A big month ahead for Jewish colleagues

boy with Shofar
Boy with traditional Jewish shofar, sounded for Rosh Hashana

The coming month is one of the most important times of the year for people of Jewish faith, something to be aware of if you work with Jewish colleagues or do business with Israel. Three major festivals fall over the next few weeks: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos.

(It’s worth noting that in the Jewish calander, a holiday begins at sunset of the  day before.)

Rosh Hashanah

The first is the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. This year (2013) it starts at nightfall on September 4 and ends at nightfall on September 6 – although in Israel it is a single day.  Dates and length of  celebration, as well as the precise nature, relate to the new moon and it’s cycles, and to which Jewish community people belong.

Customs over period include the religious act of horn blowing, prayers, religious services and the sharing of  traditionals sweets and foods. Although it is a festive time, it is also a very important religious festival – almost a ‘judgement day’, a day of reckoning. Today, ahead of the New Year, many Jewish people will be seriously engaged in prayer. (Practising Jews will have begun a period of self-examination and repentance over the past month.)

Rosh Hashanah marks the start of a ten day religious period, marked by religious repentance, leading up to Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur – the day of atonement – is the holiest day on the Jewish calendar, and is marked with fasting for all except the very frailest of Jewish people. Many secular Jews, who may not observe other holidays, will mark the date and attend synagogue.

Five things are forbidden to adult Jews for Yom Kippur:

  • eating and drinking
  • wearing leather shoes
  • bathing
  • wearing perfumes and lotions
  • ‘marital relations’.

Many refer to Yom Kippur as a fast, and on the eve of the day, before sundown, people enjoy a feast.

Yom Kippur 2013 falls on Saturday, September 14  (so it will be celebrated from sunset on Friday September 13th). It’s a legal holiday in Israel. Radio and television broadcasts stop, and airports are closed, along with all shops and businesses.There is also no public transport.


Falling between the 19 September and 26 September, Succos – also known as Sukkot, Succot or Sukkos – is a major Jewish festival which commemorates the shelter granted to the Israelites during their 40 years in the wilderness.

Jewish people live in a succah – a structure with no roof – for seven days, living out the learnings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and bonding all Jews together.

The holiday lasts seven to eight days, with each date having different customs. The first day (and sometimes the second) is a sabbath-like holiday. Work is forbidden, and people live in a sukkah, a walled structure covered with plants – such as leafy tree branches or palm leaves.This is meant to remind people of the fragile dwellings which the Israelites endured after their Exodus from slavery in Egypt (spending 40 years of travel in the desert. Meals are eaten inside the sukkah and many people also sleep there. Without a roof, sleepers are exposed to the elements,

Gideon Wellins, who we work on a project with at Global Integration, good humouredly described how strict the rules can be regarding construction – as a youngster living in the UK , despite his hay fever, he slept in a sukkah made from hay bales.

For the workplace

The most obvious initial impact is that there will be days that people need to take off and will be absent from their desks. For those who celebrate, it’s as well to remember that people won’t necessarily know your religion or holiday days, particularly if you work remotely. You can avoid frustrations by making sure people are aware (and given notice if you are part of a wider project).

The way that individuals will celebrate is just that: individual. If you have a Jewish colleague why not ask how they’ll be celebrating? It will help you to get to know your colleague better, and can only help your relationship to have shown an interest.

I, for one, am glad I did: as a non-Jew based in the UK, I hadn’t heard of Succos before (although my more widely travelled consultant colleagues almost certainly have). This post was due to be about Rosh Hashanah and would have been gleaned from information to be found on line. It would probably have been three separate posts about the forthcoming holidays. Having spoke to Gideon, I am now far more aware that this will be a distracting month with far higher religious, community and family obligations placed on him than simply taking a day off work, and I know to expect him – and his colleagues –  to be a lot less available over the coming month. And that’s fine: he’ll have to do the same for me when almost the entire  population of England stops work for the best part of two weeks over the Christmas and New Year holiday period in December.


Why not…?



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