Yom Kippur, the Jewish calendar’s most sacred and solemn day, begins this Friday night. The first thing most people think about when they think about Yom Kippur is fasting. And for good reason – many Jewish people refrain from eating and drinking throughout the 25-hour holiday.
But what we sometimes forget to ask is, why do we fast? What purpose does it serve – either for our own spirituality and for the world? One of the verses we read and recite during services on Yom Kippur is a passage from Isaiah, which dives into this very question. It reads:
Is such the fast I desire a day for people to starve their bodies? Is it bowing the head like a bulrush and lying in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call that a fast, a day when the Lord is favorable? No, this is the fast I desire: To unlock fetters of wickedness, and untie the cords of the yoke to let the oppressed go free; to break off every yoke. It is to share the bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home; when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to ignore your own kin.
In other words, fasting one’s body may be an important way to connect to the holiday. But the real fast that God desires is for people to work for justice: to shake up the status quo of oppression, share bread with the hungry, take the poor into our homes and clothe the naked. According to the text, these actions are the truest and most profound way to “fast.” Not eating on Yom Kippur, then, is an intense physical reminder of the type of work we should be doing all year round.
This year, take your Yom Kippur fast to a new place by committing to serve, volunteer or donate for justice. Here are some ideas to get you started – both during the high holiday season, or throughout the year.
Let the oppressed go free
- Donate to or volunteer with Repair the World grantee-partner American Jewish World Service, another international development organization working for justice.
- Advocate for rights and justice. Get involved with community organizing, either locally or through an organization like Repair the World grantee-partners, the Jewish Organizing Initiative and the Progressive Jewish Alliance & Jewish Funds for Justice.
Share bread with the hungry
- Volunteer with City Harvest, a food rescue organization dedicated to feeding New York City’s hungry people.
- Donate to Mazon, a Jewish nonprofit dedicated to preventing and alleviating hunger among people of all faiths and backgrounds.
- Donate to Hazon Yeshaya an Israel-based humanitarian network dedicated to feeding, healing and training the country’s poorest residents.
- Check out Hazon’s Food Guide, a compilation of resources and practical ideas to help Jewish people and institutions make good, healthy food choices. (There’s a whole chapter dedicated to food justice)
Learn about the 2012 Farm Bill, a bill passed by congress that impacts the lives of farmers and eaters (especially people in low-income communities and people who rely on food stamps and other forms of government food assistance) across the country.
Take the poor into your home
- Volunteer with or donate to Dorot, a Jewish Federation-supported organization which, among other services, offers safe transitional housing for Jewish seniors who are facing homelessness.
- Donate to Coalition for the Homeless, or another advocacy and direct service organization working to help homeless men, women, and children.
Clothe the naked
- Donate your gently used clothing to Project Machson, a Jewish federation-supported clothing center on wheels that brings new clothing directly to the poor in their neighborhoods. Or find another Jewish clothing donation organization in your neighborhood.
- Volunteer with Dress for Success, an organization that promotes the economic independence of disadvantaged women by providing them with professional attire and career development tools to help them thrive in the workplace.
- Donate your next haircut to Locks of Love, and organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged kids suffering from hair loss from cancer treatments and other medical diagnoses.