Photograph by Shulie Madnick
North African and Yemeni Jews, among other Sephardic Jews, break the Yom Kippur fast with a sweetened hot coffee or tea. Balkan Jews break the fast with laboriously extracted chilled almond milk and melon seed drink. Here’s a modern twist on the break-fast beverage tradition — a refreshing recipe from a charming little artisanal soda shop at the Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv.
Note that the syrups should be made a few days in advance — so consider starting now…
The author’s vintage cookbook collection includes “The Jewish Festival Cookbook” from 1954, which provided insights into the mysterious world of Jewish holidays. Photograph by Jon Wunder.
When I say I’m Jewish, I put the emphasis on the “ish.” Yes, I had a bubbe and a zaide; we tossed around words like “oy” and “schmutz”; and we ate foods my friends had never heard of. We had tongue, matzoh brie, borscht, and the requisite Sunday-morning breakfast of bagels with cream cheese, whitefish and lox, all from the Jewish bakery and dairy. (This was long before every Episcopalian was having a bagel with a schmear after church.)
But we never acknowledged any of the holidays, and the synagogue was a place family friends had their weddings. We celebrated birthdays, and prayed at Maple Leaf Gardens for Toronto to win the Stanley Cup.
There’s nothing like knowing you can’t eat to make a person want to eat. For many Jews, Yom Kippur means a 25-hour fast bracketed by two meals – the pre-fast seudat mafseket and the meal to break the fast. But just because you’ve managed to make it through those 25 hours without eating doesn’t mean you should scarf down a greasy shawarma the minute you’re allowed. If you do, your stomach may not be very thankful afterward.
True, breaking the fast the wrong way is unlikely to land you in the hospital, but it may leave you feeling unwell. While Magen David Adom treats an average of 2,000 people every Yom Kippur, including many who feel unwell due to fasting, rescue service spokesman Zaki Heller says he cannot recall any cases of people calling in the paramedics because they broke the fast with the wrong food.
The director of the nutrition and diet service department at Petah Tikva’s Rabin Medical Center, Sigal Frishman, agrees. She says that while you’re unlikely to do real damage to your digestive system by overloading it immediately after a fast, you might regret it afterward.
During a fast the digestive system is relatively inactive. “If we then put in lots of things that are difficult to digest, there’s no way the digestive system can cope. That will give you a stomachache,” she says.
Read more at Haaretz.com.
“You know tomatoes are ready when they easily pop right off at the stem,” announces Marybeth Lybrand, the Master Gardener at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center’s Gan Tzedek, or Justice Garden. “If you have to really tug to on the tomato, leave it on the vine because it needs more time to grow”, she says to a group of young children and their parents on a Sunday afternoon Garden Service Day.
Having never before seen a purple tomato and uttering “It’s so purple!” more than once, I was urged to try one. I pulled lightly at the stem of one with dark purple, almost black skin. Deep in color all the way through, it had an intensely sweet, smoky flavor.
After 25 hours of abstinence from food and water on Yom Kippur, your family and guests will treasure each dish on your table — even if it’s just peanut butter and jelly. So why go crazy in the kitchen? There are times when simple is best: save your efforts for Passover, and go with an easy idea like a bread and wine trifle borrowed from the Jews of Piedmont, in North-Western Italy.
The region is famous for producing some of the finest wines in the world, including Barolo, which even made its way into the local break-fast tradition. While most Italian Jews break the fast with cakes or other sweets accompanied by lemonade, a little coffee and the occasional shot of liqueur, the Piedmontese are quite proud of their Bruscadela — basically a wine and bread trifle. Layers of toasted bread or challah are soaked overnight in mulled wine with sugar and spices.
While wine after a fast may not be the healthiest option (it’s likely to go quickly to your head), somehow the richness of the challah and the somber, contemplative mood still lingering from the holiday, temper its effects. Yet, if you have low alcohol-tolerance and are not in the mood for a deep mystical experience, you may want to try a grape juice version.
For the most part, Jews celebrate good things with lots of food. Holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Passover bring to mind full bellies and bubbie’s matzo ball soup, perhaps even more than the feelings of repentance and liberation they are supposed to invoke. On the other hand, to commemorate sad events, we fast. The temple was destroyed on Tisha B’Av, and an assassination marked the end of Jewish autonomy in Jerusalem (Tzom Gedaliah) and on these days, we refrain from eating to better concentrate on the solemnness of the day.
But Yom Kippur, the holiest of the Jewish holidays, breaks the mold: On Yom Kippur we’re supposed to not eat and be happy about it. The haftarah traditionally read on Yom Kippur makes this explicitly clear. Referring to the ancient Jews wearing sackcloth and ashes, the prophet Isaiah says in the name of God, “Do you call that a fast?” I imagine the end of the sentence must have gone “I’ll show YOU a fast!” as white linen-clad Isaiah dances an over-the-top dance to demonstrate his glee in front of a roomful of Jews in sackcloth and misery.
With the days of Yamim Noraim almost at their beginning not only have my thoughts turned to the dishes I want to make for all the glorious holiday meals that are coming up, but also to the fast of Yom Kippur that will end this time of introspection and atonement.
Fasting is a ritual that is not only central within Jewish tradition but stretches across other religious traditions. Muslims practice the month long fast of Ramadan, while adherents of various Christian denominations, such as Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church, fast during the period of Lent. The Baha’I religion has a feast similar to Ramadan and the first Sunday of each month is a fast day for Mormons.
These periods of fasting offer us the opportunity for intense spiritual connectedness and spiritual nourishment. Yet there is no doubt that by the end of the fast people’s thoughts are begin to turn towards the long awaited break-fast meal.
On Yom Kippur this year, I felt my ancestors calling me more than ever before. Normally I spend Yom Kippur in synagogue, but this year I did my t’shuvah (repentance) on the road, walking through neighborhoods, cities and country landscapes as part of the Right2Know March to get genetically modified (GM) foods labeled. As I fasted and marched alongside 50 other people — some fasting, some not — I felt deeply moved and spiritually motivated to share my Yom Kippur journey and determination to label GM foods with other Jews.
In America today, there is no way to know if we are eating foods containing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The Right2Know March is built of a community of organizations, businesses and individuals who are walking to the White House with a simple message: label our food that contains GMOs. The march started on October 1 in Prospect Park, Brooklyn and is arriving in Washington, DC on World Food Day, October 16. We are walking 313 miles because we are deeply concerned about the health and environmental risks of GM foods and believe that everyone has the right to know what is in their food. As a Jew, I believe that GM foods are not kosher and are not in line with how the Torah teaches us to take care of the earth.
With Yom Kippur upon us, thoughts of fasting loom. But take solace: Jews are not alone in this practice. Fasting is observed by religions around the world. While the reason, time of year, length, and type of fast vary greatly, almost every ends with a traditional but sumptuous meal.
Through the ages fasting has been prescribed as a way to repent, reflect, and become closer to whichever god one believes in. It is one of the five pillars of Islam, and during the month of Ramadan it is required that all able Muslim adults refrain from food, drink, and intercourse from sunrise to sunset each day. It signifies devotion to god and is supposed to teach observers about patience, restraint and kindness.
Yom Kippur gives us an opportunity to reflect and repent, but for many of us the fasting element of the holiday can be very difficult. The most common problems include extreme hunger pains, headaches from caffeine withdrawal, and shakiness from low blood sugar (also known as hypoglycemia). Personally, I’ve dealt with all three of these issues in the past, and I’ve seen friends and family deal with a combination of them as well. Over the years through trial and error along with my nutrition education, I’ve come up with a list of tips to help get through the fast with ease:
Prep for the big day, and don’t supersize it! For a few days leading up to the fast, eat normal-sized portions at every meal. If you tend to overeat, be aware of how your stomach is feeling, eat slowly so your brain gets the signal you are full, and stop when you are satiated. Preparing for the fast in this way will greatly help control hunger pains.
The 29th day of Cheshvan (November 6th, this year), exactly 50 days after Yom Kippur, marks the Ethiopian Jewish holy day of Sigd, a celebration of the Ethiopian fall harvest and a day where Jews in Ethiopia historically reaffirmed their belief in the Torah and expressed their yearning to return to Israel. The holiday is marked by fasting for the first part of the day. After reading, “Go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet,” from Nehemiah, Ethiopian Jews broke their fast with communal meals and misvaot, or blessed bread, Gil Marks explains in the “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.”
The celebration, which was added to the official Israeli calendar in 2008, came with mass migration of Jews from Ethiopian, which began in the 1980s. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the completion of Operation Moses, which brought 8,000 Ethiopian to Israel in a massive airlift. Their prayer for return to Jerusalem having been fulfilled, the somber notes of the holiday have in part been melded with rejoicing.
Today, Ethiopian Jews in Israel make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to pray on Sigd and celebrate their return to Israel. There is dancing. And of course there is eating. Among the traditional Ethiopian Jewish dishes prepared for Sigd is a bread called Dabo (pronounced Dah-boh). Historically, it was made by wrapping the dough in the leaves of the Klabo Tree, covered coals and buried and cooked overnight. Today it is made in the oven. It is delicious with Ethiopian cheese.
Epicurious gives us some “Yom Kippur Recipes and Menus” including ones for Yemenite holiday soup, plumb dumplings and some traditional Jewish fare.
The LA Times explores different break fast traditions of Jews around the world.
“A former army man’s boutique brewery may change the face of Israeli beer,” according to Haaretz
Nikki Cascone, “Top Chef” alum, who is opening Octavia’s Porch, a global Jewish cuisine restaurant in New York speaks with The Village Voice.
When I started telling people that I’m going to New York City for Yom Kippur, my friends and colleagues declared: “But you won’t be able to eat. What a pity!” Though, with almost a week in New York I will get in plenty of fressing (or intense eating) and food shopping in.
I love food, especially in its ability to bring human and Divine labor together to please, in every way, as well as nourish. This is why I spend my days and often nights, immersed in tasting, procuring, cooking, learning and writing about it.
Still, the Yom Kippur fast is among the most meaningful Jewish rituals that I faithfully observe. From the completion of the simple meal before Kol Nidre until breaking the fast with more elaborate fare after the holiday ends, I just stop. No eating or drinking, farmers’ market stand perusing, recipe formulating, ordering, baking, freezing or menu planning for that matter, either.