Sunday, September 19, 2010

When a fast goes fast...

There's nothing like praying to keep one's mind off hunger. It turns out the Yom Kippur fast was a lot easier on my system than the Fast of Gedaliah, held a week ago. While I admit I am not typically as observant as to include both fast days in the week leading up to the Day of Atonement, circumstances made it easier for me to consider that option this year. Last Sunday morning I awoke at 5:34, which was three minutes too late to eat, according to rabbinical authorities. The previous day I had had a very large meal late in the day due to it being Shabbat Shuva and a special program we had at the synagogue. The program involved the Zeitouns, a married Muslim couple, who appeared at Gates of Prayer's Bart Room, the meeting place and temporary sanctuary for Congregation Beth Israel. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-American house painter endured unbelievable horrors and was unlawfully imprisoned for over a month, in the days following Hurricane Katrina. The irony of the tragedy is that he personally rescued several people trapped in their homes by canoe when the levees broke and the flood waters rose in Broadmoor and other sections of New Orleans. News reports a few days before his arrest in his own home labeled him a hero and described his efforts at saving the lives of many people trapped in their homes. Kathy, his wife, and their children had been evacuated to Arizona during this time and simply stopped hearing from him after his arrest and eventual incarceration at Hope Correctional Facility in St. Gabriel, Louisiana. The entire story was detailed in a best seller by Dave Eggers titled "Zeitoun." (For more info, click here.) Shabbat Shuva, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is considered one of the most important on the Jewish calendar. Because of the continuing controversy over the building of what has been variously labeled as the Islamic Cultural Center, the Cordoba Project and Park 51 two blocks from Ground Zero in New York, Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Congregation Beth Israel and Rabbi Robert Loewy of Gates of Prayer Synagogue (Reform) invited the Zeitouns and their joint congregations to meet and discuss the greater questions of religious freedom and racial profiling, which had contributed to Zeitouin's arrest and imprisonment. It was the first time the Zeitouns had been in a synagogue and a very unusual program to say the least. So, because of this special program, I didn't begin to eat any meal on that Saturday until late and that meant not eating dinner prior to seeing a play that evening. I did decide to have a steak about 11:00 p.m. that night, figuring I would rise early and enjoy breakfast before the fast or have that late night meal and its high protein content keep me sustained for the following day. As it turned out, my late rising made the latter choice for me. On reflection I think I was more affected by dehydration than by a lack of food. That's why I think the praying, staying indoors for the most part and, perhaps, the sense of community at the services yesterday pulled me through the day with little or no ill effect. So, in five days it's yet another Jewish holiday, Succot, the Festival of Booths that commemorates the wandering for 40 years in the dessert. Thankfully, that holiday has a lot of eating inside the sukkahs, or temporary huts, that are erected on the sides of Jewish homes and synagogues. No more fasts for a while, but I guess I had better get my feet in shape because there will be lots of dancing in the days to come.

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