Monday, July 06, 2015


The Kotel, Western Wall
It was a fast day yesterday, meaning no food or water from sunrise to sunset (we have 25-hour fasts, but this one, the 17th of Tammuz is considered a "minor" fast, less intense). FD and I woke up at 3:45 am to get in some breakfast before sunrise.

This helps tremendously, a pancake or two, a cup of coffee, a couple of preventive Advil. But when you're fasting until 9:15 pm on a summer day, you get more than a little thirsty.  I traditionally tease my children with a text, a reminder of the joke about the old Jewish guy on a train in Europe. He continuously bemoans aloud, "I'm so toisty," until someone finally listens to him. (There are variations, all with the same punchline.). It is my final text of the long day.

Anyway by 9:00 that day I'm at work, where people are often talking about food, and their diets, how cutting out certain foods, white flour or sugar especially, helps them lose a couple of pounds and improves their state of mind. Abstaining from anything is empowerment, imho, in moderation.

A Jewish fast is an empowerment opportunity of a different sort, however. It is thought that the Old Mighty (my grandfather's nickname for Her) is more accessible, a little closer on these set days, that She's really listening, hoping we'll connect sincerely, and more often. And when we fast, we're more likely to tune into that side of ourselves, the side that communes with a higher power, people say. I like to call this part of us our religious life. We have many lives, all tucked inside, and this can be one of them, or not.

When we're depressed it can go missing.

As it is also the Muslim month of Ramadan; Jews are not the only ones fasting this day. This has to be an interesting month, psychologically, for the cousins, and the world over their effort is both baffling and admired.

There are two summer fasts for Jews, one the 17th of Tammuz, then another, more compulsory, on the 9th of Av, three weeks apart. The fasts remind us not only of the destruction of the Holy Temples of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (586 BCE) and the Romans (59 CE), but also the many bloody initiatives of other nations intent upon destroying the Jewish people.
mass grave in Belson

Since the experience with Germany in World War II is so close to us, and because there are still survivors of the war, some of whom are still around to speak about it, and cinematic footage of them in dirty striped prisoner pajamas, blank-eyed living skeletons, and footage of the dead, too, ominous mountains of real skeletons, mass graves, thousands of confused, terrified men, women, and children shoved onto trains for days, no food, no water, no toilets, on their way to the ovens, and death marches, miles in the snow in those thin pajamas, sub-zero weather, those who stumble and fall, if they aren't already dead, shot on sight. The Holocaust reduced the population of Jews in Europe dramatically from almost 17 million to less than 11 million. But what is 6 million Jewish people, after all. What do Jews even contribute to society?

Oh, never mind. It wasn't my intention to go here. It is too sad. For a look at photos of the Holocaust, mountains of Jewish shoes and eye-glasses, maps of concentration camps, emaciated bodies, look at or better, visit a Holocaust memorial museum, like the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Museum of Tolerance  in person. Any Holocaust museum will do. Anytime.

Fasting, if you do it six times a year, for many years, is still likely to be dreaded each and every time. But it isn't really that bad, and those of us who wouldn't, couldn't, miss a fast, know it. The less spiritual can point to the benefits, purging the body of all the garbage we've eaten the week before. When the fast is over, if we don't eat too much in breaking it, if we keep dinner moderate and healthy, we feel great, assuming we haven't a "caffeine headache." (Hence the early wake up before dawn for coffee).

And even the next day, today, at the pool at 6:30 in the morning, when the body has adjusted to the cool water, the jump in serotonin in this therapydoc's brain is measurable, words for this post swimming in the brain with every stroke.

It is paradoxical that the anorexia of depression functions to increase depression, makes it worse, denies a good state of mind. The treatment is to increase appetite, and certainly, make sure the patient sleeps a solid six, at least, which is one of the benefits of medication. Sleep and food are healing.

So unless fasting is one of those things your doctor tells you to do before a procedure, or your clergyperson really recommends as a traditional way to connect to certain events and your Higher Power (assuming the pri-care has signed off on it), take all this talk of fasting from food and water for many hours at a time with a grain of salt.

Preferably on a no-yoke omelet, half a bagel on the side. With butter, thank you, and at least a quarter of a cantaloupe. They're in season it just so happens.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, yes. Years of tricky meds and a depression so severe that the risk of missing one day of drugs would rock the boat...I fast only on Yom Kippur at this point in my life and even that is with my psychiatrist's disapproval. Sigh. You do what you have to do.

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