Do You Unplug for Sabbath?

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Rabbi Marvin Goodman, Executive Director of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California, was unaware that at sundown on Friday, he had entered a National Day of Unplugging.  However, it’s one he enters every week.   The Sabbath, he said, is restful.

“It’s an opportunity to do a little introspection, it’s an opportunity to look in and not look out… we’re human beings, we’re not human doings.”

Do many in the Jewish community comply?  “If they did, Reboot wouldn’t be doing this,” he said in reference to the organization—a New York-based non-profit with offices here as well – that started the campaign to begin Friday at sundown.

It’s a campaign that others said they were looking forward to.

Allyson Halpern, Development Director for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, said she had “never, never, never,” done this, but she likes Reboot’s idea. “They defined it in terms that I can really relate to as somebody who is not observant and not religious,” and added that if it works out, “it might become a habit.”

However, she noted that “everybody is going to have to define what it means to them to unplug and how much they’re going to avoid technology.”  As a mother of two small children,  she said that if she is not with her kids she cannot turn off her cell phone.

Howard Epstein, chairman of the Northern California chapter of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said he is “about as reform as you get, I’m not that observant, so I stay plugged in and drive my car… just a normal day for me.”

Because of his job he answers many press calls, which sometimes come on Friday evenings. “I have to be available for that.”

Karen Erlichman, director of the San Francisco chapter for Mosaic, a national organization which encourages Jewish communities to be accessible and welcoming to the LGBT community, thinks an unplug day is “a fabulous idea,” but will not be participating.

Erlichman abstained from using a computer every Sabbath for two and a half years. However,  a year and a half ago, she bought a Blackberry.  “That kind of killed it for me.”

Once she unplugged for a week while on vacation, but it wasn’t easy.  “Every time I would pass the computer in the lobby at the hotel, I would kind of twitch a little bit,” she said.

Regina Wurst, an administrator at the Sha’ar Zahav Synagogue on 16th and Dolores streets, a reform congregation,  said that even though employees do not work during the Sabbath, the place continues to use electricity. However, she knows some people within the congregation who do unplug on Sabbath on a regular basis.

On a Sabbath, she might “still get on the computer if I feel like it, or I’ll watch TV,” if that is what she wants to do as part of her rest. “Our lives would be better if we did [unplug on Sabbath] … I think our life would be more peaceful.”

Ben Hansen, a communications student at SF State University who works part time at Sha’ar Zahav’s facilities, had not heard about the National Day of Unplugging. While he does not consciously unplug for the Sabbath, he doesn’t really depend much on digital devices, such as his cell phone, “so if I turn it off for a day or two it would probably be OK,” he said.

Hansen believes a moderate view either way is more important. He is especially adverse to Facebook, Twitter and MySpace.

“E-mail is good enough for me, if you need to get to me, give me a call or an e-mail, or write me a letter… I’m sure the post office would appreciate it.”

Andrew Esensten, Program Coordinator for Be’chol Lashon, an organization that promotes diversity within the Jewish community, said in an e-mail that the National Day of Unplugging is a “meaningful way to make Sabbath more relevant to Jews who don’t usually observe Sabbath in any kind of serious way.”

“I’m personally looking forward to turning off my iPhone for 24 hours and making progress on the Dave Eggers book that’s been on my bed stand for months,” he added.

The Sabbath Manifesto website is the vehicle promoting the National Day of Unplugging. It encourages people to share their unplug experiences (after Sabbath, of course), so as soon as you’re done being unplugged, you can visit their website and leave a testimonial or upload photos -taken before, or after Sabbath.

And if you don’t have the time to write a testimonial, you can always join them on their Facebook page, take a look at their Flickr photostream, follow them on Twitter or watch their YouTube videos.

Dan Rollman, founder of the Sabbath Manifesto, noted on a recent press release the irony that social networking sites were used to promote a day of abstaining from them. “But we are asking people not to go to our sites during the period of unplugging… we acknowledge that technology can bring people together and is vital to today’s society, but balance is not just possible, it is essential for a reprieve from today’s tech-saturated word.”

Ten status updates were posted on the Sabbath Manifesto Facebook page on Friday. The last one came in at around 7 p.m. East Coast time (the Manifesto is New York-based), and it reads in part: “Come back in 24 hours and tell us how it felt.”

The Ten Principles of the Sabbath Manifesto:

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

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4 Comments

  1. Now that I’ve publicly atoned for my technological sins, I’m inspired to lock up my laptop AND the Crackberry on Shabbat. Talk about teshuvah!

  2. Miriam

    Raised Orthodox Jewish, so I unplugged regularly for years and years. Not anymore. For me, technology is often a tool to relax and connect with people.

    Also – I hate to be nitpicky, but it’s “Reform” and not “reformed.”

  3. Mabel Jiménez Post author

    Miriam, thanks for your correction

  4. N M Kabak

    Reading the comments both here and on CNN’s article. I am intrigued by almost all of the comments made. If read analytically, you can see how shallow, self absorbed, fearful of bosses,and lacking in confidence that are consuming many of the commentators.

    People who have followed the rules of the Shabbat over the millenniums seemed to have survived very nicely, thank you. These people have all the very same tools, and devices that we all have, and somehow they are not paranoid about leaving the electronic world on the Sabbath and religious holidays.

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