The Jewish Nomad’s guide to falling into a healthier High Holiday season experience

A picture of Vermont by Ilana Zackon.

As the leaves change on the trees and the weather gets colder, I can’t help but feel that the Jewish calendar got the timing right.

Who wants to start a new year in the dead of winter, shovelling snow off your driveway and shivering? Not me.

With the start of school, the brisk air and the slew of Jewish holidays—both sweet and reflective— it just… makes sense. 

At my Rosh Hashanah table, a big topic of discussion this year was: why do we have so much happening at once? Four days after Yom Kippur comes Sukkot, which segues into Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

For those observing, it’s both delightful and exhausting.

And while I don’t have the answer to the calendar question just yet, I have thoughts on how to get through this season without burning out.

1. Learn how to balance your bowels

You heard me. As an Ashkenazi Jew, I know all about spending time in the bathroom due to eating too many beige-coloured carbs.

I used to see the holidays as a time to let go, food-wise, and adopt the mentality that calories don’t count on Shabbat.

But my metabolism ain’t what it used to be.

What I’ve found helpful is to keep up my healthy eating habits, even during the yom tov feasts.

If drinking a smoothie for breakfast is what keeps you going, keep that up. (Bubbe will be sure to save you a piece of honey cake for later, don’t you fret.)

Make sure you’re getting enough fruit, vegetables and protein, in addition to the potatoes, challah and the like. You need carbs, too—but if you feel like a sack of potatoes all month, you might want to take that feedback in!

Overall, make sure you’re listening to what your body actually wants to consume. Ask yourself: how will I feel, in my body, after eating this? Do I actually want to eat this or is it because it’s in front of me?

And if you choose to indulge in big, heavy meals for dinner (by all means do! It’s still important to enjoy yourself!), consider having a lighter breakfast or lunch. And be sure to keep your body moving, so you can digest, whether that’s long walks around the park with friends and family—or hitting the gym on the intermediate days of Sukkot.

2. Explore the power of restorative yoga

As a certified instructor, I highly recommend restorative yoga as a way to keep your immune system in check.

If you don’t think you’re flexible, rest assured this style of yoga is sweat-free, restful and almost entirely done on the ground. I like to think of it as a self-massage where all you need to do is set up your props and let them work for you.

“The Yoga Ranger” on YouTube has excellent free videos to help you wind down and rebalance your energy, nervous system and adrenals.

If you don’t have a lot of time, this short 20-minute video will work wonders. All you need is one blanket.

(If you liked this, be sure to check out more of her videos.)

Pro tip: you can easily substitute studio-tier props, like bolsters and yoga blocks, with items from home like pillows and books.

3. Just cozy up with a good book

Are you feeling socially drained from all of those kiddushes and large communal meals?

Make sure to find reading material that excites you to spend some time with, between high-energy activities. This past year, I had the pleasure of interviewing a number of very talented authors. To top it off, I thoroughly enjoyed reading their work. Two of them happen to live in Toronto:

My Face in the Light by Martha Schabas is a lyrical, captivating read about a young woman’s relationship with her artist mother. It sucked me right in and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a reflective piece about coming to terms with childhood traumas and entering the trials and tribulations of adulthood.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander is a thought-provoking and engaging collection of very Jewish short stories. Witty and intelligent, Englander brings in his own experience, growing up in a religious Jewish community, while really pushing the envelope. In the title story, a baal teshuvah couple and a secular couple come together and must face their differences. This book pulls no punches.

4. You could always just go outside

When I lived in Vancouver, I discovered that locals got through the rainy winters by… going outdoors anyway.

It’s very tempting to stay in on dreary days, but getting fresh air can make a huge difference to your mental well-being.

So, make sure to spend time outdoors, between meals and shul attendance—regardless of the weather.

(Once we get into the rituals of Sukkot, this will become much easier, of course.)

Do you have any other activities or habits that have helped you get through the chagim more peacefully? Write in to let me know and shanah tovah! 

Ilana Zackon can be reached at ilanawritesthings[@] and found on Facebook and Instagram.

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