JFK on Shabbat
Recently, I’ve had occasion to pray at other shuls on Shabbat to participate in a simhah (celebration) and, while I have enjoyed their tefillot (services), I was surprised to see how pervasive the use of technology during the kiddush was. At one kiddush, an entire table was filled with young people—all sitting together, but interacting with their cell phones and not with each other.
While this may be a bit less common on Shabbat at Emunah, our community is not immune to this problem. Often, teens are with screens when they could be with each other in real time. And adults often fall prey to the same phenomenon. We are so hooked into our devices, we sometimes do not see the people right in front of us.
The challenge of connecting with each other, face to face, is becoming more difficult in our fast-paced world. This affects all of us. We find it hard for to distance ourselves from our devices. I, too, find myself texting when I should be talking with my children
That said, we do have an antidote: Shabbat.
While originally envisioned to help our hard-working farming ancestors take a break, today it may be even more necessary than in the past. The brilliance of our tradition is that it invites us to put down all of our electronics each week for Shabbat—as well as, of course, our shovels, hoes, and pruning hooks. While some can make the argument that you may use electricity on Shabbat, our devices—which constantly save new information—are considered like writing, something that Judaism forbids on Shabbat.
And to that, I say: “Thank God!”
What a relief I feel each Friday afternoon or evening, as I put down my cell phone. Taking a break from the constant pinging and vibrating is a welcome respite.
This need to put our devices away is clearly of benefit today; I have learned of companies that shut down their email for several hours each week to help their employees experience the same pause.
Back in March, our community participated in an “Unplugged Shabbat” when we enjoyed a multi-generational Shabbat dinner sponsored by the Bess Ezekiel Memorial Fund. The evening included handing out mini “sleeping bags” for our smartphones. You can learn more at: http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/.
But more important than putting down our devices is the need to connect with other people. Connecting in community is the key. Luckily, we have at least three opportunities each week on Shabbat: Friday night with its joyous singing, Shabbat morning when our community gathers together, and Shabbat minhah where we gently let go of Shabbat with its own sacred slowness.
As the weather finally warms, there may be a tendency to miss shul in the summer. But I invite you back. Come whenever you can and experience community.
While any moment during the week (such as minyan or Wednesday morning breakfast) is beneficial, there is something about being together for Shabbat morning when we assemble to daven (pray), hear the Torah, study, celebrate, support each other, and share a meal. And there is strength in numbers.
While I (and some others) enjoy the full davening experience, I want to propose something a bit radical. And I do not want to say it too loudly (lest it be misconstrued), but if the service is not your cup of tea, come late. (It’s OK.) Even after the sermon :-)
And even: JFK.
“What does our 35th President have to do with Shabbat?” you might ask.
Nothing. JFK stands for “Just For Kiddush.”
Yes, feel free to come just for kiddush. Kiddush, where we build the connections among us, might be one of the most sacred moments of Shabbat.
Over the last 14 years, I have tried to bring to our community different approaches to our tradition; essentially, all of these experiences have tried to connect us not only to our tradition, but also, and perhaps more importantly, to each other. One of the ways we see God is in the face of the other.
At its core, Temple Emunah is about building community. And that happens best each week at kiddush over a cup of coffee or tea, schmoozing with people we just met or have known for decades. Kiddush is where we connect.
The Torah points us in this direction right after we gathered at Mount Sinai. God instructs the Israelites to build a sanctuary: “V’asu Li Mikdash, V’Shakhanti B’tokham—and you shall build a holy space for Me, and I will dwell among them.”
While we would expect the text to state that God dwells in this special space that is being created for the Divine, the Torah states that God dwells “b’tokham—within them;” meaning that wherever the people gather, God’s presence rests upon them. Thus, God is felt in community, among people, when we truly interact with each other.
So, feel free to sneak right in and JFK! Join us just for kiddush! But, please don’t bring your phone!
Rabbi David Lerner