What Should You Eat Before the Yom Kippur Fast? Ask Granny

Seven grandmothers give tips for getting through the fast.

Ilene Prusher
Ilene Prusher
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Oranges: Dan Perez
Credit: Dan Peretz
Ilene Prusher
Ilene Prusher

That 25-hour fast for Yom Kippur looms before you. In Israel, record high-temperatures for the fast are predicted, and given that the holiday comes exceptionally early in September this year, it’s likely to be warmer-than-usual in many parts of North America as well. So what’s best to eat on Friday afternoon to help get you through the day? We asked a few grandmothers – and in some cases, their grandchildren – for their advice.

1. Alice Weisz, age 66.

Cheryl Matthews: Pre-fast is usually fresh schnitzel, a few carby things, salads, and nothing unusually exotic.Credit: Doram Gaunt

Mother of two, grandmother of two.

Born in Sydney, Australia; now lives in Jerusalem.

Grandchildren call her: Savta.

Other roles: naturopath, environmentalist, former social worker.

“Four days before the fast, you have to make sure that you’re fully hydrated, which means drinking a glass of water for every hour while you’re awake. The key is to eat light, it shouldn’t be a heavy meal. Nothing salty and nothing spicy. My mother used to make chicken soup but I’m a veggie, so that doesn’t work for me. When my kids were growing up, I used to make a noodle pasty filled with veggies. And the key is steamed, rather than fried. And also, eating things that have the moisture in them.”

2. Susan Halter, age 86.

Mother of three, grandmother of seven, great-grandmother of one.

Born in Hungary; now lives in London.

Other roles: champion swimmer who just came back from a master’s competition in Amsterdam. Swam in 1948 Olympics, representing Hungary. Former special education teacher.

Grandchildren call her: Savta.

“Eat whatever you like. But then always eat an orange just before you start fasting. It’s juicy and it keeps you hydrated.”

3. Yael Mahanymi, age 68.

Mother of three (and this reporter’s own mother-in-law), grandmother of seven.

Born in Marrakesh, Morocco; now lives on kibbutz in Lower Galillee.

Other roles: specialist in Moroccan cooking, retired employee of Hamashbir Lazarchan, Israel’s department store chain.

Grandchildren call her: Savta.

“Growing up in Morocco, they always told us not to eat fish before a fast, and not meat either, because they make you thirsty. Usually we’d have chicken before the fast, and usually a light soup. Nothing spicy and nothing too fatty. After the fast we’d have harira soup with meat, and a kind of omelet. But with my own kids here in Israel, I did it differently. They wanted soup with dumplings (“kisonim”), and I’d make them pumpkin with apples. The other wonderful thing we always had at the break-fast was a special bread with saffron and whole almonds in the dough. It was very special.”

4. Dorothy Smith, age 88

Mother of four, grandmother of four, great-grandmother of four.

Born in Winnipeg, Canada; now lives in Jerusalem.

Other roles: tennis player, quilter and ceramicist, renowned cake baker and former caterer.

Grandchildren call her: Baubie.

“Our family usually eats a pasta dinner before Yom Kippur because it is long lasting. My mother was different. She came from Rega, Latvia. We had a full meal of chicken soup with knaidelach, roasted chicken, tzimmes, kugel, etcetera.”

5. Sandra Prusher, age 69

Mother of three (including this reporter), grandmother of six.

Born in New York City, U.S.A.; now lives in Florida.

Other roles: recently retired financial controller, yoga enthusiast.

Grandchildren call her: Mima (the older four) and Bubbie (the youngest two)

“I have always believed that a hearty dinner before a fast is what is needed. I especially like to make a chicken soup with knaidelach (matzo balls) or lochshin (noodles). Chicken is then either roasted, baked or broiled. With that we make roasted or mashed potatoes, a green vegetable and maybe carrot tzimmis. Dessert is a must since fasting needs a sweet start. Maybe we’ll have some mandel bread or honey cake if there’s any left over from Rosh Hashana.”

6. Cheryl Matthews

Mother of three, grandmother of nine.

Born in Chicago; now lives in Jerusalem.

Other roles: avid reader, blessing-giver, office manager.

Grandchildren call her: Bubbie.

“Pre-fast is usually fresh schnitzel, a few carby things, salads, and nothing unusually exotic. It’s good to drink a ton the day before, and eat salty foods – which help retain water - and watery fruits like grapes and watermelon. I sort of remember my mother my mother making chicken soup, and it is a tradition to eat kreplach, but don’t quote me on that.”

7. Lily Nassim, passed away last year at the age of 98

She had ten grandchildren and six great grandchildren when she died.

Born in Singapore to Iraqi Jews; lived in Melbourne, Australia.

We called her granny although she had a lot of Arabic and Malay slurs. She raised five children and had a lot of help (amas) or servants in Singapore but she did help my grandfather with running a hotel and a jewelry store.

In fact, she was a working woman with lots of help and never really learned to cook until she came to Australia in the 1970s. She was a great cook, sewer and loved to play cards and red aces.

“My Iraqi grandmother would always advise us to eat rendang with rice, beef sautéed in coconut milk (they’re spicy and oniony), curry puffs and curried mince meat in pastry before the fast,” says her granddaughter Rebecca Brygel, who lives in Jerusalem. “Also, she told us to drink lots of tea. After the fast is machboos cheese puffs, date pastry coconut pastry, and kak (an Iraqi dessert). On the other hand, my husband’s Polish grandmother makes perogen and liver and cow foot jelly and cremshnit and borsht. She breaks the fast on a drink of milk and coca cola together. She’s hilarious.”

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