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yom kippur and some atoning i’d like to see

September 28, 2009

in life,wellness

today i’ll have the challenging double-duty of celebrating my eldest daughter’s 11th while resolving any past transgressions, with her and others. for those of you not faithfully tracking the jewish calendar, i’ll clue you in—today’s yom kippur, our most solemn and significant holiday.

to be fair, i’m not very observant. but i do identify as a jewish person. that’s because the values of judaism resonate with me: the obligation for every jewish person to dedicate themselves to learning, repair the world (tikkun olam), generously give to others with less (tzedakah), and seek reconciliation for any wrongdoing (teshuva). teshuva is at the heart of yom kippur.

between rosh hashanah and yom kippur—the “days of awe″—each of us has the opportunity to alter our fate for the coming year. during rosh hashanah, as the story goes, each person’s name and fate is written down in the book of life. luckily, we can change what’s written through reflection, self-awareness, humility, and atonement. first, we must reflect upon any wrongdoing, then we must seek out those we’ve wronged and sincerely ask their forgiveness. anyone whose forgiveness is sought is strongly encouraged to give it. in fact, it’s written that if the person of whom you ask forgiveness does not grant it, you should ask twice more. unless it was an offense causing irrevocable damage, your apology should be graciously accepted. there are no mitigating circumstances—only recognition of individual responsibility and the collective effect of our wrongdoing on others and the world around us.

since i focus primarily on health and wellness in this blog, yom kippur seemed like the perfect time to suggest a few possibilities for atonement and reconciliation that i’d like to see in this arena. wouldn’t it be cool if:

  • the government atoned for its lack of funding and nutritional standards for school meal programs and reauthorized the child nutrition act.
  • lobbyists and the companies behind them sought acceptable compromises in recognition of their products’ contributions to our obesity crisis.
  • there were more alliances and corporate support focused on improving the health in communities where corporate employees work and live.
  • corporate wellness programs were approached with the same rigor as environmental health and safety programs, and if more organizations, like those who form the world economic forum’s working toward wellness initiative, were galvanizing a global conversation to underscore wellness’ connection to business results.
  • companies depending upon employees having a health care consumer mindset to offset future cost increases invested the time and money in communications and support tools at least relational to the savings they seek.
  • employees took personal responsibility for managing their health and understood that with patronage comes obligation. while employers are picking up, on average, 64% of employees’ out-of-paycheck health bills, it’s reasonable to expect required participation in health and wellness programs that serve the person and the business.


p.s. there’s another controversial custom during the days of awe—kapparot, where one swings a live chicken above one’s head and asks that one’s sins be transferred to it. afterwards, the chicken is slaughtered and given to a family in need. whether due to PETA’s intereference, the difficulty of finding a live chicken, the recognition that this practice is not ordained nor transfers one’s sins, or just an understandable discomfort with it, the use of a live chicken’s largely died out and has been replaced with money.

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