Thinking About Diabetes and Guilt on Yom Kippur


How often has diabetes made you feel guilty?  It happens to me all of the time.  I feel guilty when I don’t check my blood sugar.  I feel guilty when I eat something like the amazing fudge brownies (Mrs. Fields recipe) that are in my refrigerator right now.  I feel guilty when I don’t exercise (which happens way too often).

*I should note here that guilt comes very naturally to me and even accidentally stepping on an ant makes me feel bad. 

So, being the sort of person who blames herself for everything, on the eve of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, you’d think I’d be racing to synagogue to ask God for forgiveness.  But I’m not religious, so instead of going to pray and ask for forgiveness, I’m just going to stay home and feel guilty about not going to synagogue and asking for forgiveness.

Yom Kippur and feeling guilt have always gone hand-in-hand for me.  Growing up in Houston, I went to synagogue every Yom Kippur with my family, including my great-grandfather and my grandmother, Bashy.  Bashy was obsessed with feeding me and my brother, so nothing worried her more than the thought of a full day in synagogue and no food in sight.  To be sure we wouldn’t starve, Bashy packed the trunk of her car with homemade baked goods. 

Shortly after the services began, Bashy, who was always dressed in colorful, silk outfits and medium-heeled shoes, would sneak us out.  She was anything but subtle, which made the whole sneaking thing especially ridiculous.  She’d lead us down the long hallway to the exit near the parking lot, straight into the 95 degree Texas sun.  “You need to eat!” she’d declare, although barely two hours had passed since we’d had breakfast.  Then she’d unlock the trunk of her car and pull out strudel that was triple wrapped in aluminum foil.  If you think Bashy’s strudel was tasty, you’re wrong.  When cooking and baking, Bashy was more interested in speed than accuracy.  And she wasn’t big on mixing ingredients.  Things just sort of came together in a bowl to form a dough, some jam was smeared onto the dough, and then it was baked until rock-hard.

Year after year my brother and I obeyed Bashy and followed her outside where she took chunks of strudel from the boiling trunk of her car.  The jam dripped everywhere, oozing from the heat, and staining our synagogue clothes.  Eating on Yom Kippur, even for kids, seemed wrong, especially on synagogue grounds.  But Bashy’s law was more powerful than God’s.  We understood this well, so we didn’t object when Bashy told us to eat.  We understood that in her mind, she was saving us.  

But we also knew Bashy felt shame in what she was doing because when it came time to eat, she told us to sit in the roasting car so no one would see us.  Her line was that we had to hide because if other kids saw her strudel, they would want some, and then we wouldn’t have enough.  It was an obvious lie.  No one wanted her strudel and anyway, she had enough in the trunk to feed the entire congregation.  Still, we did as Bashy ordered.  We downed our gravelly strudel with sweat on our brows and shame in our hearts.  But we had reason to be grateful, too- at least she wasn’t pulling tuna sandwiches out of the trunk.

Today I also have reason to be grateful.  Yom Kippur is the one day of the year when diabetes gives me an advantage.  Diabetes makes me exempt from fasting.  I can eat tomorrow without guilt, as long as I stay away from the brownies.


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Naomi Potash
Naomi Potash
9 years ago

This is a great story. I am Jessica’s aunt. I fondly remember her grandmother’s strudel rocks and her “need to feed.” This is a wonderful story about human nature/guilt versus a Jewish grandmother’s will….the grandmother always wins. What a wonderful and delicious slice of life! Happy New Year!
 delicious slice of life! Happy New Year!

Jessica Apple
9 years ago

Thanks for your kind words, Emily.  And yes, the strudel was bad.  But in all honesty, the years of missing my grandmother have proved to me how much I loved her- so now I can say that if she were alive today and baking, I’d take a big bolus every day and eat a couple pounds of sturdel, just to make her happy. 

Stefanie Tsabar
9 years ago

I was hoping someone would write about Yom Kippur!  And guilt is a topic near and dear to me, as well.  Such a well-crafted story, Jessica.  Thanks for sharing your childhood with us.  (Also, just the word strudel makes my mouth water; it couldn’t have been that bad, could it?)

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