In Battle to Survive the Yom Kippur Fast, One Small, Doughy Weapon

The holiest day in the Jewish calendar may be a fast day, but that doesn't mean food isn't a key element.

Just because it's a fast day doesn't mean Yom Kippur is devoid of culinary interest. Jews are determined to reach the most important fast of the year on a full stomach, and no one ignores the previous day's edict: to eat.

The hours and days before Yom Kippur are devoted in many Jewish kitchens worldwide to one particularly tough decree - preparation of kreplach, those pale dumplings that Ashkenazim are inclined to consume at least three times a year: at Purim, on the seventh day of Sukkot known as Hoshana Rabbah, and on the eve of Yom Kippur.

All around the world, countless pairs of hands in recent days have been chopping onions, grinding and frying meat, kneading dough, rolling, cutting, filling, pressing the corners and cooking the same Jewish food that comes from Poland and Lithuania but probably derives from southern France. Kreplach has also not escaped the wave of food consciousness that washed over Israel, giving mythical status to this simplest of dishes.

In industrial kitchens, like that of the Shtisel restaurant in Bnei Brak or the wonderful Beit Yisrael food shop in Jerusalem, a multitude of triangular dumplings came into the world this past week, sold in fresh packages to be consumed during today's pre-fast meal. Every kitchen has its own version of the classic meat or chicken liver filling. In Beit Yisrael they make Hungarian kreplach with cabbage, while at Shtisel a line has developed in recent years alongside the classic version - a vegetarian kreplach in which the dough contains potato puree, spinach or mushrooms.

The owner of the Beit Yisrael hall does not believe in vegetarian kreplach. "It's not a serious invention," shudders Moshe Goldin as he fishes his kreplachs from boiling water and tosses them into a bowl of ice water. He explains that especially of the eve of Yom Kippur, it is important to insist on kreplach containing beef. "Meat is the law, while flour is kindness, mercy," he says.

Meat or vegetarian, kreplach can be no small amount of bother to prepare. Jerusalem restaurant owner and chef Shmil Holland dedicated a chapter of his book "Shmaltz" to kreplach and other cooked, baked and fried doughs from the East European kitchen. In it, he quotes his grandmother's neighbor, who once said (in loosely translated Yiddish ): "Because of the holy kreplach I was late for the damn prayer."

But prayer, of course, is today's central theme. From about 5 P.M. until 6 P.M. on Tuesday, many permanent synagogues and many other ad-hoc congregations will open their doors to the general public for the "Kol Nidre" prayer.

The Tzohar rabbis' organization, together with the Yahad movement, will hold 240 prayer congregations throughout the country, including in kibbutzim such as Ein Gedi, Yad Hanna and Einav. The Binah secular yeshiva will hold prayers on the roof of the Maariv building - though apparently unrelated to that newspaper's woes.