Food is, and always has been, a recurring theme throughout Jewish life, culture, and tradition. All services, Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, funerals, holidays, etc. commence with diverse and suitable meals. This culinary theme, which stays apparent throughout an entire Jewish year, culminates shortly after the turn of the new-year which heralds the beginning of Yom Kippur.
Yom Kippur is the day of repentance, the day where Jews restrain from consuming any food or water for twenty four hours, essentially to cleanse the body of bad energy and have a fresh start for the new-year. Growing up in a conservatively Jewish family, I have always been familiar with the holiday, but I was not always allowed to fully participate.
"You're too skinny, I am just so worried about you not eating. You need to eat, hear one more bight," it seemed like my mother would say this to me every Kol Nidre (The night before Yom Kippur, which has the last meal before the fast). When I was twelve years old I had an honest yearning to fast for Yom Kippur.
Now I never have been, and still am not very religious, and despite my Hebrew schooling commitment at the time, I don't believe my desires were religiously based. I grew up the youngest of three boys, and our family rule was always that once you had a bar mitzvah you could fast for Yom Kippur. Since I turned nine , I have been the only person in the house who couldn't fast for Yom Kippur. I felt left out, childish, and inadequate.
[...] My father came back and told me that I had to eat because my mother said so. He put a bag of some pizza-flavored crackers that were in the shape of characters from Rocket Power Nickoledeon show from my childhood) in my hand. I looked up, and he left me alone in my basement. I spent the next hour or so with this bag of crackers on my lap, my fingers covered in pizza flavoring dust, and my cheeks covered in tears as I watched cartoons across the room. [...]
[...] I joined an AAU team, and we practiced all school year in indoor facilities, preparing for an intense season in the spring and summer. When I wasn't practicing with my team, I would work alone in my basement, hitting wiffle balls off of a tee, perfecting my swing. School, while not a passion, was also a catalyst for growth. I would work hard at strange hours, to fit around my baseball schedule and to keep my grades up so my parents would continue to let me play for the AAU team. [...]
[...] The salmon, cream cheese, and thick layer of bread all accumulated to slide down my throat only followed by a breath of fresh air. As I ate that meal I could feel the sweet taste of nourishment, which I had been deprived of for what seemed to be so long, I could feel the food and water fill my belly bringing my body back to normal, I could feel myself swell up with manhood. I had done it; this was a defining moment in my life and where I first felt like an equal amongst my family and peers. Now twenty-years-old I [...]
[...] I felt like an adult, and in the midst of my Hebrew school education, I was fully aware of the value of my fasting. Every sin I had committed was going to be repented, I was making up for it and it wasn't that bad at all. Services came and as usual they were tedious and boring. The sound of the Hebrew language drolling monotone out of an old expressionless man is always enough to make a mind wander. I followed my mind, up and out of my seat for a supposed “bathroom break.” I went to the bathroom, washed my hands and looked in the mirror. [...]
[...] The Bar Mitzvah, is known as a Jewish boy's right of passage into manhood and adulthood, and while it was a growing experience, I still hadn't felt that I had grown exponentially from it. I was still being babied, at least as much as I had always been, if not more. The whole day was full of people feeding me compliments, feeding me food, even feeding me a little booze. The party that evening was elaborate. Amongst the more refreshments that was being served to those celebrating my achievement was pizza, pigs in a blanket, soda, candy, and an ice cream sundae bar. [...]
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