Fast is a fourlet­ter word for my fam­ily

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

IN MY fam­ily, when I was grow­ing up, fast­ing was alien ter­ri­tory. If, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, you failed to pause for “a lit­tle some­thing” be­tween lunch and supper, it was a known fact that your blood su­gar level could plum­met to a dan­ger­ous low. My fa­ther and sis­ter were es­pe­cially prone to this prob­lem and would sud­denly ex­plode into vol­canic rage, prompt­ing my mother and me to roll our eyes and mouth “low blood su­gar” at each other.

Fast­ing was some­thing we thought per­haps Catholics did; after all, they’d taken the idea of self-de­nial and ex­panded it to last 40 days. My one close Jewish friend claimed she fasted — vol­un­tar­ily! — once a year for Yom Kip­pur, but it seemed un­likely. Like me, she was an ar­dent devo­tee of cake, praline and marzi­pan. I am still slightly in awe of the fact that she once ate an en­tire Gateau St Honore (a heav­enly cre­ation in­volv­ing choux pas­try, crème patissiere, and crackly caramel) all by her­self. As we say in my fam­ily when pass­ing on a cake recipe: Serves six (or one).

But then I met Ben and be­came a “proper” Jew. Luck­ily, I got preg­nant not long after we mar­ried and man­aged to have The Boy on Yom Kip­pur so was ab­solved of the need to fast that year, but it wasn’t a trick I could pull off an­nu­ally.

The first year I fasted (to sup­port my hus­band; it seemed like the sort of thing a good Jewish wife would do), I was wild-eyed by 9.30am due to the lack of tea and toast. I thought it would be eas­ier at shul — all that stand­ing up and sit­ting down would surely dis­tract me?

We go to shul. We stand up. We sit down. Some stuff about aton­ing. Stand up. Sit down. Is it a sign of mid­dle-age when you notice that you’re fan­ta­sis­ing more about food than about sex? I try re­ally hard to think about aton­ing be­cause I am a crummy per­son so it’s not as if there’s a short­age of ma­te­rial. But a vivid image of a large straw­berry tart keeps get­ting in the way, like a per­sis­tent Je­ho­vah’s Wit­ness who in response to the state­ment “I’m Jewish” says, “Well, we don’t like to leave any­one out” (this ac­tu­ally hap­pened last week). The tart is red and glis­ten­ing, a thing of beauty. I men­tally cut it to re­veal a deep layer of vanilla-scented crème patissiere and but­tery pas­try. Stand up. Sit down. Our rabbi is say­ing some­thing im­por­tant. Would a lit­tle whipped cream on the side be too much? Stand up. Sit down. Add a large cup of tea into the pic­ture.

Later, I ask the Hus­band which foods he fan­ta­sises about when he’s fast­ing and he an­swers straight­away: chicken soup, chal­lah, honey cake. Look at that! That’s why he’s a proper Jew and I’m still a semi-shiksa in train­ing: he has nice, haimis­che food fan­tasies while mine are a bit WASP (though it could have been worse; it could have been a toasted ba­con sand­wich, which would re­quire way more aton­ing than I have time for).

At “lunchtime” — sob! — we go home and the Hus­band lies down and falls asleep within 20 sec­onds of be­ing hor­i­zon­tal, while I close my eyes only to wit­ness a pro­ces­sion of trol­leys, laden with food, wheel through my mind. It’s a top­notch fan­tasy, with white-gloved wait­ers of­fer­ing plat­ters of carved roast beef and piles of crunchy pota­toes. I men­tally switch the beef for crispy roast chicken as it’s a bit more Fri­day night­ish, and con­jure up a steam­ing dish of car­rots tsimmes on the side. I might strug­gle to be spir­i­tual but at least I know when I need to clean up my act.

By four o’clock, when sen­si­ble peo­ple are paus­ing for a cup of tea and a scone, I’m half-crazy, snap­ping at the Hus­band and the Boy over ev­ery tiny thing. By the time we emerge from Neilah, the con­clud­ing ser­vice, all re­straint has gone out of the win­dow and I’m shov­ing old peo­ple out of the way to get to the free honey cake. Ben says, “If you re­ally want to sup­port me next year, maybe give the fast­ing a miss, eh?”

This year, post-bar­mitz­vah, is the first year that The Boy is ex­pected to fast too. Hus­band Ben is be­ing weirdly zeal­ous about it de­spite my protes­ta­tions that the Boy has 50 per cent Leon DNA, so is hard­wired to need food ev­ery 90 min­utes. I point out that teenage boys can eat en­tire pack­ets of choco­late di­ges­tives in a sin­gle sit­ting then gen­uinely look baf­fled and say, “What bis­cuits?” when ques­tioned as to their where­abouts. More im­por­tantly, if the boy is fast­ing, I can’t sneak into the kitchen to “pre­empt a hy­po­gly­caemic episode”, can I?

I fear it’s go­ing to be a very, very long 25 hours.

Shana Tova and I sin­cerely wish you very well over the fast.

By 4pm I’m halfcrazy, snap­ping over ev­ery tiny thing

Zelda Leon is half-Jewish by birth then did half a con­ver­sion course as an adult (half-mea­sures in all things….) to af­firm her Jewish sta­tus be­fore a Rab­bini­cal Board. She is a mem­ber of a Re­form syn­a­gogue. Zelda Leon is a pseu­do­nym

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