National Day of Unplugging: An Ancient Mitzvah. A Modern Day Challenge.

I am not shomer shabbos.  In recent years, I’ve gotten better about following the commandment: “And on the seventh day thou shalt rest,” but my interpretation of resting does not adhere to the rules I learned in Hebrew school – no driving, no shopping, no electricity, no crafting…  When I joined my step-family, I took Friday nights off from my academic work to make pizza and watch a movie with my husband and the kids.  Not exactly kosher, but it felt like a kind of Shabbat to me.  We were taking a break from the weekly race to spend time with each other, to reconnect with one another – even if that connection was mediated by Shrek, The Incredibles, or the characters in Looney Toons.

Since taking my job as Chaplain for Jewish Life, I’ve tried to refrain from posting emails or Facebook status updates on Shabbat.  I still get online and occasionally even do some work for this job, but I try to appear unplugged in my public life online.  I realize this is somewhat deceptive.  And like anyone attempting to pull off a hoax, I have slipped up on occasion. Recently, I was questioned about this by a non-Jewish colleague.  She asked, “Isn’t this supposed to be a Sabbath day?  What’s up with the work e-mail?  ;)”  Her emoticon valediction made clear that she was just teasing me, but it got me thinking.

Not long after I moved to the midwest I read this essay by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in Utne Reader. I wasn’t doing much in my life to set myself apart as a Jew at that time and I was pleasantly surprised to find Waskow’s thoughts on “Reclaiming Our Day of Rest” in one of my favorite magazines.  Writing for a broad secular audience, Waskow weaves an argument for Shabbat around issues as disparate as the 24-hour workday to global warming.

Waskow reminds us that the Torah offers various reasons for observing Shabbat.  Amongst them, “to set us free from slavery.”  At OWU, we open our Shabbat services with a reading in English which similarly suggests:

“It is not easy to begin to know Shabbat.  But understanding what she is and what she is not can help.  Indeed, understanding what the rest of the week is and is not can help too. Put it all in perspective.  Figure out who is the master and who is the slave.  Does your telephone (mail, work, study, office, house, car) control you or do you control it?”

This month, a group of Jewish artists are planning The National Day of Unplugging (March 19-20) as one way to “reboot the cultures, traditions and rituals of Jewish life.”  This is an invitation to Jews, and anyone who’d like to join us, to take advantage of our mandated break from the busy-ness of 21st century life.  Interestingly, this project does not address prayer at all.  Rather, it takes a humanistic and inclusive approach to the notion of observing Shabbat.  Consider the Sabbath Manifesto’s 10 Principles for a Shabbat Unplugged: 1. Avoid Technology 2. Connect With Loved Ones 3. Nurture Your Health 4. Get Outside 5. Avoid Commerce 6. Light Candles 7. Drink Wine 8. Eat Bread 9. Find Silence 10. Give Back.  You decide your level of participation.  You decide what rest means to you.

I realize that Waskow’s words and the notion of de-stressing might not seem necessary a week after Spring Break.  However, I hope we can find some creative ways to celebrate the National Day (Shabbat) of Unplugging together at OWU.  We already have a Shabbat service/dinner planned for the 19th.  We have a bowling team going to Delaware Lanes to Bowl for Kids, and it’s not too late to join them!  How else can we fulfill the 10 Sabbath Manifesto Principles?  Are you willing to give up texting or Facebook for 25 hours?  Will you take advantage of the Spring weather and take a hike at Antrim Park?  Your recommendations in the form of comments posted here are, as always, welcome and very much desired!

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One Response to “National Day of Unplugging: An Ancient Mitzvah. A Modern Day Challenge.”

  1. owujew Says:

    Since I first wrote about this, it’s hit the news. Noone’s missing the irony that a daying about tuning out of social media is being advanced by those same information channels. Check out these articles:

    Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tanya-schevitz/join-the-national-day-of_b_504680.html

    New York Times – http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/18/fashion/18sabbath.html

    BeliefNet – http://blog.beliefnet.com/idolchatter/2010/03/national-day-of-unplugging-a-s.html

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