My week as a Jew, sort of

I have always felt a special affinity for Jews, from living the first few years of my life in a Jewish neighbourhood to friends to learning about the faith when I wrote speeches for the token Jew in the Ontario Cabinet.

I am especially impressed with Yom Kippur, when all is forgiven, which starts Sunday evening and lingers until Monday’s sunset. As a lapsed Protestant who believes the world would be a better place if we all borrowed the best parts of each other’s religion, I’m in. No, I haven’t smacked anybody or robbed a bank, but I have lost my temper, gossiped, pigged out, told a few white lies and committed other acts that cry out for forgiveness.

Earlier this week, I asked my fitness buddy Lee who was trying to work off the honey cake and other high-octane treats she’d enjoyed on Rosh Hashanah.

She advised me to think about what I’d done wrong and become sincere in my desire for contrition. That I can do. But I needed to double-check her advice. After all, she did once marry a Presbyterian minister.

So I asked Doug, who told me about the fasting–the deal breaker that has kept me from pursuing other spiritual paths too. Earlier this month I had considered participating in Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. And this week I had thought about going on a yoga retreat, until I found out about the juice fasting.

Why do so many beliefs require fasting? “To focus on our prayers and God and not on our earthly body needs,” explained Doug.

To feel compassion for the poor, I’ve heard Muslims say.

To detoxify, the yoga people would add.

No way, I insist. I wouldn’t make it beyond three or four in the afternoon, when I can get scary bitchy if I don’t eat. I don’t need any more sins to atone for.

My inability to fast could be why I have been trying to lose the same 10 pounds for 10 years. Actually, it’s more like 20 by now, but back to my question: can I skip or at least shorten the fast but still be forgiven?

I asked Kendall, who’s more observant than Lee or Doug and even lives in Israel. She writes hilarious posts about phone-banking in crappy Hebrew and other facts of her life at

I was confident she’d find a loophole on fasting, just as her mother in Halifax would serve lobster on the outdoor picnic table to circumvent the no-shellfish-in-our-kosher-house rule.

I was not disappointed. Fasting is negotiable for non-Jews as long as I do what’s truly important, she wrote in an e-mail. That includes paying off money I owe, getting back to people with anything I had promised, giving to the poor, apologizing to people I may have unintentionally hurt and righting any wrongs.

“Yom Kippur is a time of reflection – and you have to try to really concentrate which isn’t easy when you are in synagogue for about a six hour stretch and then after a mini-break, another several hours,” she wrote. “There is no washing, no teeth brushing. No anything! Just prayer. I am not so good at it. I am good for spurts and then my mind wanders. However, I still force myself to sit and think about my life.”

Sounds like a yoga retreat.

“The first part of Yom Kippur is full of anticipation. The opening prayers are very familiar and sung in a haunting tune, which adds to the affect. The end is very intense because you haven’t eaten in 25 hours and you are frayed to say the least. Still there is a real sense of achievement and hope in the air.

“You really do feel good when it is over. Like you have a chance at a new beginning, a fresh start.”

That’s just what I need. To get into the deep contemplation, maybe I should go to that yoga retreat. If I have any energy left over after much apologizing and righting all those wrongs. Redemption is a lot of work. Better eat first.


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