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Why I Fasted on Yom Kippur for the First Time in Twenty... or Is It Thirty... Years

From the title of this article, it should be evident I don't remember the last time I fasted on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement.

When I was a kid, I used to tell my father I was going to fast in order to avoid going to school. (Despite a sizable Jewish population, the New York City public schools were open.) Then I would go out to play stickball with my friends, only to sneak off shortly thereafter for a French fries and egg cream break at a candy store on 85th and Madison known to us as Jesse's Gip Joint. That usually happened somewhere between 10 and 11 a.m. As you can see, I didn't make it very far.

That was in the 1950s. The years after that, decades actually, are a blur. I can vaguely remember trying or pretending to fast, but I can't remember really completing one. I do, however, recall gorging myself on several occasions at break fast dinners out of Philip Roth novels, as if I had fasted.

But today I really did.

Well, not completely, but pretty close. I didn't eat any food at all for the required twenty-five hours, but I did have a little water in the morning. (You're not supposed to.)

I do have an excuse, however. As a part of my battle with Father Time (and for pure pleasure), every Wednesday I have a singles tennis lesson with Godwin Omuta. Godwin is six-foot three with the shoulders of an NBA forward and is (no joke) a former member of the Nigerian Davis Cup team. He hits the ball, as you might guess, pretty hard. If I rallied with Omuta for more than ten minutes in the L.A. sun without taking water, forget the battle with Father Time. I would expire on the spot.

So today I did fast... mostly... don't quibble or call my rabbi on me. You can't anyway. I don't have one -- unless you count Dennis Prager.

Which leads me to one of the reasons I actually did it. A couple of weeks ago, feeling more guilty than normal (more of that in a moment), I decided this was the year I should attend Rosh Hashanah services with my family. A few years ago, we had gone to a Chabad service, but that was more of an anthropological expedition to visit the ultra-orthodox Hasidim. Interesting as it was, it was more of a (not very unconscious) exercise in keeping religion at bay and making it a curiosity.

Dennis was another matter. I listened to his show almost every day on my commute to PJ Media headquarters. Not only that, I had been on the show myself and he had been to the PJTV studios for interviews. I knew his views pretty well and agreed with them 95% of the time, which is about as much as I agree with anybody.

He is, needless to say, one smart dude and knows considerably more than I do about Judaism -- although I knew secretly more than the garden variety agnostic, having visited Israel several times, written a novel set in the country, and studied my religion with, yes, a Chabad rabbi about twenty years ago.