The One with the Yom Kippur Algorithm

It’s that time of year folks when Jews all of the world make the most stressful phone call of the year. The one to the caterer to order our Break the Fast trays.

A little background: Next week, we observe Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. It is a somber holiday, so we don’t wish each other a Happy Yom Kippur, but rather an easy fast. We attend services and adhere to a 25 hour fast. During this time, we ask for God’s forgiveness and pray to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year. The purpose of the fast is to put aside our physical needs so that we can focus on our spiritual ones through prayer. At sundown, it is tradition to gather family and friends together to eat a dairy meal. This meal is known as Breaking the Fast.

I host the Break the Fast meal every year at my house. But before the main event, I need to order a tray of food. Placing this order requires a complicated High Holy Day algorithm.

First, I use logic to determine the number of people coming to my house. Then, subtract the number of people that don’t eat the fish. Add in what foods they will eat and make sure to include that in the order.

Next, perform a brief analysis of my options to determine where to order from? Is it from the place with the tray that serves 12 people but really gives enough for 15? Probably. Should I order for fewer people than the number I actually need so we get just the right amount of food? (By the way, these trays are not cheap.) Or should I throw caution to the wind and go a la carte? Either way, I take on the added risk that we will be eating regular lox and kippered salmon for the next week or so. (Not a bad thing if you like it, which I do).

Third, what kind of bagels do I want, and how does that correlate to what people like to eat? One year, I offered a random selection that included cinnamon raisin bagels. I learned that it just isn’t congruent with the lox and whitefish salad. Another year, I ordered a “nice mix” of bagels, which included a substantial remainder of poppyseed bagels. I won’t be making that mistake again.

And we aren’t done yet! What percentage of regular lox vs. nova lox should be included on the tray? I base this on the assumption of how many family members are watching their salt intake this year.

What variables should be included when it comes to the cheese tray? American, Slender American, Sweet Munchee, Lite Muenster or Swiss? At this point, I want ALL the cheeses because I’m exhausted, and I can’t make one more decision about this meal.

Once the algorithm is complete, I have to check my work to make sure I didn’t forget anything before producing my results. This is when I remember to order a loaf of black bread, a pound of turkey breast (for those who don’t eat fish), and the minimum amount of herring fillets in cream sauce that a small subset of people can’t live without.

Thankfully, my sister in law makes a plethora of delicious desserts, and others bring fruit trays, kugels, and blintzes to round out the meal.

Oy Vey! This algorithm is so much work, but I’m incredibly blessed to do it as part of our fall tradition.

Shana tova to those who celebrate. I wish you an easy fast, and may we all be written in the Book of Life.





3 comments on The One with the Yom Kippur Algorithm

  1. Urailak
    October 3, 2019 at 6:44 pm (5 months ago)

    I enjoyed reading your post and learning about Yom Kippur. I didn’t know that the preparation can be so complicated. I hope you and your family will have an easy fast and enjoy breaking the fast together.

    • Elisa Heisman
      October 3, 2019 at 6:55 pm (5 months ago)

      thanks so much for reading! yes, it is complicated, but it’s a labor of love. 🙂

  2. Paul Taubman
    October 3, 2019 at 8:58 pm (5 months ago)

    Oh the guilt when you get the food incorrect! LOL

    The only ones that have the BEST times during the holidays are those that visit and bring the drinks.

    Thanks for sharing!


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