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Friday, September 17, 2010

What Do S.F. Rabbis Eat Before and After Yom Kippur? We Asked Five to Enlighten Us

Posted By on Fri, Sep 17, 2010 at 11:09 AM

A bagel and lox is a break-the-fast tradition. But is it rabbi-approved? - BEN GOLUB/FLICKR
  • Ben Golub/Flickr
  • A bagel and lox is a break-the-fast tradition. But is it rabbi-approved?
Rabbis are the sages who spiritually guide us, teach us the lessons of the Talmud, officiate and celebrate with us on joyous occasions, and console us when we've lost a loved one. With Yom Kippur and its 24-hour dietary fast starting at sundown today, we thought it sensible to look to rabbis for perhaps the most important wisdom of all: eating strategies.

After all, while we spend the day sitting in shul (or, um, camped out in front of the TV watching college football), rabbis spend Yom Kippur on the bimah, reading from the Torah and orating thought-provoking sermons. Rabbi Julie Saxe-Taller, of Congregation Sherith Israel, likens it to an athletic event, declaring "it's a long 24 hours." We asked five local rabbis what they eat before and after their Yom Kippur fasts. What we learned is that they have more will power ― and healthier eating habits ― than we do.

Stephen Pearce, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El, chooses to keep his pre-fast meal simple, with non-spicy or salty proteins and lots of water. "Be sure to take your vitamins," he says. After the fast, Pearce drinks bubbly water and noshes on vegetables and fruits. Sound too healthy? It is. When we press him, Pearce admits that his wife always makes what he calls the "traditional" brisket. "Even though I eat almost no red meat, I do steal a piece," he acknowledges.

Jonathan Jaffe, also a rabbi at Emanu-El, has a similar pre-fast approach and emphasizes hydration. "The most important thing is tons of water because there is so much talking the next day." He notes that "it's not smart to carbo-load, but I inevitably hit the Cheerios or Raisin Bran." Post fast, Jaffe, too, likes to smart small. "To be honest, the hardest thing is not to overeat," he says. "So the strategy here is to have a little something directly after the service. This way, you don't show up at a break the fast completely starving. No one wants to see the rabbi in rabid form, plowing through a buffet."

At Congregation Sherith Israel, Senior Rabbi Lawrence Raphael likes his last meal before Yom Kippur to be symbolic, eating a piece of noodle kugel and round foods such as challah and apples with honey (round foods symbolize continuity, and sugary foods represent hope for a sweet new year). He breaks his fast at the synagogue with similar foods, preferring things he calls "light and sweet." Saxe-Taller goes for a balanced pre-fast meal that includes pasta, and ends her fast with fruit, preferably pineapple. "I like to work up to other things" she says.

Perhaps our most unusual conversation was with Katie Mizrahi, rabbi at Or-Shalom, a Reconstructionist congregation (SFoodie side note: Mizrahi's husband is Raj Abbasi, head chef at Maharani on Post Street. Only, perhaps, in San Francisco.) Like her colleagues, Mizrahi preaches the importance of protein before the fast but likes to keep it portable.

"I'm usually in the synagogue prepping for the service and I carry a small sack of food, hard-boiled eggs and a round challah, that I share with the musical ensemble folks." This year will be different for Mizrahi, though: She's pregnant and won't be fasting. How does a rabbi feel about not fasting? Mizrahi laments. "The fast enhances the holiday and helps me to stay focused." When she is breaking the fast, Mizrahi does it gently, with fruit. "Don't overdo it," she counsels. "The mind is hungrier than the body."

We'll try to remember that tomorrow night while scarfing our third sesame bagel loaded with whitefish salad, tomatoes, and onions.

Read more from Alex Hochman at Urban Stomach. Follow us on Twitter at @sfoodie.

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