Yom Kippur: a time to reflect on how we have treated others and ourselves.

Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the climax of the period commonly referred to as the High Holidays or High Holy Days, the most important period of the Jewish year. It begins with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, and culminates 10 days later in Yom Kippur; a significant day of community, self-reflection and prayer.

The Jewish Calendar is based on the Lunar Calendar where days begin and end in the evening. This year Yom Kippur begins in the evening of 15 September and concludes at nightfall on 16 September.

Yom Kippur brings together Jews from all parts of the community. Many Jews who are not regulars at a Synagogue or who don’t practice their Judaism during the year will observe the customs including: abstaining from eating and drinking, refraining from work, and attending Synagogue on this significant day. This creates a unique atmosphere; with the Synagogue at capacity.

In lockdown, the communal significance of Yom Kippur is greatly impacted as we are unable to join together in prayer and experience the unique atmosphere of the crowded Synagogue. While some Jews may tune in to an online service, this is not an option for observant Jews who refrain from using technology on Yom Kippur. Instead, like last year, the time becomes more of a quiet time at home for prayer and self-reflection.

In Jewish tradition it is said the whole world is judged on Rosh Hashana (New Year) and the judgement sealed on Yom Kippur. One of the main prayers of Yom Kippur focuses on three things that can overturn a negative judgement, repentance, prayer and charitable acts, which become important practices during this time. An important part of repentance is self-reflection.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says, “Yom Kippur is the day of days, when we give an account of our lives. We reflect on what happened to us and what we plan to do in the coming year. The single most important lesson of Yom Kippur is that it is never too late to change, start again and live differently from the way we have done in the past. Yom Kippur makes us think about how we want to approach the coming year.”

On Yom Kippur we reflect on how we have treated others and ourselves. It is a time to evaluate your life and relationships and consider what you would like to improve in the future.

As a leader or colleague what can I do?

Religious observance varies greatly amongst Jews, especially this year as Synagogue’s are closed, which is usually the focus of the observance of Yom Kippur. It is important to understand that your colleagues may have varied ways in which they observe the time and the customs. For example, some Jewish people will follow the traditions (including not eating or drinking anything for almost 25 hours) but will still choose to work, while others will not work on Yom Kippur. Please consider your colleagues on an individual basis as to their observances. Be patient and try not to schedule critical meetings or events on Yom Kippur and consider deadlines.

Even if you’re not Jewish, you can acknowledge the holiday, and it is indeed respectful to share well wishes with your friends and colleagues who do observe. The most customary thing you can say is “G’mar chatima tova”, meaning “May you be sealed in the Book of Life.”  You can also wish them “a meaningful fast”.

Some Jewish Holidays have the same status as the Sabbath (which occurs each week from Friday evening to Saturday night). observant Jews abstain from using technology including phones and computers during these days and may not be able to respond to work queries.

The flexible nature of the Jewish calendar means that some years the Jewish Holidays fall on the weekend and will have less of an impact on the working week whereas in other years such as this year, Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur both fall during the working week and Jewish team members may take leave.

In addition to Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, there are four other days of significance that fall in this period (September 2021) and some observant Jews may take up to seven days of leave during this time. Talk with your Jewish colleagues and be considerate that some team members may be limited in the days they work. Flexible working becomes especially important during this time.

For observant Jews, a lot of their leave balance outside of the Christmas period is impacted by Jewish festivals which in some years can impact on more than 10 working days throughout the year.

Our KPMG values call for respect for each other and the ability to draw strength from our differences. Our lives are enriched by the cultures and passions of our colleagues, even more so when you understand the meaning behind them. It is important to understand and learn more about what makes us different. This allows us to have open conversations and understand our colleagues and accommodate their unique circumstances and beliefs.

By understanding their values and their ideals we all benefit from their unique strengths.

G’mar Chatima Tova


13 thoughts on “Yom Kippur: a time to reflect on how we have treated others and ourselves.

  1. My best wishes to you and your family this Yom Kippur Joel. Thank you for writing this excellent article which really helped me better understand the unique importance of the event to the Jewish community
    G’mar Chatima Tova.

    Kind regards


    Kind regards


  2. Dear Joel your writing are magnificent and you explain in a very professional way about Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur May I wish you gmar chatima tova and a successful year and you shall grow to be a leader at the firm

  3. Thanks Joel – appreciate you taking the time to share these insights with the firm. It will be (another) a strange Yom Kippur for my family this year.

  4. Thank you for writing this insightful article Joel. It’s so important for us all to make the effort to understand each other’s cultures and to celebrate the diversity that we have. G’mar Chatima Tova.

  5. Thanks Joel for sharing and educating the rest of us. This part particularly resonated with me “The single most important lesson of Yom Kippur is that it is never too late to change, start again and live differently from the way we have done in the past. Yom Kippur makes us think about how we want to approach the coming year.” – speaks to the endless opportunities we have to start anew despite how many times we fall, I love me some self-reflection!
    G’mar chatima tova to yourself, your family and all our Jewish colleagues 🙂

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