The Fast I Desire

09/30/2015 02:56 pm ET Updated Sep 30, 2016

"Rabbi, could I get a glass of water?" asks Rose.

It's Yom Kippur, a fast day, and we've just finished Kol Nidrei. This person is one of the seventy who have shown up at our home, Base, where I also happen to work.

Rose has an eating disorder and is not supposed to fast.

I show her a cabinet with glasses.

Base is a new start up within the Jewish community. I work as a rabbi without walls for this institutional mash up, funded generously by the UJA and Hillel International. The home of a pluralistic rabbinic couple, where relationships are fundamental, our motto is the Mishna's claim: "the world stands upon three: Torah, Service and Acts of Loving Kindness."

Rose showed up after discovering us online. She was one of twenty college and post college students and other young professionals who joined us the Monday night before Yom Kippur when we prepare a weekly dinner for our neighbors at the St. Xavier's homeless shelter.

On Yom Kippur morning, Rose came back. She shared more about her history with anorexia and this particular day.

"It's one of the hardest holidays for me," she said.
"Because of endless shul sitting?" I projected.
"Because of the body shaming that happens among women in shul," she explained to me. "'Oh, you look so fat in that, the fast will do you well.' Or, 'Oh, I could keep up this not eating thing. It's doing wonders for me.' That type of thing."

I had no idea.

Rose, whose real name is not Rose, and who gave me permission to write and share this reflection, reminded me why I work as a rabbi. For some, going to shul works. I'm one of those people. I often love getting lost in sweeping prayer with strangers and friends and the spiritual ecstasy that can sometimes come. And for so many others, shul doesn't come close to cutting it. I'm also one of those people. Something about being in a home, a friend's place, can just be more welcoming.

During Yom Kippur afternoon, we opened our home for a service project. Our plan: prepare care packages and deliver them to the homeless in Union Square and along sixth avenue, going out in pairs, meeting some of the folks in our neighborhood.

"This is the fast I desire," says the prophet Isaiah whose words we read in synagogue every Yom Kippur. "Share your bread with the hungry, bring the poor into your home, and do not hide yourself from your fellow human being." For the dozens of young adults who showed up at our home that afternoon, this was their Yom Kippur observance. I read those words aloud before our assembly line of sandwiches, granola bars, bottled water and clementine oranges. Thinking of the priestly service that took place in the ancient Temple on Yom Kippur day, this tiny project felt like a divine service of our own kind that afternoon.

As we sat with students in our living room later studying the book of Jonah, we found Jonah to be a "depressed yet highly functioning" prophet. Jonah will eventually do what he has to do but his heart isn't in it; he runs away or he's disappointed, and even though he'll show up when called (sometimes) his lingering feeling is "meh."

How many of us are "functional" Jews on Yom Kippur and during the high-holiday season? We do something because a friend has an extra ticket or it makes our parents happy or we're trying to meet someone? But where is our heart? Where is the "why" behind the "what" we do?

Rose reminded me of the why. Disappointed by a community and culture in a synagogue, she still kept searching, believing and knowing that there were people with whom she could sing, serve, share her values and build a community together. Back at the Base we're still cooking up our weekly dinner for the shelter and teaching classes but Rose wants to know when we are having our next Friday night song-full minyan. We're on it, Rose. Who else is coming?