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What Does 'Unplugging for Shabbat' Really Mean?

Ellen Zimmerman... URJ Blog... May 15, 2013

 

I've been thinking a lot lately about unplugging for Shabbat - and wondering what that would mean for many Reform and Conservative Jews. Most of us drive on Saturday, answer the phone, write, and turn lights on and off. What would it look like for us to "power down" over Shabbat?

Robert Long's article "The Backyard Clothesline" in the June 2012 issue of Our State magazine prompted me to think about lives with less technology. Long lovingly explores the value of hanging clothes outside.

Through his vignettes, I could smell the sweetness of sheets that had dried by flapping in the breeze or hear the simple, urgent call from my mother: "It's raining!" This, we knew, was the alarm to rescue dry clothes. Then, in my early days as a mother, I remembered hanging my baby's colorful onesies (though we didn't know that word then) and T-shirts in the backyard. I actually enjoyed coming up with balanced or artistic ways to hang my husband's large shirts, our little girl's Winnie the Pooh pajamas, and our symphony of socks and underwear.

Are there experiences in our Jewish lives, too, that we've abandoned because of technology? One recent Shabbat was an experiment for me. I actually turned off my computer. I announced on Facebook that I was going to try to go electronics-free for a few days.

But then the weekend started. I wanted to read a novel on my iPad. Well, I said, that's easier on my eyes, so OK. Then my daughter called, on my cell phone, to ask if we wanted to Skype with our grandsons. "You bet! Let me just turn my computer back on," I said. After all, Skyping is as close as you can get to hugging distant loved ones. And that certainly seems right for Shabbat.

Yet, because I had my cell phone on, could I use it only as a phone – and refrain from checking email? Here's the sad truth. I made it about one day. With much difficulty.

One simple (silly?) tradition I have is drinking from my Marc Chagall mug only between Friday sundown and Saturday sundown. I make this choice not just because Chagall was Jewish, but because the mug showcases his painting "I and the Village." It reflects his memories of Eastern Europe, with a host of symbols from Russian-Yiddish culture, thereby connecting me to my generations past. And because I save the mug for Shabbat, the choice itself helps me set the day apart.

What are your solutions, your ideas, your compromises to tame technology in a way that is realistic for your life - and that helps you embrace the spirit and peace of Shabbat?

 

Ellen Zimmerman created Jewish Holidays In a Box to help families discover fun, easy ways to celebrate Jewish holidays. Visit their website to explore holiday kits, games, e-guides, blog posts, and more.

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