Last Saturday I observed Yom Kippur, the most important holiday on the Jewish calendar. Normally I enjoy Jewish holidays—a time to see friends and family, to reminisce, and (perhaps the most revered Jewish tradition) to eat. On Yom Kippur, however, we fast. Twenty-four hours with no food and no water.
For a foodie like myself, this may as well be a death sentence. I hope to have a career where I am required to think about food every waking second of the day (not that I don’t do that already). A whole day without sustenance, not to mention standing and sitting for almost eight consecutive hours of prayer, didn’t exactly make me look forward to the weekend.
I’m not the first one to be discomforted by this. Google any commentary on the High Holy Days and you're bound to see many message boards by fellow angry Jews wondering why they must skip meals. “We’re supposed to be thinking about repentance,” they say, but how can we focus when all we think about is being hungry?”
I think that’s the idea, in a way: to completely stop your normal routine, to take the time you would have spent preparing and eating a meal and do something entirely different. The service was actually really beautiful, and I didn’t ache with hunger so much as feel a little more tired by the end of the day.
Still, the meal to break the fast was welcome. My family and I ate Poulet de Cous Cous, a recipe from Claudia Roden’s Book of Jewish Food (above). A whole chicken simmered in a Moroccan-spiced broth rich with butternut squash, potatoes, okra, zucchini, and spinach restored me completely. If you have to fast for any reason, I recommend this as a first meal. It’s protein rich, easy on your stomach, warm and comforting. Our unfortunate friends who broke the fast at a nearby Mexican restaurant would probably agree.