Posts Tagged ‘Shabbat’

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

March 11, 2010

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!


Shabbat Yisrael

February 8, 2010

This Friday we’ll be celebrating Shabbat together at Ohio Wesleyan.  After services, we’ll be sharing a meal and hearing from students about their travels to Israel.  Coincidentally, in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Sentences) the Jews are presented with a list of rules they must follow to earn access to the land of milk and honey.

Unlike in biblical times, these students may not be aware of, let alone fulfill the mandates: “Six years you may sow your land and gather in its produce.  But in the seventh year you shall release it and abandon it; the poor of your people shall eat it, and what they leave over, the beasts of the field shall eat;” or, “You shall not allow a sorceress to live.”  It’s unlikely these were requirements for the summer teen tours and intensive study programs they attended.  Those who traveled with Taglit Birthright didn’t even have to pay for their trips.  That program, offers 10 day free trips (for a fee, you can extend your stay to do volunteer work or more extensive travels) to Israel for Jews between the ages of 18-26.

I was not eligible for Birthright because I traveled to Israel on two educational trips with my peers in high school.  However, I had a few friends who went on Birthright trips after college.  They saw the trip both for what it was, a once in a lifetime opportunity for a free international adventure, and what it could be, a chance to meet and network with other Jewish young adults, specifically potential life partners.  For some, Birthright was their first extended time spent exclusively with other Jews, learning about their religious and cultural heritage, and engaging questions about their Jewish identity.  Studies have shown that these may be more lasting benefits than being in Israel itself.

When I first announced Shabbat Yisrael, I received an email from a (Jewish) faculty member concerned that I was promoting Birthright.  She fears that Birthright promotes a Zionist ideology and asked that I consider other ways to present perspectives on Jewishness and it’s relation to Israel.  I explained, as readers of this blog already know, that I am not a unilateral supporter of Israel.  I believe, however, that traveling to Israel and having an opportunity to see first hand both the good (the history, beautiful landscapes, kibbutzim) and the bad (the wall, settlements, guns everywhere) is essential to seeing the Israeli-Palestian situation as a real-life situation.  For that reason alone, I think Birthright is a great opportunity.  True, one of the primary missions of the program is to engage Jews from around the world with their brothers and sisters in the Israel.  But, this does not necessarily imply blind acceptance of the IDF stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I trust that we will hear various perspectives about students’ travels to Israel.  Some will speak simply to being in a land set aside for Jewish people, a place where Hebrew is spoken and businesses are closed on Saturdays rather than Sundays.  Others will speak about the soliders they met, people their own age who are required to serve their country before heading off to college.  And some will speak of the tragic conflict that keeps everyone’s eyes and ears always open for suspicious packages and people.  We will grow from hearing all sides of their stories.

Torah Talk

November 6, 2009

What a week to try to prepare my first Shabbat Torah Talk!  This week’s portion, Vayeira (“and he appeared”) contains not only the story of Sarah, at this point an old woman with wrinkled skin and no menstrual cycle, learning that she will finally bear a child; the story of Sodom & Gommorrah; Hagar and Ishmael’s expulsion from the house of Abraham; but also the story of a divine test in which Abraham nearly sacrifices his son Isaac to prove his commitment to haShem.  It’s no wonder these chapters are re-read on Rosh haShanah.  There is much to consider.

The commentaries I have read on Vayeira speak to many themes including challenge and hospitality.

As this week’s G-dcast narrator suggests, challenge is an integral part of the process of growing up.  “Could you have become the independent, compassionate, thoughtful person you are without the challenges you’ve weathered?  Without the journeys you’ve survived?” Evan Wolkenstein queries.  Perhaps you will never find yourself in the desert with a baby and no water, like Hagar, or on a mountaintop tying your child to a bundle of kindling, like Abraham.  But throughout our lives, we all find ourselves confronted by situations that scare or frustrate us.  We ask “Why?  Why me?  Why now?”  I see no harm in some momentary self-pity, but  as Vayeira teaches,  I encourage you to not let that be the end of it.  Try to find the lesson inherent in that challenge.  Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?  How can I use this to help me grow?”

As Vayeira begins, Abraham is attending to some unexpected guests.  During this week’s Shabbat service, we will be reading a story called “Home For Shabbat” by Deena Yellin.  Yellin’s story reminds us that, as Jews, we will always have friends spread across the diaspora, as well as in Israel.  It reminds us to treat others as we’d like to be treated.  To welcome guests for someday we may be in need of welcoming.  Can you think of a time you welcomed a stranger?  Can you think of a time that a stranger welcomed you?

Shabbat Shalom (TGIF in Jewish)