Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year in Judaism. It is a day of atonement, a day of reflection, a day of forgiving and forgiveness. Our tradition is to fast for 24 hours so that we can start the new year having reflected on the past year and feeling renewed and ready for a fresh start. This was the first year that I was unable to truly stick to the fast, and it provided me with a different experience than I have had in previous years.

I began taking medication for anxiety toward the end of last semester. This was something that scared me, but now I am grateful for the help that it has given me. Thinking back to how I was feeling just one year ago, to how I am feeling now, the difference is amazing. And yet, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed that I could not complete my 24 hour fast this year because I take food with my medicine. Why is it that something that I am so appreciative of for most of the year makes me feel so ashamed for one 24 hour period?

Judaism tells us to put our health and wellbeing first. If someone is unable to participate in something because they are ill or because of any sort of medical reason, they are advised not to participate. I not only had to eat food with my medicine that morning, but I also woke up with a sore throat. I was nervous about the fast, but knew that it would be accepted if I ate and drank for those reasons. And I was right. Our Hillel Rabbinical Associate told me that I should be drinking water all day if I have a sore throat. My professor told me that he too was eating for the sake of taking a medication. Other peers at Hillel had eaten that morning with medication and others were drinking because of a cold or a sore throat (it’s that time of year again, folks). We came together and supported each other, rather than shaming each other, because whether or not we were truly fasting, we were still able to be with other Jews and reflect on the past year together.

Walking to White Clay Creek to reflect with peers

Walking to White Clay Creek to reflect with peers

Having to take medication could be seen as something inhibiting my tradition of fasting. Or it could be seen as a sign that I have made improvements in my life over the past year for my health and wellbeing. It could be seen as going against the Torah. Or it could be seen as a way of reflecting while also taking care of my body, which the Torah also commands of us. I don’t think that we should necessarily focus on the physical task of fasting on Yom Kippur, but the reflection that we take part in, the discussions that we have with others, the laughter and the smiles that we share. This year I was truly able to appreciate those things throughout the day despite not being able to fast the entire time. I was still able to support others in this tough period of grumbling stomachs and dry tongues. I was able to play card games and laugh for hours with my peers. I was able to participate in discussions about community and forgiveness and progress in our lives.

So don’t get too upset with yourself if you were unable to fast for whatever reason. Your reasons are valid and the Jewish community is here to support you. Reflect on the past year in the ways that you are most able to connect with, and look forward to year 5777 – it’s going to be a great one!


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