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Hereâs what my âTo Doâ List on a recent day looked like:
And that was only about the first third of the list. I like having to âTo Doâ lists. They give order to my day, and ensure that I (usually) donât forget to do what I need to get done on a given day. Plus, thereâs that little rush I get when I cross something off the list. Even if itâs a simple task that Iâve completed, I have at least a momentary sense of accomplishment and the thrill of seeing the number of things that have to get done lessened âŚ at least until a few minutes later when I think of something new to add to the list.
I always have lots to âdoââand Iâm really good at getting things âdone.â But often, at the end of the day, itâs not a sense of accomplishment that I feel, but a sense of exhaustion. I may have crossed many items off my âTo Doâ list that day, but I already have a whole new list for the next day. And then there are those thingsâreally important thingsâthat too often havenât gotten the time and attention that they deserve; things like: hanging out with my kids (not in the car on the way to some activity or errand, but just on the couch); eating a relaxed meal; having an uninterrupted conversation with my husband; relaxing and reading a book; or meditating. These are things that arenât about âdoingâ but simply about âbeing,â and on most days I donât get to all, or sometimes any, of them.
And even worse, sometimes Iâm so busy âdoingâ the things on my oh-so-important listâusually something like writing a text or email, or looking something up on my computer, something that involves being âconnectedââthat when one of my kids is talking to me, sensing that Iâm not fully present for them, theyâll say: âAre you listening?â
Iâll respond half-heartedly: âOf course I am,â as I go about my typing.
And then, theyâll call me on it: âWhat did I say?â
âUm, I donât know exactly,â comes my lame response, as my kidâs eyes drop and they walk away.
Sometimes Iâm so busy doing âŚ and so âconnectedâ âŚ that I become âdisconnectedâ from the people that matter the most.
Fortunately in Judaism we have a built-in mechanism that encourages us to âdisconnectâ from our phones and other devices so that we can âconnectâ with the people that matter to us âŚ and to our own selves. Itâs Shabbat. Shabbat reminds us of what we truly are: not âhuman DOINGSâ but âhuman BEINGS.â (For more on the idea that we are âhuman beingsâ and not âhuman doings,â you can read my blog on The Spirituality of Mindfulness Meditation.)
Observing Shabbat in a traditional manner involves lots of things that one canât âdo.â For example, if youâre Shomer Shabbat (i.e, if you âkeep Shabbatâ according to the rules of traditional Jewish law) you donât drive on Shabbat, or use electricity or make phone calls. Often, I hear people who, like myself, arenât Shomer Shabbat, say that observing Shabbat in a traditional sense sounds too difficult, perhaps even unpleasant. Most of all, they canât imagine being âunpluggedâ for an entire day.
But honestly, I long for a day of being totally unplugged âŚ totally âdisconnected.â And thatâs why Iâm going to participate in the National Day of Unplugging on March 4-5, 2016.
Why am I so excited about unplugging from Friday at sundown until Saturday at sundown? Because if I canât âdoâ things like check my email, texts and voice messages, itâll force me to put a lot more focus on âbeing.â After returning home from Shabbat morning services and lunch at my synagogue on Saturday, Iâll be able to: spend time hanging out with my husband and kids; read a book; play with my dog; or maybe just take a well-needed nap, not worrying that the sound of my phone ringing will wake me up.
I know it wonât be easy to spend an entire day totally unplugged âŚ Iâll miss that rush of dopamine that I get when I see a new text or email come in. But I also know of the benefits that can come if I resist the cravings to connect to technology for a whole day. And if Iâm lucky, really lucky, I may just be able to sense what the rabbis meant when they spoke of Shabbat as âa taste of the World to Come.â
Rather than making a âTo Doâ list for the National Day of Unplugging, Iâve made a âTo Beâ list, and hereâs what it says:
Will you join me in unplugging on March 4-5, 2016? Here are some ideas of ways to unplug with your family.
On February 17, after enjoying having my three kids off for four days for Presidentâs Weekend, I was ready for them to return to school, and for me to get a lot of work done. But by 5:45 am I learned that their schools were cancelled because of snow. By 11:30 am, as I was trying to respond to work emails, my daughter Tali was complaining that she was bored and wanted to me to play Rummikub with her. My two sons each had friends over, and all of the boys were playing on various electronic devices.
I wrote down what went through my head for the next ten minutes. Here it is:
Really?Â A snow day after theyâve been off school for the last four days. Why not just a two hour delay? The streets donât look so bad. How am I supposed to get my work done today? I have 22 emails to respond to already.Â How on earth could I play Rummikub with Tali now? I feel guilty that I donât have time to play with her (and it would be fun)âŚdid I really just tell her to go watch TV?
Ugh! Now the phoneâs ringing. Who is it? Oh, itâs my friend. Iâm not picking up. Should I text her that Iâll call her later? Now I just lost my train of thought. What was I thinking about?
SeriouslyâŚthere are four boys sitting in the family room all on different electronic devices. My oldest son Benji is watching a movie on his laptop while his friend is playing a game on his phone. My middle son Noah is texting his friends as part of a âgroup chatâ (boy do I hate the âpingâ sound that goes off every time he receives a textâŚdidnât I ask him to disable that sound a hundred times yesterday?) while his friend is texting from his phone. Why do they even bother to have friends over if theyâre not going to interact with each other? Should I make them go sledding outside?
No!Â Theyâre old enough to figure out what to do themselves. And I need to get back to work. Now I have 26 emails in my inbox. Sometimes I feel like my life is just one long to-do list. I feel like that woman in the commercial from when I was a kid who said: âCalgon, take me away!â She had lots of chaos at home, and she probably didnât even have a job. I want to relax in a quiet bath like she did in the commercialâŚor at least not have to answer 26 emailsâŚand not feel guilty that Iâm not interacting with my daughter and instead sent her to watch TV.
I wish I could just shut down my computer right nowâŚand my phoneâŚand turn off the TVâŚand go take the various devices out of all of the boysâ handsâŚ.and we could all just hang out and play Rummikub.
OK, I canât realistically do it right now. But I CAN unplugâand I can encourage my whole family to unplugâas part of the National Day of Unplugging on March 6-7. We already do things differently on Shabbat than we do the other days of the week. I love it that as a family we always say the blessings and have Shabbat dinner on Friday night (no phones at the tableâthatâs one thing I insist on every night!), even if I do have to rush off at 7 pm to get to services at my synagogue. And though itâs not always easy being a family in which both parents are rabbis, I do especially enjoy those Saturdays when my kids and I go to my husbandâs synagogue for services and weâre all together. Wouldnât it be great if I didnât use my phone or computer at all on those days? Could I really do that? Not check my email, voice messages or texts, before leaving for services on Saturday morning? And not check them when I get home?Â
I could just put my phone in a drawer Friday before sundown and not take it out until Saturday after sundown. I remember when I went away on a Jewish meditation retreat last year and I had to put my phone away from Friday afternoon until Sunday afternoon. It felt weirdâŚeven scary. And refreshing. And nice. It was humbling to realize that everyone I know (in that case even my husband and three kids, because they were home without me) would be just fine without me. And they were. And I had two days to just BEâŚto appreciate lifeâŚand creation. It was hardâŚreally hardâŚnot getting that dopamine rush I get when I get a text or email for two days straightâŚnot having anything to distract meâŚbut it was also wonderfulâŚreally wonderful.
I could recreate that wonderful feeling on the National Day of Unplugging.Â That feeling of being more fully present in the moment.Â Rather than emailing, calling or texting people and making plans for when Shabbat is over, I could be more truly in the moment of Shabbat.Â Rather than playing my favorite game on my phone as a way of relaxing after services, I could finally play that game of Rummikub with Tali.Â And the boys would probably play too.Â We always have a lot of fun when we all play games together.Â And we really donât do it enough.
But for now, back to workâŚ.there it goes again, the annoying âpingâ letting us all know that Noahâs getting a text. And now I have 35 emails in my inbox. How many more days until March 6th? I donât need Calgon. For me, it can be âNational Day of UnpluggingâŚShabbatâŚtake me away!â And by âtake me awayâ what I really mean is: âTake me away from technologyâŚand let me be present right where I am.â
Do you plan to unplug on March 6-7? What will you do with your tech-free time?
Shabbat was created to give us one day of rest each week. Traditional Jews follow a very strict guide about what activities they avoid for 26 hours, beginning at sundown on Friday and ending after sunset on Saturday. They donât work, clean, shop, spend money, watch movies, listen to music, write, draw, drive, cook with heat, turn on or off anything that is electrical, battery, or gas powered, or carry things outside the home. One of the widely promoted benefits of disconnecting from electronic devices is to reconnect with family, friends, and analog activities. It can be a special time to spend doing things that we have a hard time getting to.
For less traditional Jews, keeping Shabbat can take many forms. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said, âThe meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.â In the global scheme of the modern world, separating time from space seems like an impossible dream.
Technology is part of my identity. I am rarely without my smart phone, one of those people who checks email and social media first thing in the morning and after lights out at night. Giving it up for 26 hours is a frightening prospect. I have tried many times and failed miserably. Cooking, I can do without, lights and heat can be easily set to operate by timers, shopping can wait, and all other âdonâtsâ can be accomplished with my smart phone. Thatâs the thing, the smart phone is operation central of my life. How could I possibly live without it?
Reboot, âa non-profit group designed to ârebootâ the cultures, traditions and rituals of Jewish lifeâ has created an event to help us see Shabbat in a whole new way. It is called the National Day of Unplugging and with this blog, I am publicly committing to unplug on Shabbat, March 7-8. (IFF President Jodi Bromberg made the pledge too–read why here.) Is it possible for me to succeed? My idea is to separate the space into manageable sections. The first section will be enjoyed at Unplug SF, a celebration of Rebootâs National Day of Unplugging from 7:00pm to 12:30am. Catching up on sleep will cover the hours well past dawn, so that leaves about 11 hours to fill until Havdalah at 6:49pm.
For liberal Jews living in the modern world, what is OK and what isnât OK on Shabbat? Each individual must decide what a spiritually meaningful Jewish practice looks like. These are not always easy decisions. The world does not stop just because it is Shabbat for a small minority of people. My family and friends might not understand my lack of response to their calls, emails, and text messages. Maybe it is just hard to change old habits and try something new. I cannot know what it feels like to unplug unless I try it. There is a cool page of real peopleâs reasons for unplugging on the National Day of Unplugging website. A couple of my favorites are âplay with my puppy,â âspend quiet time with my loved onesâ and âget outside.â
The unplug pledge is really just one day out of my entire life. My dog needs a hike, my family needs my attention, I need some exercise and there is beautiful world waiting to be discovered. I unplug to stroll the happy trails on Montara Mountain!