My Stomach: My Ruler, My King

Like many Jews, I have stomach problems. Fortunately for most people, their problems aren’t as severe as mine. For three years I lived with physically crippling symptoms before I was finally diagnosed by an amazing NYC gastroenterologist. He basically saved my life.

As part of my prescriptive lifestyle, I have to eat whenever I feel hungry. Even waiting five minutes too long can leave me severe pain for hours later.

And one can imagine fasting, even on Yom Kippur, is entirely out of the question.

I probably should have known this was coming years ago. I remember attending afternoon services with my family nearly 10 years ago. I was reading the haftorah, the book of Jonah. As soon as I finished, I left the sanctuary and nearly ran to the bathroom to throw up. When my mom came to check on me, we chalked it up to being on a new medicine.

The next year, I attended neilah services with just my father while my mom was home preparing the break fast meal. All of a sudden, I became sick to my stomach. I quietly grabbed my dad’s cell phone and went to the parking lot.

“Mom, can you come bring me a granola bar?”

She was confused. I explained that I was nauseous and needed something to eat right away. She drove all the back to shul just to give me a snack.

The problems continued when I got to college. Our Hillel handed out a goody bag of treats to students who showed up to neilah so that we could break fast as soon as the services ended. Of course, I snuck to the bathroom and threw up. I went back to services to grab my goody bag and went to another floor of the building to eat.

It was around this time, after getting sick for many years in a row, that I decided that I probably shouldn’t fast. It seemed simple enough. That should solve my Yom Kippur dilemma. But in fact, it created a whole set of new problems

First, what does one eat on Yom Kippur? Is it better to eat as little as possible, just what’s needed to keep me healthy, or to eat a hearty, full meal? And what should I choose to eat? Perhaps it should be Jewishly related food, maybe a nice bagel with cream cheese or matzah ball soup. Or should I stick with something simple, like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?

Posted on September 20, 2007

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