by The #ActuallyAutistic Coach
Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, a holiday observed by most Jewish people around the world, even if they don’t observe or celebrate any other Jewish holiday. The day revolves around reflecting on one’s actions of the previous year, thinking about one’s relationships with others and themselves and how to improve. It’s also a day of fasting, where those who observe the fast don’t partake in food or drink (including water) for 25 hours. For autistic Jewish people who observe the holiday, there are a number of sensory and psychological challenges that can come up.
The most obvious sensory difficulty is the fast. Food helps us regulate our senses and depriving ourselves of food and water can cause a meltdown. It’s important to remember that if that is the case for you, you are not obliged to fast. Health and human life always takes precedence. There are many other things you can do instead.
The second sensory difficulty that comes to mind is the concept of the day itself. As autistic people living in a neurotypical world we are constantly forced to mask in order to make a living, to fit into society. Something I always grapple with during the 10 Days of Repentance (the time between Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, a time for self reflection and repentance) is that the masking I am forced to endure is essentially lying. Lying to other yes, therefore creating a barrier between myself and those around me, essentially cutting myself off, but also lying to myself, disconnecting myself from myself! What greater sin can there be than that?
The Jewish sage Rabbi Hillel who lived in the First Century BCE is famous for saying, “if not for myself, than who will be for me?”. This early concept of self care is extremely important to remember for all people, but especially autistic and other neurodivergent people. Yes, masking is a form of self-care, a way to cope with the neurotypical world, but also the ultimate form of acting against one’s will. Do we live for others or do we live for ourselves?
It’s a strange question on the face, as we should always strive to live for others and our communities, as opposed to the individualist models that neurotypical society promotes. However, we can never do that to the detriment of our own selves, our own health, our own sanity. In reality, unmasking is the most sincere form of Hillel’s maxim, and the biggest thing I think about going into Yom Kippur.
When reflecting on the year that has gone by and the new one ahead, I ask myself, am I being true to myself? Knowing myself? Forgiving myself? What can I do to better know myself and advocate for my autistic self? What can I do to help others do the same? What can I do for our autistic community? How can I build awareness and acceptance?
As we go into this holy day, these are the questions I will ask myself and encourage you to ask as well. I will pray for making the world a better place, for me, all my autistic comrades, and the world entirely.
Gmar Hatima Tova.