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After solemn religious observance of Yom Kippur, a feast breaks the fast



Last modified: Friday, November 07, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — The words are complete opposites, though only one letter different. Yet they merge on the same day in the Jewish tradition, when a fast leads to a feast on Yom Kippur.

The Jewish calendar rolled into the year 5775 on Rosh Hashana Sept. 24 and according to the Torah, every year, Yom Kippur — a day of fasting, repenting and mourning — is 10 days later beginning at sundown the night before. This year that means Yom Kippur begins at 6:09 p.m. Friday, and lasts through nightfall Saturday, an hour after sunset.

It’s a long, tough day emotionally and physically, said Beit Ahavah Rabbi Raquel S. “Riqi” Kosovske, one that traditionally ends with a celebratory feast known as the break-fast.

“The idea is that we abstain from our bodily needs for this day in order to focus on spiritual transcendence,” Kosovske said. “We conclude our day of prayers and introspection with a communal break-the-fast meal.”

The traditional break-fast meal is similar to a typical American breakfast of eggs, fruit and baked goods. Sherri Meade, a former president at Beit Ahavah, now serves on the congregation’s membership committee which oversees gatherings for the High Holidays at the synagogue. She helps organize the community’s break-fast meal set for 7 p.m. Saturday at the synagogue’s home at Florence Congregational Church at 130 Pine St. in Florence.

Meade said the food is usually spread out on two big buffet tables, and includes baskets of bagels, cream cheese, sliced tomatoes and onions, salads, quiche, kugel, herring, hummus, fruit salad, challah bread, apples and honey to represent the fall harvest, and desserts such as cookies and brownies to complete the celebration and kick the New Year off with a fresh start.

The organizing committee is responsible for the bulk of the feast, Meade said, but it’s really a combination of community potluck and celebration at the end of a holy day.

“People bring stuff. It’s a lot of fun and very warm and welcoming,” she said. “People want to come together and uplift the mood.”

Meade said she struggles most with the lack of caffeine from skipping her morning cup of coffee. She noted that breakfast after a long fast is most welcome because everyone is hungry.

Kosovke agreed that a dairy-based meal of eggs, breads and fruits is traditional across all break-fasts at Beit Ahavah and beyond.

“Food is a very important part of Judaism because next to air and shelter, water and sleep, it’s one of the most important things we need to do to live,” said Kosovke. “It’s also an expression of culture. It’s not just a boring meal of cheese and eggs, there’s culture in every single dish.”

Meade said she grew up with a father who observed Jewish ritual and tradition, which meant religious holidays had great meaning. For her, “Jewish soul food” like bagels and lox and other breakfast foods have a very comforting feeling for many, making them holiday-centric.

“If you’ve done some hard introspective thinking and fasting, it’s a difficult day,” Meade said. “I think when Yom Kippur is over and the shofar blows at the end, you want to jump into the New Year and be comforted.”

The shofar is a ram’s horn, blown with a deep, long breathe at the end of the evening prayer service to mark the end of the fast.

For Saturday’s break-fast meal, Meade is making three noodle kugels — because two went too quickly at the Rosh Hashana lunch. The noodle kugel is a traditional eastern European dish similar to a casserole or pudding that is part of many Jewish holiday meals.

“I think it’s very comforting,” Meade said. “It’s sweet and creamy. It feels like home. ... It’s got a lot of cheese and I put fresh blueberries and raspberries in it.”

Kosovske said kugels can represent family heritage as often the recipes are handed down through generations. Other foods on the buffet table have a deeper, spiritual meaning, such as eggs, which represent new beginnings and find their way into many dishes along the break-fast tables.

“Eating an egg is always a sign of renewal in many religions,” said Kosovske. “When we eat, we want to eat foods that remind us of life.”

Eggs come into play with other holidays, most notably Passover, where they have a place on the seder plate.

Also at the break-fast meal is challah, a sweet, fluffy bread that is traditionally a straight braid, but for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur takes a round shape to represent the New Year and a new beginning.

The bagels and lox and other fishes over time became part of the feast for practical reasons, said Meade, as families would make their break-fast spreads from food bought at neighborhood Jewish delis. In this way, people could observe the solemn day focusing on atonement and then gathering in community rather than spending hours in the kitchen.

Though Yom Kippur is a solemn religious day, the break-fast meal tends to be joyful and light.

“There’s a great release that happens, similar to sometimes a wedding ceremony is really serious and the party is a huge celebration and that’s sort of the same ambiance of the break-the-fast,” said Kosovske. “It’s very social. People enjoy talking to each other. They have been sitting in prayer all day together and this is a chance to finally talk about your life and get to know each other, share a joyous meal together.”

Sarah Moomaw can be reached at smoomaw@gazettenet.com.