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On Voluntary and Involuntary Fasting

Yesterday was the Jewish Holy Day Yom Kippur (I always have a hard time calling it a holiday, as in today’s parlance, holiday implies fun, vacation, day off from work; and Yom Kippur is the antithesis of fun), a day where we step into Shul carrying the weight of a year’s worth of sin and exit, upon the Shofar Blast, with a clean slate, atoned for our wrong doings and hopefully inscribed in the Book of Life.

As with other religions, there are symbolic interactions of faith during the holiest of days, and the most well-known of Yom Kippur is the fast.

As stated in Leviticus 23:27 – 23:32

23:27 Also on the tenth [day] of this seventh month [there shall be] a Yom Kippur: it shall be a Mikra Kodesh unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by eish (fire) unto YHWH (יהוה).

23:28 And ye shall do no melekhet (work) in that same day: for it [is] a Yom Kippur, to make an atonement for you before YHWH (יהוה) Eloheichem.

23:29 For whatsoever soul [it be] that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people.

23:30 And whatsoever soul [it be] that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among His people.

23:31 Ye shall do no kol (manner) melekhet (work): [it shall be] a chukkat (statute) olam (forever) throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

23:32 It [shall be] unto you a Shabbat of rest, and ye shall afflict your nefashot (souls): in the ninth [day] of the month at erev, from erev unto erev, shall ye celebrate your Shabbat.

We fast on Yom Kippur, it is said, because we (humans) are like Angels to God and since Angels don’t eat or drink, well, neither should we on this day. But mainly we fast because God told us to and I guess you really don’t want to piss off God. We are meant to afflict our souls, and it is during this time we are supposed to be introspective, to think about sincerely apologizing for our misdeeds over the past year. By doing this, we wipe the slate clean.

Jews fast out of choice on Yom Kippur. One day a year (while there are several fasting periods throughout the Jewish year, Yom Kippur is the one where most Jews participate), we purposefully go without food and we bitch and moan that we cannot eat (in this technological era,  “Yom Kippur” was a trending topic on Twitter, with many tweets about how we can’t eat). But it’s a choice. And for most of us, we spend the time either napping or in Shul, or both, so it’s not like we’re being active.

There are millions around the world who fast every day, not out of choice, but out of circumstance. They were unfortunate to be born in a part of the world – and many, suprisingly, in these United States – where there is seemingly no difference between 2010 CE and 2010 BCE, where there is no running water, where people live on rations.

With modern advancements in technology, food engineering and distribution the sad fact that 1 in 7people on this Earth go hungry every day is something that doesn’t make sense. According to the UN’s World Food Program,

More than one billion people are undernourished worldwide — 1.02 billion people go hungry every day.

  • Almost all of the world’s undernourished live in developing countries. In Asia and the Pacific, an estimated 642 million people are suffering from chronic hunger; in Sub-Saharan Africa 265 million; in Latin America and the Caribbean 53 million; in the Near East and North Africa 42 million; and in developed countries 15 million in total.
  • One in seven people (adults and children) go to bed hungry each night.

Some stats about the U.S from the USDA (via FeedingAmerica.org):

  • In 2009, 50.2 million Americans lived in food insecure households, 33 million adults and 17.2 million children
  • In 2009, 14.7 percent of households (17.4 million households) were food insecure.
  • In 2009, 5.7 percent of households (6.8 million households) experienced very low food security.
  • In 2009, households with children reported food insecurity at almost double the rate for those without children, 21.3 percent compared to 11.4 percent.
  • In 2009, households that had higher rates of food insecurity than the national average included households with children (21.3 percent), especially households with children headed by single women (36.6 percent) or single men (27.8 percent), Black non-Hispanic households (24.9 percent) and Hispanic households (26.9 percent).
  • In 2009, 7.8 percent of seniors living alone (884,000 households) were food insecure.
  • In 2010, 16.4 million or approximately 22 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty.

These numbers are alarming to anyone, but when I think of the one day a year I forgo food on purpose, I feel extremely fortunate to have been born where I was born.

So how can we help? There are many food banks around the nation. A good start to finding where there’s one in your area is FeedingAmerica.org. Additionally, many houses of worship can help point you in a direction to help. The temple I grew up in, Temple Rodeph Torah, donates to Mazon.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement spreading across the nation, we cannot ignore that for many parts of the world, the United States is the 1%. We can all do a little part in helping those who go to bed hungry every night.

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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