Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year for the Jewish people. Our sages explain that on this day we are like the angels. That’s because we suspend certain physical activities for the duration of the fast and immerse ourselves in prayer and song and teshuva (remembering and returning to our true spiritual selves aka, repentance.)
Unlike other Jewish fasts, after Yom Kippur has officially ended, we feel so spiritually high it can be a challenge to come down to earth and do something as mundane as eat or drink. Yet eat and drink we must, because it’s our task to charge our earthly realities with our new-found spirituality and purity. Our blessings over foods will be more intense, our passion for life in general, brighter.
We’re taught that as Creation hurtles towards the enlightened future, each New Year is infused with a higher level of vibrating energy or light than the previous year. This light illuminates the world in a way never seen before. It descends and informs our Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, and Sukkos, and the entire year, whether we are conscious of it or not.
On Yom Kippur it seems like we naturally increase our awareness of this energy. That’s why we when we fast we want to focus on transcending the physical and not view the fast as an affliction. We don’t want to be distracted from our spiritual mission on this day by hunger, thirst or other physical discomfort. Therefore, putting a little thought into how you’ll prepare for and break the fast is essential.
Before the Fast
We’re told it’s a mitzvah to feast the day before Yom Kippur; the feast is declared to be as meritorious as the fast the next day. Some pre-fast customs include eating honey cake for breakfast or brunch (see this excellent post over at kosherhomecooking.com which explains this sweet custom). Many also eat a fish meal for an early lunch and chicken soup with boiled chicken and kreplach (similar to won tons or ravioli) for the final meal.
Here are some additional tips:
1. If you drink coffee or other caffeinated beverages like tea and soft drinks, a few days before the fast, cut back a little bit each day until you can get by without it. If you don’t, you’ll probably get a withdrawal headache and since we don’t take medicine on this day (unless it’s a matter of serious illness) you’ll be stuck feeling miserable.
2. Avoid aged cheese, salted meats and fish, olives and pickles, heavily salted snacks (nuts, chips) and other highly-seasoned foods for at least three days before the fast. You do need salt (preferably unrefined sea salt) but manage your salt intake yourself, don’t let food manufacturers dictate to you.
3. Eat more leafy greens and other vegetables at least a few days before. Sprouted grains and beans, too.
4. Drink more water. You can also add a green drink or some vegetable or fruit juices to your diet a few days before the fast. Having a green drink a few hours before works or some people. Do not do this if you haven’t tried green drinks before. Some people can’t tolerate them. (If you know they work for you, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon spirulina or wheat grass powder to 8 oz. water and shake.)
5. Except for the “required” honey cake, do not eat sweets at all. If you eat bread (preferably sourdough or slow-fermented yeast bread) custom this time of year dictates you dip it in honey for the first morsel. But otherwise, try to avoid sweets, even very sweet fruit like dates and ripe bananas, for at least a day or two before the fast. This means no cake, ice cream, pudding, fruit/sweet yogurts, candy, soda, etc. All the stuff you really shouldn’t eat much of anyway.
6. Avoid all alcohol for at least a few days before the fast.
How To Break The Fast
It depends on how well you fast, your blood sugar levels, your preferences. After the fast, avoid all sweet drinks, hot or cold including coffee and soda and even orange and other commercial juices. Avoid cake and cookies. Avoid wine, other alcoholic drinks. Avoid smoked fish.
Here are some suggestions about what to drink/eat first.
1. Plain water, warm or room temperature, but not too cold.
2. A green drink (only if you’re used to them).
3. Fresh, young coconut juice.
4. Warm, not hot, weak green, twig, or black tea. Add a pinch of sea salt if you like. If you must sweeten, use a teaspoon of honey or sucanat.
5. Warm, not hot, slightly salty broth such as chicken, beef or vegetable broth. Miso is excellent, too, the salt really replenishes you. Avoid fish soups.
6. Melon or other light, watery fruit (only if you do not feel shaky or irritable and/or are used to fasting for health reasons)
7. Freshly squeezed apple-cucumber-celery juice or other light vegetable and fruit juice.
After these starters, wait a few minutes before drinking or eating more. If you want to break the fast as many people do, by eating bread (in order to make the blessing on bread) try to at least have a drink of water first then a small piece of good quality bread. You can then move on to a richer soup or stock made from vegetables and/or chicken.
Usually I like to include some salads with this meal (I actually prefer for myself to eat salad not a hot meal after the fast), especially a cooked vegetable salad such as green bean or broccoli or cabbage. Another good choice is a lightly pressed** salad or a naturally fermented salad, especially beets which supply you with some sugar.
Also, I find that sticking to a raw and living meal works well for some, but if you aren’t used to eating this way have something cooked, especially a broth or soup.
And after the meal? A particularly joyous custom on the night after the fast is to bind the energy of Yom Kippur to Sukkos. After we break the fast, we begin to build our sukka (or at least hammer in a nail or two). Where we live in Brooklyn, many also use this night to choose their esrog (etrog, citron).
Gmar Chasima Tova.
*Eating and drinking, intimate relations, bathing, annointing, and wearing leather shoes. Tisha B’av is the other fast where we also refrain from these activities but we do so in grief, not joy, as on Yom Kippur.
**Clean and slice veggies, such as carrots, cucumbers, turnips, cabbage, greens such as collard greens, radishes, and so on and place in non-reactive bowl (melamine, glass, ceramic). To three cups of vegetables sprinkle with 1 scant teaspoon sea salt or shoyu or Braggs liquid aminos. Place other non-reactive bowl on top of veggies and place a heavy can or book in top bowl. Let press for 30 minutes at room temperature. You may rinse out salt, but you don’t have to. Dress with a little bit lemon juice or olive oil or eat as is.