Unplugging for Shabbat
How I learned to survive one day without technology
While I hardly need a nudge to stop “doing work,” the restrictiveness of the weekly holiday seems awfully labor intensive, not to mention a slippery slope: subscribe to one rule and there’s another and so on, and before you know it you’re setting timers for reading lamps and waiting for someone else to push the elevator button for you. The whole point of Shabbat can get lost in the stressful preparations and details. Besides, I’m not one to pre-shred my toilet paper.
But I do love the idea of a day of rest. The only time I ever observed this faithfully was as a child at Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where Saturday afternoons were not packed with competitive inter-sport basketball tournaments but left wide open, happily filled with hours of lazing on blankets with friends, taking walks, sneaking off to cozy spots with “friends,” gorging on Pringles and Ring Dings, and overall enjoying friendship at its best, in its purest, most unadulterated form.
On the topic of rest one could argue, “that’s what weekends are for,” but the truth is, weekends nowadays pass me by with little distinction from the workweek. (As a stay-at-home mom I hardly ever know what day it is.) My husband and I have both spent Saturdays hooked up to our devices, my nose in my laptop and my husband on his phone, feeding empty nods to our children or asking them to “wait a minute” because we are distracted by whatever is calling us, another email, another text.
When I discovered Reboot’s Sabbath Manifesto, and in particular their annual National Unplugging Day, I was inspired to give it a shot. My husband agreed. We would go offline for the course of Shabbat. That was it. The rest of the rules--driving, cooking, swimming--we wouldn’t worry about. Rather, by focusing on this one small thing we would respect the Sabbath. Surely, that much we could manage? Here's how it went:
7:30 p.m. Rooftop dinner with neighbors and their kids (pizza delivery, not matzo ball soup; it is 90 degrees and I’m no balabusta), with lots of goofing and scooting around and drippy cherry popsicles. Afterward, we load up the car to head out to Rob’s parents’ house. Instead of programming our destination into his phone, which will map a route circumventing all traffic, we coast along on brake lights, through puddles and rain, for however long it takes, while our children sleep soundly behind us. A funny thing happens: unable to download 60 Minutes podcasts from Rob’s phone, a habit we’ve fallen into on long drives, we talk. We talk about childhood and high school and college, music and Michael Jackson. Three hours fly.
12:00 a.m. Accustomed to reading the paper online before bed, Rob must make do with whatever is on the bedside table of the guest room at his parents’ house: Nora Ephron’s Crazy Salad: Some Things about Women. I snicker. He reads.
7 a.m. I wake up jonesing. I want to check my email. I don’t. I’m thinking about what I’ve missed, what I am missing, what I will miss out on today. Here I am, sitting with my family, anxious to know what’s happening on my Twitter feed, who posted new baby photos on Facebook, if that email came in. What’s wrong with me? My husband, I can tell, is equally twitchy. He has been conducting an ongoing game of “Words With Friends” with his college roommate for three years now and it’s bound to be his turn. I see it around the mouth. Silently, we drink our coffees.
10:00 a.m. With our phones tucked away and our laptops left in Brooklyn, our kids have not tugged on our legs begging to print out cartoon coloring pages or to play “Cut the Rope” or Starfall. It’s nice. We bust out Scrabble. The bone tiles feel alien to the touch, the physical board cumbersome, strange to read. Is it upside down? Our kids’ faces light up as they clamor for letters. The 3-year-old hoards the consonants; the 5-year-old squeals when his “p-l-a-y” lands a double word score. We slap hands. Success! Temptation temporarily averted.
2:00 p.m. We’ve blown bubbles, eaten lunch, watered the garden, played Wiffle ball. The sound of laughter fills the air. Up next: miniature golf. But we do not know if there is a course nearby because we are unfamiliar with this town, so for a second we almost consider googling options. We resist. There is no rush, we get in the car and drive. It’s a beautiful road, the light is good and crisp, and the day takes us all the way out to Montauk.
3:00 p.m. My daughter has fallen asleep so I sit with her and wait while the boys gather clubs and bright, dented balls and putt away. It is hot in the car even with the windows open. I close my eyes, thinking about strangers in parking lots, the buds of future stories, and then with my head resting on the lip of the car door like a dog of summer, I fall asleep. When was the last time I enjoyed a Shabbos nap?
3:40 p.m. Still in the car, I wake to the phone ringing. We do not have a moratorium against talking on the phone, only the Internet, so I pick up and it’s my in-laws wanting to know our whereabouts. I report. Then, in a daze, out of habit, I unlock my phone. There is a signal and I see there are messages. My pulse quickens. I don’t go through them. But I see. When my husband returns to the car he sniffs my weakness, he knows my habits too well and calls me out immediately. Cheater! He gloats; after all, this was my idea and he merely agreed to play along. To prove it to myself as much as to him, I vow to unplug the following weekend as well. It has not even been 24-hours. Clearly, I’m worse off than I thought.
Back at the house, we sit outside. We drink cocktails. We laugh. We read stories and tickle each other senseless. We hose down the kids. Bedtime comes and the sun goes down. Shabbat is over. Every night I sing the Shema and v’ahavta while tucking them in. My camp counselors did and it is a memory I cling to, a ritual that has now become our own. The night closes like any other. But I wonder if they felt anything different. More attention, maybe. I know I am beginning to sense a shift.