Monday, February 14, 2011

A time to check in, and a time to check out

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven...
So goes the famous verse from Ecclesiastes (3:1).

Today, reported on a new app for your smartphone, due out by Feb 25th, developed as part of Reboot's 'National Day of Unplugging'.  As reported on the ejewish philanthropy blog, they explain:
Bucking the trend of technology that allows people to tell everyone that they’ve checked into their local restaurant, cafe or bar, Reboot has developed a smartphone app that helps users “check out” of the internet altogether. The app ironically will use technology to shut down technology.

Think of it as rehab for the smartphone. By using technology, the Sabbath Manifesto app is intended to spur a massive movement away from technology on the National Day of Unplugging, March 4-5, 2011 and beyond, and a return to the values inherent in a modern day of rest: reconnecting with family, friends and the world around them.

The 'Sabbath Manifesto' is an ongoing Reboot project that 'encourages people to slow down their lives by embracing its 10 principles once a week: Avoid Technology; Connect With Loved Ones; Nurture Your Health; Get Outside; Avoid Commerce; Light Candles; Drink Wine; Eat Bread; Find Silence; Give Back.'

This is a great example of the kind of work that Reboot does best.  Not only do they translate Jewish wisdom into actions that speak to C21st Jews, but they take that Jewish wisdom public and make it accessible to everyone.  Many took part in the National Day of Unplugging last year - millions of all faiths and backgrounds from around the world.  The New York Times and Huffington Post were among those mainstream media outlets that drew attention to the 25 hour period of downtime.

Now, in truth, while I love this project, I personally find it challenging to participate 100% as intended.  Living on a different continent to my parents and my brother, ichat or skype video chats have become one of the wonderful ways that I stay connected with my family.  You'll notice that one of those 10 principles of the Sabbath Manifesto is to 'connect with loved ones.'  While I connect on many occasions during the week, sometimes just for 5 minutes before I leave for work, Shabbat afternoon is one of the prime times for an extended family chat.  I try to be disciplined and don't do email or facebook or twitter on Shabbat, but that valuable family connection time is the one reason that I don't entirely shut down the computer on the Sabbath.

I expect I'm  not the only one who has a personal caveat to following the Sabbath Manifesto 100% to the letter, but I feel (and yes, as a Reform Rabbi who will set aside some of the constrictions of traditional Jewish law), that there is meaning in making an informed choice that is intentional to elevate a particular value that I hold above all else - honoring my parents and staying as connected to my family as possible, especially in light of my life having brought me to another country.  I've often felt that it is sometimes harder to be an 'observant' Reform Jew; when one is often making informed choices about so many aspects of Jewish ritual and observance, it requires a different kind of engagement than the, in some ways, simpler observance of strict halachic observance.  Falling into mainstream cultural norms without thought and getting caught up in activities that really don't jive with any attempt to observe a day of rest is easy unless one chooses to create a vessel or structure that helps you to make Shabbat for real.  And that's where Reboot's manifesto, and their upcoming app show such creativity and are so user-friendly.

If Shabbat is meant to be, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, a 'Palace in Time', then I can think of no better place to 'check in' for day.  See  you there!
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

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