Bringing Back Shabbat

January 19, 2010 at 12:46 pm (if I ruled the world, in my head, plays well with others, present, the fam)

My local NPR station has a series they call Perspectives. In essence, any local resident can submit a two-minute piece on any topic with regional significance.  It has long been one of my favorite segments because of the narrative style, intimate feel, and range of topics. Today a journalist talked about a Yosemite camping trip where everyone brought his/her cell phone. It could be argued (and I might argue it) that Yosemite is one of the most beautiful places in the United States. Like my favorite National Park, its sights and sounds and smells can make you believe in a higher power. It can make you feel incredibly small, yet infinitely connected. It is an experience, I firmly believe, where one should be deeply present. The moral (resolution would be more apt) of the journalist’s piece was that he learned to turn his phone off when spending time with nature. I took it a little further.

My personal relationship with technological connectedness mirrors the ebb and flow society as a whole seemed to experience. I COULD NOT put the iPhone down when I first got it in 2008. I even began bringing it into the bathroom. (Yes, seriously.) I checked work email on weekends, checked personal email every five seconds, went status-update crazy on Facebook, started writing blog posts from the backseat of cars, learned to text while driving (not the cause of any of the four accidents I was in in 2009, by the way), and spent weekends at my parents’ house seeing more of that little screen than their two big hairy beasts. Then began the backlash.

I’ve found a balance that works for me. I check work email every morning, but don’t respond on weekends. I turn my phone off when I go out to dinner. I text only at red lights. I see the days when the phone gets left at home as opportunities to look up more. And when I forgot a charger in Colorado, I relished the day and a half of dings and rings and beeps not inciting a Pavlovian response.

As I sat at home this morning eating a real breakfast* and thinking about the Yosemite anecdote, I was reminded of the old Jewish custom of Shabbat. It’s an ancient practice that the Orthodox (and some others) still observe. Over the years, it was more or less translated into the Gentile notion of Sunday dinner. It’s a day of food and family and togetherness, but technically, it’s a day of rest. For me, it’s a day to be exactly where you are. To let tomorrow happen tomorrow. To return to a quieter time.

I think I want to bring it back.

My parents practice some version of Shabbat (though my father would scoff at the notion that anything he does has any connection to religion) in a very simple way. Since they moved into their new home in 2006, they’ve instituted a very strict rule about television. When dinner is on the table, the television is off. Period. And if more than one person is home for dinner at the same time, then dinner is eaten at the table…together. There are no exceptions, no excuses, no breaking of the sacred ritual that is focusing on each other for 30-60 minutes four to seven nights a week. It wasn’t the rule when I was growing up (then again I typically had dinner in a dance studio), but I want to institute it now.

Just one evening a week, I want food cooked slowly and eaten without the interruption of texts, calls, emails, Facebook, Twitter, or Google Reader. I want a rest from whatever isn’t right in front of me.

I want Shabbat.

What about you? Do you disconnect regularly? Or do you have any strict rules about your phone?



  1. Jess said,

    I love this idea. I don’t have strict rules about my phone but so far it hasn’t been an issue. However we do both generally eat dinner together, at the table, just us, no TV. And it’s lovely.

    • BS said,

      I found that I had to impose strict rules about my phone because I was absolutely becoming one of those people.

  2. WendyB said,

    When you have your own business there’s no hope of disconnecting….so no.

    • BS said,

      Then it’s a good thing you’re so passionate about what you do!

  3. Amanda said,

    “their two big hairy beasts” – the first couple of times I read that, I inserted an “r” in the word “beasts” and had to re-read.

    When I was working, there was a “no work email when off” rule that I was strict about. Usually we are good about no tv/dinner at the table, but lately we’ve been slacking. You’ve reminded me to get back on board with that.

    • BS said,

      There was a fair amount of editing that was supposed to happen to this post, but didn’t. I’m crass, but I’m not…well, whatever kind of weird that would have been.

  4. SoMi's Nilsa said,

    Whenever I visit my family at their beach house, I am forced to visit this place of zen. My cell phone doesn’t work. Not many people have the house number. They don’t have internet access. And the only TV in the house is connected to a DVD player, but does not get any TV stations. My time there is for family. Reading. Napping. Walking. Being. It is amazing. It’s not a bad idea to extrapolate that into my everyday life from time to time. Thanks for the reminder.

    • BS said,

      I try to disconnect when I’m in Hawaii, but as I’m not going this year, I’m trying to incorporate the idea into my regular life.

  5. Windsor Grace said,

    I love this idea! I don’t disconnect regularly. But, a couple of days ago, I forgot my phone when I went to work. At first I was upset and thought about turning around to get it, but that would make me late and I absolutely hate being late! So, I went without. It didn’t really change my day a whole lot, but I didn’t feel like there was a gaping void in my life like I thought I would. With all of the apps and facebook and games on the phone, I can entertain myself for hours. I was fine without it.

    • BS said,

      Oh good!

      That’s exactly what I’ve come to realize. And now I intentionally leave my phone at the office when I walk over for coffee or lunch. My phone is getting to know my desk drawer really well.

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