Photo by David Sax
Each fall, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, most every Jewish deli closes up shop. Steam trays, usually piled high with fragrant meats, sit cold and empty. Slicing machines lie dormant, their blades at a standstill. The normal flying circus of roving trays, spattered mustard, and heated kibbitz has been given a day of rest. Now there is only darkness and silence.
By morning, deli owners, their families, and customers are already hungry. The ritualistic fast, which began after dinner the previous night, is full on. Within minutes of consuming the last bite of brisket, pangs of hunger materialize. The collective kvetching of the children of Israel soon begins, working itself into a wailing gripe that torments even the angels in heaven.
A day without food hardly sounds terrible to most, but to Jews it is a soul-wrenching trial. Picture a day without drink to Britons, a day without TV to Americans, or soccer for Brazilians. Denied our most essential pleasure, we turn upwards for help, asking God, "What have I done to deserve this hunger? How can I make it up to you?"
And God replies, "Look, you haven't exactly been saintly this year. You were greedy (three helpings of chopped liver at the Feingold Bar Mitzvah); you were violent (pushing Mrs. Blumstein aside to get a booth at Corky and Lenny's); you were dishonest (you didn't lose your number at Hobby's takeout counter, you never got one); and you took my name in vain. How many times did I have to hear "I didn't ask for this goddamn sandwich on goddamn seedless rye"? You were bad, but now you feel a little hunger and you want me to bring you something to ease it? Well tough it out and start groveling, because you ain't getting so much as the watery discharge from the mustard bottle until I see some serious repentance."