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Reflections on Yom Kippur

Overheard near the top of campus:

Student A: “Dude are you excited to have Wednesday off?”

Student B: “Yeah bro I’m hyped-why don’t we have school though?”

Student A: “Heck if I know, but I’m not going to question it! I made plans to go to a face off between Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans- don’t worry I’m a trekkie- and I’m really excited.”

Okay fine. I made that last part up. But the first part is true! On October 12th, 2016 we will have the day off, and many of you don’t know why. That, dear reader, is where I come in! Starting at sundown (as all Jewish holidays do) on the 11th, and ending sundown of the 12th, is the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur (rhymes with “dome keep lure”). In Hebrew, it means “the day of Atonement” and it’s the holiest day of the year on the Jewish calendar. The idea is, in the days leading up to Yom Kippur, Jewish people all over the world look back on the past year, reflect on their actions, and if necessary, make amends with the people they have hurt or wronged. “But wait,” you say, confused, “if Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, why are you atoning before the actual day? What do you actually do on Yom Kippur?” Dear reader! What a great question! In Judaism, relationships with people here on Earth are most important, so a relationship with G-d (People have different ideas about how this word should be spelled-if you’d like to discuss why I use the dash, please don’t hesitate to ask me!) must come second. Yom Kippur is a day between you and G-d filled with praying and internal reflection, so it is vital to take care of your personal connections before this day comes. “Great,” you say, bored out of your mind, “now I can impress my Jewish friends at school. Why are you telling me this? There’s a thing called Google you know.” Worry not friend, I’m getting to the point soon.

One of the biggest parts of Yom Kippur besides praying and connecting with G-d is fasting. There are many different reasons why Jewish people are called upon to fast, one being that all of our energy is supposed to be focused on the task at hand and so we are commanded to not eat, drink, bathe, have sex, wear leather, etc. It is a day of cleansing, both physically and spiritually, as well as a time to dedicate to G-d and not think about your own personal needs. I, however, choose to fast for different reasons, and I think that they are both applicable to our lives here at College Prep.

The first reason that I fast once a year is very simple: to feel connected. One day a year, I, along with millions of Jewish people of different races, ages, and class backgrounds, refrain from eating or drinking. Now this may sound sort of silly or trivial, but it is a powerful feeling, and one that, as someone who is not always very observant of my religion, I do not get to experience often. It also makes me think about the other communities I am a part of and what sort of traditions or rituals we share. At College Prep, for example, the first one that comes to mind is assembly. Now dear reader, before you groan in remembrance of that time you had an English essay due and you planned to do it during break but it turned out we had assembly and you ended up turning it in late and getting points marked off, stop and think for a moment about how special that time we have together is. Every student, teacher, and faculty member in the school gathered together to listen to each other and share our sorrows and our successes, our choir performances and our love of cars, our slam poems about lunch lines and the results of our sports games, mixed in with the occasional moment of silence or chance to learn a new word. It may sound cheesy, but in truth it is beautiful and I can think of nothing that will compare once we leave this space.

“Adrienne!” you cry, exasperated, “I just want to hear about Yom Kippur so I can go back to writing my 3rd lost post in a row about my sweatshirt!” Mi amigo, we are almost there! I commend your stamina and attention span. This last paragraph is the most profound one too so hang in there, I promise it’s worth it.

Another reason I choose to fast on Yom Kippur is that the feeling of being truly hungry is not something I have to go through in my daily life. Sure, sometimes I forget breakfast because I’m rushing or my parents go out for dinner so instead of cooking I eat a cheese stick and half an apple, but even if I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, I know I will have one. Fasting reminds me just how hard it is to focus on anything besides food when I’m hungry. It makes me think of all the kids who have a hard time in school because their stomachs aren’t full, the adults who can’t pay attention at work because they can’t get enough to eat. These are realities that I am fortunate enough to not have to live with, and luckily neither do any of my friends or family. While I feel blessed to be able to say that, at the same time it means that I must be extra aware to not forget about those who are hungry, and that I have to be very conscious of my privilege and the advantages I have been given. Because hunger is not something I see in my day to day life, it is easy to forget that it exists. I feel that as a human being, it is my obligation to help cease the suffering of others, even when it is not something I see directly.

I came to College Prep because I wanted a great education that could make me a better person, so that someday I can grow up and save the world, but I think that the first step to helping anyone is empathizing with them. Even though it’s not much, fasting for once a year reminds me how hard it is to be hungry, and how lucky I am to know with certainty that after those 25 long hours, I will get to eat again.

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