The loneliness of the long-distance Yom Kippur faster - opinion

Published date04 October 2022
Publication titleJerusalem Post, The: Web Edition Articles (Israel)
"Enduring is, in essence, a concentrated version of life placed under a bright microscope."

Triathlete and mountain biker Terri Schneider

Stories of people under extremis appeal to the 12-year-old boy in me, but I also read them hoping their authors' suffering and triumphs will cough up some sort of wisdom about the human condition. What do they learn about themselves when they push their bodies to the limits? It's the rare book by an adventurer or endurance athlete that doesn't include a moment of satori, the Japanese Buddhist term for awakening or enlightenment — or at least a glimmer of self-knowledge. Writes the triathlete and mountain biker Terri Schneider: "Enduring is, in essence, a concentrated version of life placed under a bright microscope."

I am not always glued to the comfy chair, but probably the most physically punishing thing I do all year is the Yom Kippur fast. The 25-hour fast and synagogue marathon is its own endurance event. I hear echoes of the endurance athlete when rabbis describe the day as a test of "our willingness to submit to discipline" or "whether we are made of that same tough stuff that allowed Judaism to survive for thousands of years."

Yom Kippur and the 12-Hour Walk

As Yom Kippur approaches Tuesday night, one of the books on my nightstand is The 12-Hour Walk, a self-help book by the endurance athlete and adventurer Colin O'Brady. (He has written about his own attempt to become the first person to ski alone across Antarctica.) He suggests that you set aside 12 hours to walk alone, unplugged, at your own pace and as far as you want to or can go. The physical test, the silence and the sense of accomplishment will leave you feeling you can overcome anything and "unlock your best life."

"When I was crossing Antarctica alone in 2018 I was pulling my sled in silence for 12 hours per day. In the latter half of that crossing I felt deeply connected to mind, body, and spirit,"O'Brady told an interviewer. "Despite my body being worked, despite my ribs protruding, despite the frostbite on my face and limited food, I found this sort of flow state, this connection to purpose and fulfillment. I thought I could take that with me forever."

A 12-hour silent walk sounds like the opposite of Yom Kippur, which involves hours of sitting in a crowd and facing a torrent of words. But the experience he describes has its similarities with the Day of Atonement. There is often, for example, the point in many adventurers' memoirs when they talk...

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