Sunday, January 1, 2012

For 2012: A Technology Shabbat, California Style

Let's face it. With all of technology's benefits -- and there are many -- today's electronic age rules our lives. It has become such an addiction that Californian
Tiffany Shlain -- founder

of The Webby Awards and recognized by Newsweek as "one of the women shaping the 21st century" -- is convinced that we need a once-a-week break from everything or i. To this end, she and her  family observe a  24-hour "Technology Shabbat" -- a rest from technology -- beginning every Friday at sundown.  That's what she said on a PBS Tavis Smiley show that I caught this past November when I was in the States.

I was particularly intrigued by her announcement because, quite frankly, I feel like an Israeli Agatha Christie watching my Orthodox nephews go on Skype every Motzei Shabbat Israel time -- meaning  the middle of Shabbat New York time. I don't claim to be any great Hassida. I live in that grey world of Conservadoxy and I'm all for live and let live, but huh? What's going on here? The answer came during this same November trip, when in a passing conversation my sister in-law told me that today many Orthodox kids observe a Half Shabbos. Which means, you don't have to be Conservative or Reform to open your computer or mobile phone on Shabbat.

Yes, this seems to be a teen thing and I don't write for teens. But what's at stake here is not the age level. It's the essence of Shabbat. Not the religious dos and don'ts, but what it does for our mind and soul. With all the quality time talk that parents spout, why is it that regardless of denomination we Jews fail to recognize that Shabbat is the prototype of family quality time? What other day of the week provides such a sense of togetherness? Name another evening where each member of the family is made to feel special. Think of the roles played by candle lighting, blessing children and saying Kiddush. And in today's hectic, 21st century life, name another weeknight when the family sits around the table, enjoys a home-made, mouth-watering meal while talking about the week's events.

How you extend that unified family feeling for a full 25 hours is up to you. So is how you teach it. Clearly, it's not about rules. Otherwise, Half Shabbos teens wouldn't feel the urge to break them. Shabbat is all about the gift the Jewish nation has given the world -- a day of rest.  So, thank you Tiffany Shlain for reminding us. It's something to tweet about every Friday afternoon before pushing the shut down button.

Technology photo credit

Shabbat photo credit

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