A Personal History of Rarely Fasting


1969. The five-month old me unknowingly gets the breast-feeder’s exemption. There is a God.

1975. I learn about fasting for the first time. Still working through the trauma of weaning four years earlier, I quietly decide to give it a try. During my fast, I effortlessly identify with Bert’s pain and loneliness, which is at once undeniable and inescapable, despite Ernie’s cheery companionship. I last 38 minutes, leading to the sobering experience of eating cereal (Rice Krispies, most likely) opposite The Electric Company instead of the aforementioned Sesame Street. Much pensive thumb-sucking all that afternoon.

1978. I give it another try. Restless after four very long hours, my father suggests I go out and play with the neighborhood’s well-fed gentile youth (he refers to them as the “other” kids without a trace of irony). Against my better, ominously lightheaded judgment I join an intense game of Kill the Guy, already in full swing. Eleven minutes later I wake up in a pool of my own vomit, which, thankfully, is smaller than any other pool of vomit I have ever woken up in before or since.

1982. Four months following my Bar Mitzvah and only two nights prior to Kol Nidre, I conclude there is no God, an act galvanized by M*A*S*H's decision to have Colonel Blake’s plane shot down over the Sea of Japan. The fact that I only learn about his tragic death for the first time more than seven years after its original airing—along with my burgeoning conviction that I live in a hopelessly broken world that cares little for justice—haunts me during services forty-eight hours later. Afterwards, in the dull sodium glow of our temple’s parking lot, I approach my mother, a woman who has an actual autographed photo of Alan Alda on her vanity, in an effort to finally understand Colonel Blake’s fate. To her great credit, she admits she has no answers.

1987. On a kibbutz located along Israel’s northern border, miles from the nearest synagogue, I enjoy my day off from work in the banana fields with a leisurely breakfast composed largely of cinnamon toast and hot chocolate. That afternoon I play tennis with a fellow Zionist apostate. In deference to the day, and in keeping with our tradition of competing under pseudonyms taken from Jewish history, the pious Rabbi Akiva (not me) takes down a gritty but overmatched Martin Buber (me), 7-5, 6-3.

1990. In an effort to: alleviate the guilt I feel following my announcement that I will not attend services, ride out as painlessly as possible my latest effort at fasting, and complete a reading assignment due later that week, I retire to the weathered plastic Chaise lounge located on the small wooden deck of my recently separated parents’ house and attempt to read the thankfully short The Death of Ivan Ilych in its entirety. Between unintended, hunger-induced naps on the surprisingly comfortable recliner, I read dutifully, missing completely the spiritually-informed connections in the text drawn between suffering and compassion. I last until a quarter to five, at which time I eat so much egg salad (straight from the bowl while standing in front of the ark-like refrigerator’s open door) that my soon-to-be disappointed mother will have to prepare more before company arrives. 

1995. Never one to buck the group’s excitement, I agree to do my part to put the “high” back in “high holidays.” Heroically calling upon my knowledge of Hebrew, I help my siblings and their friends compose a new prayer: “Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the Universe, for providing us with the kind green (ha-yarok ha-adiv).” Needless to say, I do not fast in 1995. Impossible to reproduce spiritual insights follow, I think.

1998. Now the father of a five-month old myself, I figure it’s time to get serious and commit to fasting once and for all. Only our infant Jewess wakes up at 5:45a.m., totally derailing my plan to wake up well after 12 p.m. Her breast-feeding mother, also known as my wife, who fasts year after year with little difficulty, eats without ceremony, this according to her doctor’s advice. I change diapers, almost finding relief from my weary headache in the sweet scent of my daughter’s waste.

2001. Ninety days after my house burned down and still in September of that horrible year, I have no appetite. My family and a few close friends gather around a new kitchen table in a new apartment, where we actually talk about the Book of Job. We wonder if that text invites satire. We conclude that it probably does not. Before going to bed that night, I forget myself and eat a handful of potato chips. I conclude that God couldn’t possibly care.

2004-2006. My plan of becoming a Jewish Studies professor in order to both get extra days off teaching during the Fall semester and assuage (via an extended, rigorous intellectual engagement with most, if not all, things Jewish) any lingering guilt I may experience due to lack of religious observance is dashed by my wife’s act of one-upping me in the professional Jew department when she becomes Executive Director of our synagogue. Her decision not only forces me to take on extra domestic responsibilities during these otherwise carefree Days of Awe (since she essentially disappears in September and October for weeks at a time) but even worse she suddenly decides to seriously reconsider her entire relationship to Judaism and Jewish practice. In pointless protest, I bitterly overeat on the Day of Atonement for each of the next three years (pork ribs in 2005). I then decide (in ’06) to forgive her (in my head) for forcing me to be such a bad Jew and even worse person. Next, I ask her (in my head) for forgiveness for being so selfish as to blame her for having professional ambitions and a lingering spiritual hunger. Finally, I forgive myself (almost out loud) for putting myself through any of this.

2007. Back in Israel, this time with my two daughters, we observe Yom Kippur the way Theodor Herzl intended: by acquiring small bicycles so that I our children might be able to take advantage of the (unmistakably post-apocalyptic) absence of cars on every single street throughout the Hebrew republic. My wife and I try to blend in by eating a hearty breakfast and lunch like it’s any other day.

2008. Strategy still uncertain at this time. According to reports, decision to fast or not to fast will be made following conclusions drawn regarding the possibility that any God-directed activity may influence the outcome of the coming presidential election. Latest polls read against larger convictions regarding justice in the world recommend making reservations at neighborhood BBQ joint.