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Monday, September 15, 2014

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Disconnecting to connect

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After waiting four months for the kinks to be ironed out, I download iOS 6, Apple’s new mobile operating system. The update includes a slew of features –Facebook integration, photo sharing, etc. Most exciting is “Do Not Disturb,” a setting to pause the torrent of bings, bleeps, dings and vibrations that come with the digital age.

My life is abuzz with the sounds of my iPhone, iPad and computer: a ping for email, a buzz for Facebook messages, a tone for Skype calls, and the occasional ring of a phone. Sometimes it seems that hardly a minute goes by without some jingle.

I’ve started searching for moments of silence. Two weeks ago, I declared 5 to 7:30 p.m. – from when my daughter comes home to her bedtime – to be email-free hours. We still Skype with grandparents and answer texts, but I try to avoid emails.

This week, I’m experimenting with a plan to check email only once an hour. Fighting the Pavlovian urge to flip to Gmail every time I hear an email ping, I’m waiting until the last 10 minutes of each hour to sort through new messages. This system is an attempt to raise productivity and retain focus for longer stretches. We’ll see how it goes.

Taking time out stems from the fourth commandment: “Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God; on it you shall not do any work.” (Exodus 20)

Inspired by Shabbat, Reboot – an organization devoted to inspiring under-connected Jews to generate projects that impact the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds – has pioneered the National Day of Unplugging. The annual event (this year it’s on March 1-2) encourages people to take a brief respite from their digital devices – to disconnect in order to connect.

But Shabbat is more than the “Do Not Disturb” function. Reboot’s Shabbat Manifesto offers 10 principles designed “to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world”: 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.

The manifesto takes the Jewish particularism of Shabbat and makes it universal. Reboot calls it “a modern spin on the ancient day of rest for people of all denominations.” Kiddush becomes “drinking wine.” “You shall not work” becomes “avoid commerce.” Hamotzi becomes “eat bread.” Prayer becomes “find silence.”

There’s certainly something appealing about paring Shabbat down to its universalistic appeal. Universalism is what enables a White House Passover seder, Chanukah to become the holiday of lights, and a mitzvah to be common parlance for a good deed. At the same time, pursuing the universal to the exclusion of the particular is what makes kashrut, Shavuot and Israel irrelevant to so many.

If Shabbat is only about unplugging, then I celebrate it every day from 5 to 7:30. But there’s more. I wonder what could be added to the Shabbat Manifesto to remind us that, at its core, Shabbat has both universal appeal and a particularistic source – “the seventh day is a Sabbath of the lord your God.”

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