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Reflections on Repentance without Fasting

Nicole Olarsch smiling headshot

Nicole Olarsch

As we approach Yom Kippur, I’ve been reflecting on the fact that I have never been able to fast due to my varying health conditions. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that Yom Kippur will never be a “traditional” day of atonement for me, in the sense of fasting, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t personally come up with ways to engage in self-reflection. I used to feel like I could never atone for my sins, but I still engage in prayer and take moments out of my day to go into a private room and reflect on my actions over the past year. What have I done? How can I improve my actions for this coming year?

A key practice that I’ve found helps my family and friends to include me during these times and ensure that I do not feel guilty for fasting is to acknowledge the fact that “I cannot fast for medical reasons,” and leave it at that. I welcome and encourage questions if people are unsure, but when you look at the grand scheme of things, there isn’t a whole lot that changes for others on Yom Kippur because I cannot fast. It’s important to acknowledge that I am abstaining from a major component of Yom Kippur – fasting. However, just as the Torah commands us to fast to atone for our sins, Judaism and that same Torah also want us to put our wellbeing and safety first.

Rather than feeling sympathy for me, let this be a learning opportunity and moment of exploration. Ask yourself how to make Yom Kippur more inclusive for people in your congregation or for your family members. For me personally, the best thing you can do is simply adhere to the requests of the individual. If you were to look at me, you wouldn’t be able to tell that I am disabled, or that I cannot fast. But that doesn’t mean your inclusion efforts should be any less!

I’ve noticed that acknowledging that I cannot fast often has resulted in some uncomfortable feelings or unsureness. Some people want to be overly accommodating, and some don’t want me around them if I need to eat. Please just treat me (and others who cannot fast for medical reasons) like everyone else!

And with that, I wish you a G’mar chatima tova, as well as luck on your inclusion journey. I also ask you to take care of your mental health this week, as referenced in my other article on this topic.

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Nicole Olarsch
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