Think fast: Yom Kippur and the Cubs

Think fast: Yom Kippur and the Cubs

CHAMPAIGN — One unofficial tradition of Yom Kippur that you won't find in any religious publication goes something like this:

Chow down before the sun sets on Day 1 of the holiest of Jewish holidays.

"It's a Jewish tradition to eat double beforehand," said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life on the University of Illinois campus, where many in the local Jewish community fueled up with a 5:30 p.m. buffet Tuesday ahead of the first service, which began around 6:10 p.m.

From then until nightfall today — a 25-hour stretch — there are, by tradition, a strict set of stipulations to be observed.

No eating. No washing. No perfume. No marital relations.

But none of that is the focus of the holiday, with the central themes being built around atonement and repentance.

"One day a year," Tiechtel said, "we take away ideas of physical pleasure and focus upon our spirit and our whole self, who we really are."

In the past, UI freshman Michael Vilker has abided by all the traditional sacrifices of Yom Kippur — refraining from wearing leather shoes is another — and it was his intent to do so again this time around.

The most difficult part, he said, isn't the sacrifice or the temptations. It's understanding why you're doing without.

"If you look at it and think 'I'm doing all these things and not getting that much out of it,' then I think it is difficult and you just can't go through life like that," Vilker said. "When you take a step back and look at the bigger picture and understand ... I don't think, personally, any of it is that hard."

This is Vilker's first Yom Kippur away from his family. Not being able to talk face-to-face with them during this special time presented a void in his life.

But after developing relationships at the Chabad, that missing piece has been filled.

"When I came here, Rabbi kind of filled that void of having that personal talk, having that person to help you through and kind of really understand not only what the holiday's about, but he's there as a second family," he said. "Chabad is a second family."

Outside the Chabad house is a large white banquet tent that seats about 300. That's where the Yom Kippur services are held throughout the 25-hour period.

"We purchased this building 11 years ago and one of the biggest blessings we've had is we've now got over 2,000 members," Tiechtel said. "Our building can only hold about 100, so every year we put the tent up and it stays up."

UI sophomore Lisa Goldsman won't be going to class today. She'll be fasting and attending services at the Chabad.

"I always fast," she said. "You definitely get used to it. When you think about not eating, it's harder. But this is important to me. You take the time to reflect on your past year and start over with a clean slate."

During Yom Kippur, Jews are expected to pray and reflect on the past year and focus on how to make themselves better in the year ahead.

Prayer services are constant, with members asked to attend as much as they're able to.

"I'm always encouraging people if they want to come for 10 minutes or of they want to come for 10 hours, just to come," Tiechtel said. "Some people I know are tired. So if you're not feeling well, stay home, pray from your couch."

The important services, Tiechtel said, were at sunset Tuesday and at 5:45 p.m. today. The latter will conclude with a break from the fast about 7:15 p.m.

Back home in New Jersey, Goldsman said her family typically would eat bagels once the 25 hours ended.

"You want to start light and ease your way back into it," she said. "A lot of people eat breakfast food."

Locally, there's another challenge this year. The Chicago Cubs were playing Game 4 of the National League Division Series Tuesday night, at a time that conflicted with the observation of Yom Kippur.

It's not the first time a Cubs game has happened during the holiday.

"There was once a rabbi called Sam and I said 'Sam, you coming to Yom Kippur services tonight?' He said 'Rabbi, what do I do? The Cubs are playing in the playoffs tonight.' I said, 'What do you mean, haven't you heard of TiVo?' He said, 'You mean I can TiVo the services?'" Tiechtel said with a laugh.

His message to fans who might want to catch an inning or two Tuesday?

"If I had five hours left of life, or five minutes left of life, what would be the most important thing?" Tiechtel said. "Sports is extremely important, sports brings people together, but the Cubs are going to win or they're not — I hope they win — and it doesn't matter if we're watching them or not.

"If I want to be there for the Cubs throughout the whole series until they win the World Series, let me take a chance to build myself up. These 25 hours, take care of yourself.

"All Cubs fans out there, pray while they play. They need our prayers."

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