OFJCC Event Services Director Ed Bancroft muses on the benefits of unplugging weekly.
Shortly after starting work at the Oshman Family Jewish Community Center, I was thrilled to learn many core Jewish values align closely with my personal values. Here in the heart of Silicon Valley, life is fast-paced and technology is ever-present, resulting in stressed-out teenagers and an alarming teen suicide issue. I was instantly struck by the appropriateness of the Shabbat custom of requiring rest one day per week, which today is sometimes interpreted to mean powering down electronics as part of this day of rest. Reliance on technology is a challenge for all society, not just people of the Jewish faith. However, Shabbat customs may be increasingly challenged by new generations of Jewish children raised in the technology age.
It is conceivable, especially in tech-focused Silicon Valley, that Shabbat customs may be adjusted or ignored to allow technology to continue providing convenience in daily life. Jewish Community Centers around the world can set an example of how to incorporate modern day interpretations toward the “rules” of Shabbat. I do not mean to imply that Shabbat doesn’t have a place in the modern world. To the contrary, I believe this Shabbat custom is an extremely good and practical influence on our modern day youth, and that Jewish children, possibly more than others, have the opportunity to adopt healthy habits at a young age that can extend into adulthood. How can we help the younger generation seize this opportunity?
In an increasingly technology-reliant society, I attempt to limit my use of technology on Shabbat in an effort to avoid physical and mental atrophy. This custom is important to me because I strive to keep myself mentally and physically fit. As they say, “use it or lose it.” Dependence on a device to read tweets, watch snapchats or browse Facebook all while sitting on your tuchus seems more like “losing it” than “using it” to me, both in an intellectual and physical capacity.
Before my marriage a year ago, my at-the-time fiancée and I had a weekly “date night” every Thursday evening. The point of date night was to reconnect with each other free of distractions and drama. As the weeks went on, we fine-tuned our date nights with lessons learned in previous weeks. For example, no television or cell phone at dinner was a quickly-adopted rule. We even started lighting candles before dinner; more for romantic reasons than religious. Removing the tech distractions allowed us to focus on each other and be present in the moment, leading to in-depth conversations and profound realizations. Without knowing it, we were adopting principles of Shabbat into our normal routine, and it felt good.
Shabbat has many other refreshing elements, in addition to powering-down electronics. What could be more important than spending time together with friends and family and taking a break from work to focus on what is important? Having this weekly reminder is crucial to developing healthy habits, and avoiding technology is a critical part of this weekly custom. Although I wasn’t raised with these same traditions, I recognized a need for this in my adult life and decided to institute my own weekly break from technology.
How can we help the younger generation seize the opportunity to enjoy nature and spend quality time connecting with loved ones without modern day distractions? The answer is to remove the disruptions of technology. Over the past few years, the Oshman Family JCC partnered with cultural nonprofit Reboot to provide cell phone sleeping bags to put technology on hold for a little bit. Families have made their own cell phone sleeping bags as a craft project at Family Camp, a weekend of unplugging. Last year, we were able to provide cell phone sleeping bags to OFJCC Leslie Family Preschool families for free.
OFJCC teen programs also emphasize taking time to unplug. Through the spirituality-infused teen trip to Poland and Israel, Shalhevet, and upcoming OFJCC family-teen Shabbats for middle school students, we are exploring ways for Jewish teenagers to engage authentically with each other and with mentors.
I am both fascinated and thrilled that the ancient customs of Shabbat can be so relevant and healthy in today’s ever-evolving world.