Tuesday, 29 September 2009

The Proof of the Pudding

A friend invited me to stay at her house for Yom Kippur. It was the strangest sleep-over I have had.

At 4pm on Sunday I ate the biggest plate of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots and green beans. I ate it so fast that before I could gauge whether or not I was actually full, I followed up with an individual sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Just in case.

Twenty minutes later, my stomach registered that not only was it full, but it was painfully full. I wouldn't want to eat for a week, surely? I travelled down to London wearing a fixed grimace and my loosest jeans which an hour earlier had been heading south every five minutes, but now were cutting a rather solid stomach firmly in two. I compounded the pain by drinking as much water as I could carry on the journey down.

Many people at the centre held the same "please don't nudge me, I might explode" expression, all having spent the previous 24 hours on a food-a-thon in preparation for the fast.

It was then explained that over the course of the next 25 hours, we would be taking in 5 spiritual meals which would replace our need for any physical sustenance. The first two 'meals' took place on Sunday night, and the session ended at 9pm. There were several blessings and lots of singing and jumping around - something which would normally draw people to the water fountain in droves. But everyone abstained.

It was only when we were about to leave that I noticed that most of the women were wearing no makeup, and then learned from my friend the rest of the rules of fasting: No contact with water, no adorning the body with oils and lotions for the duration of the fast - something that my overnight buddy was following to the letter. This includes no brushing of teeth, no morning shower, no underarm deodorant, no makeup and only washing the fingertips after going to the loo.

This made for the oddest overnight stay in the world. My friend did not have to worry what I ate for breakfast, or whether I drank tea or coffee or a different milk, and didn't even have to provide a towel. Getting up in the morning on the second day was a cinch - get up, brush hair, put on clothes, leave house. I'd spent 20 minutes packing my bag making sure that I had remembered everything - I don't think I've ever packed a bag and not needed anything except a spare pair of knickers and a new top. Any fears of bad breath or body odour were countered by the knowledge that I wouldn't be alone and there was a noticeable absence of hugging and kissing probably to take this into consideration. Or was that just me?

Day Two of Yom Kippur was a trial of patience. Prayers started at 9am and continued solidly until 2pm. Most of the time we stood, each breathing a sigh of relief when we were asked to 'be seated to draw the energy and then groaning when asked almost immediately to stand for the next prayer.

At 2pm we were released on to the streets of London, and my friend and one other went for a nap in Green Park in the sun, remarkably unaffected by the smells from the multitude of cafes that we passed along the way.

At 5pm we returned for the final two meals, checking our watches continuously. Not long to go now. More standing. More blessings. More random songs. My patience was starting to wear thin - but I still wasn't hungry. My mouth had been like the bottom of a bird cage for the entire day after not brushing my teeth and I longed for a mouthful of water - but the sensation of thirst was consistent and surprisingly bearable. And unlike my previous fast, my stomach had tried a poor attempt at a rumble at 10:30 and then had been silent for the rest of the day.

At 7:20 we finished with the Blowing of the Shofar, to knock away any negative aspect of ourselves that we had not been able to correct. Objectively, it was the blowing of a ram's horn. Spiritually, it touched the parts that other sounds could not reach - a spiritual Heineken, if you like.

At 7:36, after two extended rounds of songs, the women were allowed to break their fast, and there was a mass stampede to the table outside where tea, coffee and biscuits were waiting. Knowing that I had a 90 minute journey home, I grabbed a single glass of water and left the other women to the 'bun fight'. I still wasn't hungry.

I bought a bottle of water on the train and reheated some leftovers from Sunday for my dinner - 28+ hours without food and if I'd had to go to bed without eating, I could have done. How very strange.

I've never been much of a breakfast person, sometimes waiting until midday or slightly later to eat, but generally I fill the gap with multiple cups of tea, and my stomach always rumbles loudly in protest when I don't eat. (In fact, I can blame my rumbling stomach on failing my Biology 'A' level - my stomach rumbled so loudly throughout the entire third paper that I was aware of the invigilator looking away to avoid fits of giggles - humiliating and a tad distracting).

Before Yom Kippur, the thought of '5 spiritual meals' being enough to stave off hunger seemed like a bit of a myth.
I stand corrected. Now I have to consider what else I have dismissed as potential mumbo-jumbo just because I couldn't see it or feel it.

The proof of the pudding... as they say....

As an aside, here is one example of blowing the Shofar. This DIDN'T happen last night, but would have been so funny if it had...


  1. Oh you gotta love clips with howling dogs!

    And you have made my tummy rumble with all that talk about food...even all the references to not being hungry. I'm bloody starving now! xxx

  2. What a fascinating description of your experiences of Yom Kippur. I have certainly learnt something.