Be flexible, take it slow for Yom Kippur fast at home

Amy Fenster Brown

By Amy Fenster Brown

It’s the Super Bowl of Jewish holidays: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, our holiest day of the year.  

We repent for our wrongdoings while praying and fasting. I think the year 2020 should repent. I think 2020 should go sit in a corner for a long timeout to think about what it’s done to us.

Days ago we rang in 5781 on the Hebrew calendar (Happy New Year, y’all), and this Yom Kippur is going to be way different than what we’re used to. “Why is this year different from all other years?” the youngest member of the family might ask. 

Most of us are not spending Yom Kippur in a synagogue. That’s usually the big chunk of the day. We go to shul and see the congregants we hardly ever see any other time of the year except for maybe a random run-in at Trader Joe’s (seriously, have you tried the rosemary Marcona almonds?  To die for).  

We silently watch as a talented young person blows the shofar and then comment to one another about what a marvelous job the young person did. Our rabbis lead us in prayer, take us through the atonement and discuss being inscribed in the Book of Life. We read responsively and sing along to the hymns and prayers. We spend that day away from the office, away from school, away from doing our ordinary tasks. 

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But this year, we will be at home. We don’t have to dress up or leave the house a little early for a good parking spot or send someone into the temple to save seats in our favorite row by spreading a jacket and purse across a few chairs to give everyone else a cue to back off. I bet if you asked any rabbi to close their eyes and point out who sits where year after year they could totally do it.

Instead, services will be online. You can stream them live or watch a playback later in the day. You can sing louder than your spouse and kids want you to at temple and not risk embarrassing them. Best of all, you don’t have to bother wearing Spanx. (Don’t think for a second that little fun fact will be left out of my silent prayer of thanks, honey.)

We all have things to ask forgiveness for. I’ll share one. I ate a handful of French fries out of the carryout bag when I went to a fast food drive-through for my kids. I told the kids that there was a COVID-19 French fry shortage and they were lucky to get what they did. When they smelled fries on my breath, I told them it was a new flavor of gum. For that, I am sorry. Mostly. 

Yom Kippur can be meaningful from our own homes. We can choose to make it a sacred day of prayer and relaxation, yet it will likely be weird to say Kaddish from my couch for my late father. I’ll make it work.

But will we be tempted to throw in a load of laundry and tackle a little project as long as we’re in the house anyway? 

You know what else is in the house with you the whole day? The refrigerator. The pantry. The peanut butter. Will it be more difficult to fast at home than it is when you are at services keeping your mind busy? If you’re going to work up an appetite with all that laundry and home improvement, you’re going to have to just avoid the kitchen to avoid the temptation.  

Perhaps making a plan is a good idea. Perhaps we should employ an age old cliché: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

What do you want to get out of virtual Yom Kippur? How can you achieve the goal of a meaningful day of atonement from the comfort of home? How can you make it work for you? Being quiet and still and listening and thinking and praying is what you would be doing in the synagogue. It can be as easy as creating a modified version of doing just that while at home. Enjoy your family. Enjoy some quiet. 

I wish you a meaningful day and an easy fast. As my father used to say, “Since I’m diabetic, I can’t fast, so on Yom Kippur I only eat foods I hate.” 

Make it work for you. 

Monthly columnist Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies. Email Amy at [email protected].