On the day of the Jewish calendar specifically set aside for reflection and spirituality, I am thinking about forks. Not that forks aren’t important–especially when there is a piece of chocolate cake on the end. But today I can’t eat chocolate cake, or anything else. I am fasting for Yom Kippur. So I can’t use a fork all day but I am counting them because tonight I have people coming over to break the fast.
Like almost all Jewish traditions and holidays, this occasion centers around food. We spend an entire day not eating, and then we spend a night over-eating. What can I say, it’s Jewish.
This is one of the rare times that I entertain. Which is a pretty loose definition of the term “entertain.” I cook food. I buy a little more. I make sure I have enough forks. People come over. They bring more food. And then everyone eats –way more than they should.
If you are a very religious Jew, you cannot count forks on Yom Kippur. You also cannot eat, drive, work, cook, use the phone, carry money. We had a friend in Los Angeles whose wife had a baby on Yom Kippur. He was at the hospital and wanted to let the rest of his family know about the birth. But he couldn’t ride in a car, and couldn’t use the phone. So he walked home–8 miles–to tell them. It makes the story a little less dramatic to mention that this was his 6th child. But still it’s pretty amazing.
The rabbi who led the service I attended today also walked to temple. For the first time in many, many years I was at a more Orthodox service where the women and men sit completely separated and out of sight of each other. This is the way my father grew up, and I thought about the irony today if my father could have seen me there.
He was so upset when I married V, a non-Jew, that he refused to come to my wedding or speak to me afterwards for nearly a year. I think maybe he thought I would abandon Judaism. The irony is that I did the opposite. Marrying a non-Jew brought me closer than I had been before. I felt far more conscious of being Jewish, and worked harder to keep the traditions alive for my children.
Today I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum for American Jews; on Yom Kippur, I go to services and I also count forks. The people who gathered in my house tonight were all born Jewish, but they all have different ways of being Jewish. I only wish my father had lived to see that I ultimately found my way to be Jewish–that includes both fasting, and forks.