Israel is, as we all know, a very intrusive society. Everyone knows – or wants to know – everything about everyone. Your business is everyone’s business.
People have no shame, no shyness, no hesitation about asking about almost everything – your salary, your degree of religiosity, your age, how you vote, your marital status. It’s all fair game.
So it comes as no surprise that on the eve of Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the most common question heard is: “Are you fasting?”
On the surface, this is really a bit of ‘chutzpah’. Whether you fast or not is a sort of standard – if you do, you somehow still belong to the tribe, even if you have no other religious affiliation or interest. If you don’t, well, you are really a bit beyond the Pale. Beyond hope. Totally and completely devoid of any Jewish value. Hardly worth talking to.
So when our delightful next door neighbor came to wish us a Shana Tova, and asked, by the way, whether we were fasting, it almost flashed a red light with me. As if, ‘what business is it of hers’ whether we do or don’t. But then, with her next breath, after we had replied in the negative, she said: “Very good”. Not because she wanted support for the non-fasters – she herself does fast. But because she felt that it was better, healthier, safer for people of our advancing age not to fast. She was not making a value judgement, she was looking out for our well-being.
So in a brief moment of spirituality, from a totally non-religious point of view, let me say this. Don’t always be so fast to judge others on their actions, since you don’t necessarily know where they are coming from. Give people the benefit of the doubt, a portion of grace. If they ask you something embarrassing or cheeky, think twice before telling them where to go, or what to do with their question. It is, after all, the time of the year known as the “Days of Awe”, when atonement is ‘the thing’. And atonement is good for the soul, be it a religious soul or not.