I’ve had the opportunity the past couple of years to spend time in some obscure (and also not so obscure) Jewish communities whose foods and traditions offered me a glimpse into their lives. I begin with the story of 96 year-old Sarah Cohen, one of a handful remaining Jews in the city of Kochi, a city on the Malabar coast in the southern Indian state of Kerala. While wandering around a neighborhood called Jew Town, I was drawn to a store called Sarah’s, advertising her judaica. Just beyond the modest storefront, whose shelves were filled with embroidered challah covers, kippot and tea towels, was an older woman seated in a deep chair, engulfing her small, gentle frame. With the store’s walls decorated with news stories about her, she’s as much as a draw as the historic “Paradesi” synagogue steps from the store’s entrance.
The anxieties of abstaining from food and water on Yom Kippur (and enduring an expected heat wave in Los Angeles this weekend) start to dance around my head months before the actual holiday. As I try to do the important work of teshuva, I keep thinking: How am I going to prepare for and survive the fast?! How many late summer conversations do I have with my coffee drinking friends about their preferred caffeine withdrawal techniques?
Needless to say, I probably don’t need to remind anyone of the billion plus people worldwide who experience many days like this from lack of access to or fresh water each week, month, year. Or the 46.5 million Americans who are hungry (21 million children, 7 million seniors). Unlike the daily struggles billions of people endure, this is one day for Jews without food or water.
And even though my mind admittedly will at times be distracted by a visual loop equivalent to the Food Network, Yom Kippur is really a gift. It’s an opportunity to try to move into a deep spiritual realm that is beyond our physical dimensions. Continue reading