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Keeping the faith during uncertain times

22 April 2020: EY tax partner Noam Handler shares his experience on living through lockdown, the impact of social distancing on traditions and religious events, and how his firm’s faith and belief network has helped keep people together.

When your family and faith community can’t reflect together as it once did, how do you adapt? Any number of diverse groups, including faith communities, are adjusting to the challenges social distancing brings. For a tight-knit religious community, we would traditionally gather together to support each other in uncertain times. 

For me, being part of such a vibrant and large Jewish community and not being able to see them as often as we usually do is challenging. Before COVID-19, three generations of my family would sit around the table every Saturday to share what has happened in their week. All aspects of life were up for debate with this multigenerational group and it was a weekly feature in a weekend that also involved Friday-night dinners and Saturday lunches with family and friends. 

During the lockdown, this tradition has inevitably changed, as it has for people up and down the country. As Modern Orthodox Jews, our lives tend to revolve around each other’s. We live close together as you can’t drive on the Sabbath or use electronic devices, so our only form of communication during the Sabbath is face to face.

The Jewish festival of Passover has also magnified the impact of the lockdown, especially during the Seder night meals where both sets of our parents ate alone. However, our children prepared some entertainment for them to help them feel connected during this time.

Being part of such an extensive community means knowing many people who’ve sadly been more seriously affected by the virus. Ordinarily we’d be spending our time visiting the families impacted but that can’t happen now, so we’re writing letters and using video calls to help provide support and keep us connected.

This is clearly a really anxious and unsettling time for many people and, with places of worship closed, feeling connected is more challenging than ever. I’m lucky to have a good support network both in my personal life and at work. 

Embrace – EY’s Faith and Belief Network – has been engaging with members across different faith groups to help keep everyone connected during this difficult time. It’s one of several employee-led networks that we have at EY, designed to bring different people and communities together around shared interests. There are a number of religious events in April including Passover, Ramadan and Vaisakhi, and many people are likely to be feeling the impact of the lockdown on the traditional ways they would observe these occasions. 

There are many activities and initiatives emerging from EY’s Faith & Belief network. There is a regular calendar of events with holy day celebrations and guest speaker events available as virtual sessions. Different communities are using social media to share religious literature that might be helpful, tips on how to stay safe, and information on volunteering activities. For example, the EY Muslim community has organised charity food drives across the country. There are also weekly virtual sermons and bible studies for all EY colleagues to provide a space for people to reflect and share a prayer together. Other EY networks, such as our Family and Health networks, are also using technology to connect with different EY communities and to help provide advice, insights and build a sense of belonging in these unprecedented times.

At home, my wife and two eldest sons have just started volunteering for the NHS and are also helping with shopping for isolated community members. For me, taking each day as it comes and learning new ways of keeping a strong sense of community – whether that’s with colleagues, clients, friends or those within my religion - will be key for getting through this situation.