Yom Kippur in Israel: An Experience of New Meaning and Offering

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My journey in Israel

It was about three weeks into my journey in Israel that I found myself, surrounded by new family and friends, downing a final meal before 25 hours of fasting with no food or water. I was about to participate in one of the most important Jewish holidays of the year, the Day of Atonement, a high holiday known as Yom Kippur in Israel.

Preparation for this day actually begins 10 days before with a celebration of the Jewish new year of Rosh Hashanah. During that time a practitioner repents, though not to god! But to the people he or she has wronged during the year. Bygones become bygones, a time of renewal begins, and a trial is held for your soul to decide if your name is written into the Book of Life.

It’s a blend of heavy times and light hearts, bounty and fasting, introspection and communal celebration.

Yom Kippur in Israel

Yom Kippur for Me

For me though, Yom Kippur in Israel is a symbol. I’m not a religious Jew, but I am a cultural one. Matzo ball soup flows in my veins and I have as many opinions on subjects as there are sides to argue. Fasting is something that I do on this holy day and that I’ve always done because it’s part of who I am; from the sweet noodle pie the day before to the bagels and cheese the day after, to the sharing of stories, walking, and napping during the hard midday waiting.

Yet, as I’ve grown spiritually, pursuing Eastern philosophies and wandering the world, Yom Kippur has taken on a new meaning; this year more than ever. Just as a birthday can be a stark reminder of ones life progress; Yom Kippur, with its deep cultural, spiritual, and physical elements holds a light to the page of my inner progress. How have I been doing on my path? Am I honoring my journey? Myself? My loved ones? My gifts? How can I do better?

Yom Kippur This Year

This year, I’m spending my first Yom Kippur in Israel, with the family of my Israeli friend. They have generously opened their hearts and doors to me during this holiday season. Sharing in their life, going to their local synagogue, singing their songs, and feeling the energy of an entire country shutting down to do something together is very powerful. Nothing like this happens in NYC where I grew up. It brought to me a gravity that this year, more than other years, I was really doing something special.

It became clear to me that I was fasting for more than myself, I was also fasting for everyone else. My new friends would have been happy to allow me to eat, but knowing that I participating contributed to the energy of everyone’s practice. We were in it together. That ‘it’ was not just a matter of no food or drink, but of spiritual renewal. It’s a beautiful thing to help someone on their inner journey merely by sharing in a practice. In some ways it may not be very different from having a running partner or an intellectual rival – both are powerful motivators for improvement and resilience.

Nutrition in Yom Kippur

As a bit of a nutrition buff, I’m also well aware of the cleansing value of a day of dry fasting, and my goodness, does the juice I slug back for my breakfast cleanse me spiritually and colonically! Yet, as with any spiritual endeavor, it appears that one can only go so far, can only be so selfish about the benefits of the practice before it becomes evident that others are integral to the process. Without offering, there is no receiving.

So here is my lesson, here in my prayer for the year: May all that I have be offered as light to others, may I be fortunate enough to have some light shine back toward me, and may we all learn to rejoice in that glow together.

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