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PAGE 20A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, SEPTEMBER 21, 2012 By Dml Pine j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California Is nothing sacred? Even at funerals Rabbi David Booth has found himself fixing a baleful stare on some mourner fumbling with a cell phone. The spiritual leader of Palo Altos (Calif.) Congregation Kol Emeth, Booth decries what he calls ~the culture of inter- ruption, typified by ringing phones, pinging video games and other noises of digital life. And hewants to do something about it. Something Jewish. As Booth points out, Juda- ism has long offered a cure for the common call: Shabbat, a time of unplugging. Resting on the seventh day is a biblical commandment, but in today's high-tech cul- ture, the practice of shuRing out the world may offer ad- ditional health and emotional benefits--for Booth, another illustration of the timeless relevance of Torah. "The wisdom of Shabbat is to turn off once a week and set priorities," he says, "to realize there are a few things we can have off for 24 hours. Technology is great, no ques- tion, phones and iPads are incredible tools, but they also create this urgency." In recent years, therapists, academics and pundits have advocated taking breaks from technology. In the Jewish world, that clarion call has been sounded recently by Reboot, a 10-year-old, New York-based nonprofit dedi- cated to inspiring young Jews to explore their Jewish identity. Since 2009, Reboot has sponsored a National Day of Unplugging every spring, urging people to carve out 24 hours of unelectrified quiet time. For Jews, that day co- incides with Shabbat--and a kind of hipster-friendly one, at that. The Reboot project has gotten a lot of national ink including stories in The New York Times and Huffing- ton Post. Many Bay Area synagogues have signed up for special programming around the National Day of Unplugging. Some in the community have sought to expand the model beyond one day a year (Shab- bat conveniently comes every week, after all). Year-round grassroots unplugging ef- forts have sprung up, some synagogue-driven, others created by inspired individuals. In the Bay Area Jewish corn- Rabbi David Booth munity, unplugging on Shab- bat isn't just for the observant anymore. Booth serves a Conservative congregation with different observance levels. He has used his bully pulpit to sell the unplugging message and has regularly reminded people of the same through the temple bulletin. "Last High Holy Days, my Yom Kippur talk was on this issue, about creating Shabbat as a time we don't let ourselves be controlled by [technology]," Booth says. "We always cre- ated a cell phone-free zone in the shul and urge people to think about the role it plays in their life." At Berkeley's Reform Con- gregation Beth El, educa- tor Rabbi Bridget Wynne runs a Shabbat morning program called Chug Mish- pacha ("family gathering" in Hebrew). The program brings together parents and their kids from preschool age through fifth grade to study Shabbat themes, including the concept of unplugging. Wynne doesn't try to push anyone to unplug. Instead, she says, "I want them to reflect on what can make Shabbat meaningful for them. We talk about the principles of Shabbat and how might you want to experiment with those." Among those principles, she mentions family time, getting away from commerce, enjoy- ing the beauty of the world, music, food and internal spirituality. "I ask people which of these values are exciting to you, and how can you [enhance them]," Wynne says. "A lot of times unplugging is obvious. What keeps them from those things? The iPhone and the computer." How do her lessons play out in real life? After three unplugged hours at Beth El every Saturday, Wynne's stu- dents take home the concepts learned in the program, with Rabbi Menachem Creditor parents and kids reinforcing each others' enthusiasm. One adult participant told her he customarily washed dishes on Friday nights while listening to his iPod. "But when he started doing [the program]," Wynne recounts, "he got off the iPod, and he started singing Jewish songs instead. He said he loved it." Another Chug Mishpacha family signed up to provide food for a Havdallah potluck on a Saturday evening, but they were having so much fun in the park--unplugged even from their watches--they lost track of time and arrived late. Still, the unplugging con- cept can be a hard sell, even in communities where higher levels of traditional observance might be expected. AtCongregation B'nai Emu- nah, a Conservative shul in San Francisco's Sunset District, Rabbi Mark Melamut has noticed that unplugging has not caught on, though some congregants have given it a try. "While folks take time for themselves, to be in shul, to relaL to enjoy Shabbat, our de- vices mostly follow us," he says. "I don't promote [unplugging] much from the pulpit in terms of'you should,' but I do speak about my experience with it. While traditional, it does seem to be a bit countercultural in our technological age, and I'm hoping over time more and more will see the benefits, and spend more face time." Incremental change is just fine with Yoav Schlesinger. He is executive director of Reboot, instigator of the National Day of Unplugging and a fan of grassroots unplugging efforts. "Our hope was that people would find inspiration to do it as much as has resonance for them," he says. "Shabbat was always around, and if people want to unplug for an hour a day or 24 hours, great." According to Schlesinger, Reboot's most enthusiastic Rabbi Judah Dardik community partners come out of the liberal streams of Judaism. He presumes this is because they "want to educate about the notion of Shabbat less from an obser- vance standpoint of halachic prescription, and embracing a more open approach to Shab- bat generally." He says the roots of the un- plugging movement have to do with "providing a Jewish solu- tion to a universal problem of tech addiction. When we have conversations with people, the nervousness, the anxiety, even the notion of turning off these devices for 24 hours, it's amaz- ing proof of why it's necessary." San Francisco couple Shel- ley Abramson and Jack Merk decided to take the plunge and unplug. Abramson got the idea several months ago during services at Reform Congrega- tion Emanu-El. As part of an icebreaker, congregants who didn't know each other were asked to share one thing they'd done recently that changed their lives. Abramson's neighbor told her he had started unplugging for Shabbat. "I said, 'OK I'm going to do that, too,' " recalls the San Francisco film and TV pro- ducer. "It didn't last at first, and then a month and a half ago, I decided that unless I was traveling, Friday nights I would unplug: turn my phone off and literally put it away." Raised in an Orthodox home in Montreal,Abramson says 24 hours without the phone or the computer "enables you to think differently, to really be in the world. It's much more of a personal relationship with Shabbat. You're not busy mak- ing busy." She admits she is normally among those people who look at their phones first thing after waking up, but now she says she looks forward to her weekly island of time away from technology, amount of downtime has been Orthodoxcommunitiesalso fairly limited. We don't know are not immune from tech ad- how to be quiet. The big gift diction, evenonShabbat.Rab- of Shabbat is expansiveness, bi Judah Dardik of Oakland's of not being filled up every Beth Jacob Congregation ac- moment." ceptsitasarealityhemustdeal An avid blogger and Face- with. He says approximately book status updater, Creditor 60 percent of his congregants admits he, too, is a "digital are "not Orthodox" and that addict." He says the hardest he has to teach about the joys partofpreparingforShabbatis of unplugging. "putting the phone in a closet." That's why he started a "It is really hard to let go bimonthly Saturday morning of our connecting tools," he program he calls Shabbat adds.QuotingRabbiAbraham University. Now in its fifth Joshua Heschel, who died in year, the program targets the 1972, he says," 'Shabbat is an 60 percent, which includes a armistice from technology.'He range of people, "from very couldn'thaveknownaboutto- traditional, [who] might have day's frenetic digital pace, but cell phones on and answer his words are no less relevant. calls but not make them, [to IneedritualizeddowntimesoI others who] won't shop online can put down my connectivity but will check the news on tools and actually connect." Israel, all the way to atheists Creditor says he soon will who don't believe in any sort reinstitute a Netivot Shalom of restriction." tradition called "Etzleinu Participants gather every ba'schuna," meaning "At our other Saturday morningatthe place in the neighborhood." It phone-flee shul for what the sorts congregants by ZIP code rabbi calls a learner's service, and encourages them to get aclassaboutprayerfoliowedby together for Shabbat. a drash (a lesson on the Torah He says they could organize portion and/or a book in the kids' activities, meditation, an Hebrew Bible) and concluding adult readinggroup or just kick with Kiddush. it in the backyard. As long as Add up all the time, and it's unplugged. Dardik's students spend more Like Creditor and other than three hours unplugged, rabbis supportive of the un- "Now your Shabbat ex- plugging movement, Dardik perience has involved these knows it isn't easy for people elements of prayer, text and to change. Religious incentives socializing by the time it's to put the technology on hold done," Dardik says. "They had often are insufficient, even an island of time. Would they in an Orthodox community have turned off their phones like his. otherwise? I don't know, but "I'm looking to help people once in the building, that's make connections," Dardik what you do." explains. "I don't try to get As an observant Jew, Dardik them to be more religious per doesn't need any prompting to se, but I try to give them some unplug for the 24-plus hours education, and that's pretty of Shabbat.Butheadmitsthat powerful. Then people decide for "24/6" he is "completely what they want to do With addicted to my BlackBerry." this idea." "Once aweek it's discipline," It isn't always the wise rabbi Dardiksays."Ihavetostopand who sells the message. tell myself, 'Just let it go.' It's Booth's ll-year-old daugh- healthy for me. I see it in teens, ter, Maytal, taught him a who need Shabbat to learn lesson about the importance how to have a conversation of unplugging. It happened face to face." one night at bedtime when Adults need it, too, which is he entered her room, phone why every Shabbat Rabbi Me- in hand. nachem Creditor of Berkeley's "I walked in to tuck her in," Congregation NetivotShalom Booth recalls, "and she said keeps his synagogue building 'You're not going to be one of open until 4 p.m., long after those dads who looks at the Saturdaymorningservices.He phone and not me.' Shabbat wants congregants to linger, reminds me I don't need to mingle and shmooze for a few bring the darn phone every- hours of unplugged Shabbat where I go." peace. Dan Pine is a staff writer "Synagogues are very good at J. the Jewish news weekly at structured time," Creditor of Northern California, from says. "That might be prayer which this article was re- or learning based, but the printed by permission. Your in Orlando Real Estate!l!! 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