I fast on Yom Kippur and have done so every year of my life. As I grew older, I learned from the passage of Isaiah that we read on that day, that the act of fasting and spiritual repentance is meaningless unless it’s accompanied by moral actions in the world. We are not being asked to fast to focus on ourselves, on our dedication to God or religion or on how refined our souls are becoming. We are being asked to fast to remind ourselves to work harder for justice, to recognize the reality of those on whose behalf we speak out and to take actions to change that reality. Since I learned that, I have made an effort every year at Yom Kippur to ask myself what more I might do to help pursue justice in the world.
A few years ago, I took on another fast in my life. AJWS was heavily involved in organizing against the genocide in Darfur, and Mia Farrow, one of our great allies in that effort, went on a three-week hunger fast, looking for a more visible and effective response from the U.S. government. At her request, I (and many others) committed to two days of fasting. On the website that explained the fast, there was a list of names of those of us who were fasting on behalf of the people of Darfur. Next to it, there was a list of names of people in Darfur who were “fasting” because they had no food. Seeing these names regularly made these individuals and their hunger become much more real to me.
And so, I made a relatively easy decision to continue Mia’s fast every Monday, taking nothing but tea and water, not eating until dinner time. It has been two years and this regular fast has had its own impact on me. It has had an impact those several times during each Monday when I am about to grab some food and then remember why I’m not eating. It has had an impact on me during that point in mid afternoon when I become aware of my hunger and really connect in my mind to the people of Darfur and to the people across the globe who feel that same pain in their bellies—but not by choice. And sometimes, this fast still takes me to a more intense internal and spiritual level, connecting me to my work and AJWS’s work to alleviate global hunger in a more real way than I experience otherwise.
At this moment in the life of the world, people are astoundingly able to block out the bad news; most of us don’t absorb what is happening here in the U.S., much less in Ethiopia, Peru and Burma; our government thinks nothing of approving a budget that will cause hunger and claim lives; and we so often fail to pressure our leaders to make choices that do good without inflicting harm. It is at these moments when I hear the call from Isaiah to fast in order “To let the oppressed go free.”
And is why I felt so compelled to join Tony Hall in this week-long fast, to urge my colleagues and friends to take action, to see what more I can learn about myself, about some aspects of the reality I speak about every day, and about what more I might be doing to help heal the world.