This year, on the 23rd of September, is Yom Kippur, the most holy day for anyone observing the Jewish faith.
This is the time to bring in the New Year and it is customary that people fast for the whole day in reflection of the past year. I will be flying on that day and will not fast.
In fact, I haven’t fasted in over five years. Most rabbis and orthodox Jews would argue that I am not taking my religion seriously and that I should consider changing my flight or cancelling my plans so that I can fast and observe this religious day where time is set aside to plead for forgiveness for sins of the past, and fast in honor of our commitment to God.
But these concepts trouble me.
I refuse to acknowledge my choices as sins or otherwise because they are decisions I made that led me to where I am now, which is exactly where I need to be.
Additionally, I do not believe that fasting is the best way to show a commitment to a higher power. I will be attending goddess gatherings through my travels; I hope to create space to honor the earth and all that she provides and to take time out to respect the bond that I have with my brothers and sisters of this planet. For me, that is enough.
I am not opposed to fasting. In fact, I fasted quite recently.
I was in South Africa two months ago and had a roommate from Sudan who was fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. I decided to join in her fast even though I knew little about her religion or her individual reasons for fasting. To me that was unimportant. I was not fasting as a Jewish person or a Muslim. I was fasting in solidarity of my roommate, my sister. I fasted to show my religious tolerance and respect for her decisions to fast every single day for the entire month, even when she felt faint or dizzy toward the end of the day.
I fasted because I felt that even though our lives were different and our personalities were near opposite, we were able to share the hunger pains, joyous exchange upon our first sip of water in hours and a deeper connection to one another.
And I will continue fasting when I feel called to.
I have been vegetarian for almost my entire life. I am not opposed to the concept of eating meat but more the level of detachment most people experience when they bite into bacon or consume cheeseburgers.
I have recently felt called to eat meat but I will only do so if I’ve kill the animal myself. Through my travels, I have had a few offers from people of various backgrounds who have encouraged me to join in their ceremonial killing of an animal. While I have not felt ready, I know that the time will come when I will watch the life drain from another animal and respect the cycle that occurs and the impact one makes when taking another life.
When I kill my first animal, I will fast beforehand. I want to feel hungry enough to take another life and to understand those who hunt for survival, not for fun. I want to feel connected to the ritualistic murder of animals that occurs when a village goes hungry.
I fasted several times during my trip in South Africa when I saw homeless men and women who needed my brown-bagged lunch more than I did. I fast because it’s important to remember that food is not always available, to feel the hunger pains that millions feel on a daily basis.
But the days I fast are not based around the Jewish holiday. I refuse to fast for my sins or the sins of my family. The days I fast are based around performing mitzvahs, a Jewish term for a good deed. I fast to better myself and others around me. I fast for societal progress and change. I fast to construct the future I desire.
My decision to ignore Yom Kippur made me feel guilt at first because I have been programmed to believe that I must observe the Jewish faith according to customs and traditions. I felt as though my decision would shame my family and was afraid to choose the pieces of the religion I wanted to hold onto and the ones I wanted to shift away from. I didn’t feel secure in my decision because the societal constructs surrounding religion, religious freedom and my religious obligations could not comprehend my refusal to fast for something I didn’t stand for.
But this lesson taught me that as this Jewish New Year approaches, I must create space for myself. I must prioritize what works for me and what no longer serves. We are constantly emptying out of closets of those voices and decisions that no longer serve.
I urge us all to spend this time, no matter the religion, setting intentions that cleanse our spirits and uplift our souls. Whether or not you are aware of these holidays, this time is perfect to reprogram your being, stand in what you believe and make decisions around your own inner guides.
Author: Cheyane Reisner
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Sergio Russo/Flickr