To eat or not to eat…Jewish traditions around mourning

Today marks my dad’s yartzite; the Yiddish word for the one year anniversary of his death. A year ago today, I got on and off two airplanes, traversing five time zones, in order to sit beside my father and hold his hand, alongside my mother, sister, and the world’s most unappealing fruit and cookie platter, as he passed. Laughing, crying, listening to music and sitting silently, lost in our own thoughts and emotions, we occupied space together for the last time as our original family unit of four.A year ago today, hours later after Dad had peacefully taken his last breath, somehow, we managed to gather ourselves up and leave the hospital. Not wanting to go home, but unsure of what to do we filed into a Vietnamese restaurant nearby. Sitting down to slurp warm brothy noodle soup, we oscillated between silence and half-formed questions. My suitcase still sat in my sister’s car. My airplane ticket from London still in my back pocket of my jeans.

We sat at that table together like zombies, eating something we hoped would provide some comfort, but mostly just wouldn’t get stuck in our throats. We ate because we didn’t know what else to do, and couldn’t remember if we had eaten at all that day, or even the day before that.

Days later, following Dad’s funeral, back at now-just-Mom’s house, we listened to the cantor as she sang prayers and explained that Judiac law commands us to ‘commence with the actions of the living’; namely to eat. The action seemed to go against everything my body was telling me to do, but I did it anyway. I remember poping a piece of challah into my mouth to conclude the ceremony, mostly so my mother wouldn’t have to do so herself – all eyes on the three of us standing there, still in shock.

Today on Dad’s yartzite, according to more prescriptive forms of Judiasm, I’m meant to fast, in order to pay my respects to my late father (a stupid term – he was always punctual if not early). This too goes against what my body is telling me to do. In the lead up to today I have considered every iteration of every food my dad ever enjoyed and wondered how I could possibly find the stregnth (and grocery budget, and fridge space) to make them all. To me, that is the ultimate sign respect. To cook the foods that gave him joy alongside nourishment. To dig into the parts of life he loved the most, to share them and relish in them. Because I can. Because it celebrates him and his life, rather than the silence and solitude of his death.

I’m not sure what I’ll end up eating today, but it will be done in his sweet memory. Because, as it is said in Jewish tradition, his memory is a blessing. One worth celebrathing through enjoyment and pleasure, whenever possible.

About The Author


Eat. Drink. Wander. Think. Write.

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