, however you define it, and to the essence of ourselves. Beyond a spiritual closeness, it is a day to cleanse the soul of mistakes or wrong doings as we purify it for the year ahead.
Through my eyes, Yom Kippur is less about God and more about elevating my own awareness— a spiritual cleansing of sorts. I stay home, focus on reading or writing, and contemplate the ways my life has bettered or hindered those around me during the past year. Many people do this more often than once a year. But there’s a certain power that comes from the understanding millions of others around the world are joining in the same cognition, even if I am physically alone, on a single particular day. It’s a sensation greater than myself, even while I practice solely for myself.
Most of my days consist of waiting or planning for my next meal, so rather than fill up my stomach I feed my soul. I think back to all the moments I could have listened more or spoke less, done more or taken a step back, cut off situations or reached out, my wrongdoings. I take time to appreciate all of those who helped me through moments I needed it most and I let go of any grudge or guilt I’ve harnessed. Then, as the retrospection of days past concludes I envision my future— those I want in it, the life I aim to achieve, the kind of person I hope to be. The craving for food is replaced by hunger for betterment, for myself and all the people around me.
As I fast, year after year, I strengthen my soul, clear my conscious, and gain a deeper appreciation for what I’ve learned and all the new adventures to come.
Yom Kippur in 2020 takes on a different tone. The global pandemic has undeniably slowed us all down and created a pathway to greater clarity. We acknowledge the tremendous loss of lives, freedoms, perhaps even security, as we become acutely aware of what truly matters in our hearts; our family, friends, health, and hope.
This day might be a Jewish tradition but it is moment for everyone. Even those who may not believe in a higher power or life after death can agree on one thing: We each exist right now and we all live in this moment together. Beyond religion, this day is an opportunity to unite in a single thought: to make our world a better place.
The original version of this post was first published in Indy East End.