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Learning to Fast on Yom Kippur

Thursday, September 12, 2013
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The most memorable Yom Kippur for me was 5746, my 15th. After the morning services I went to my friend Karen’s house and prematurely broke the fast with a few Cool Ranch Doritos. When I confessed to my father, he marched me over to Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel, led me halfway down the aisle and placed me in a seat.
 
“Don’t come home until after the shofar blows.”
 
He whispered, but his words came down like a mighty tree. Then he left. 
 
I was terrified. 
 
I spent several hours in that synagogue, at first seething and resisting. Because shul is a drag and I didn’t mean to break the fast but everyone else was eating Doritos and I momentarily forgot it was Yom Kippur and it was an accident and it's not fair.
 
Sometime in the late afternoon service, Cantor Mark Kushner, the man who tutored me for my Bat Mitzvah — and later circumcised both my sons — began the Ashamnu. His beautiful voice so elevated me that I couldn’t help listening. I read the words. I laid my fist on my chest. I asked forgiveness. I al chet-ed my little heart out.
 
My father was trying to punish me — he knew how much I hated synagogue. But in those last hours, the Dorito crumbs digested and the stomach howling for more, lightheaded and entranced, I stood, I sat, I sang, I swayed. I felt this certainty that I was forgiven. 
 
I have not broken the fast since, but I am the only person in my house who fasts. My sons (9 and 7) are too young, and my husband isn’t into it. I was strongarmed into Judaism, High Holiday services, Shabbat, Hebrew school, fasting, keeping Passover – but it worked. I know I can't similarly strongarm my family into keeping the fast. But I hope, if I can show them the beauty in it year after year, that at least one of them will join me.

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