Growing up in Toronto, I really enjoyed our Friday night dinners. We would have my grandparents, uncles and cousins join us for Shabbat. I have great memories of playing in the backyard with my cousins and practicing my golf swing with my grandfather.
When it came to meal time, we would say the prayers, light the candles, break the bread, drink the wine, and enjoy hearing everyone’s stories and experiences from the past week. We actually talked and enjoyed being with one another.
Soon after my grandfather died in 1986, we stopped having our weekly Shabbat dinners. We were getting older, outside activities were taking precedence, work commitments for my parents were becoming more frequent, and Friday nights just didn’t work anymore.
So we changed our routine, and we would go as a family for dim sum (tapas-sized portions of Chinese snacks) on Saturday for lunch instead of gathering on Friday night.
There were no Jewish rituals being practiced anymore, but we enjoyed our time connecting as a family and sharing a delicious meal. I have so many fond childhood memories of our version of Shabbat.
So why do I bring this up? Well, if you haven’t noticed, we are living in the loneliest generation in history. The prevalence of technology in our daily lives makes us lonely as we attempt to replace real relationships with online relationships.
Temporarily, we sometimes feel better when we engage others online, but these connections tend to be superficial and ultimately dissatisfying. Online contact is not an effective alternative for offline social interactions. We require actual, in-person, non-technology-fueled connection.
Since my wife, Alyza, and I met almost 12 years ago, we have celebrated Shabbat. But until recently, when she returned from the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project trip to Israel in November, Shabbat was having dinner together and going through the rituals. We would still be mentally engaged in our workweek and be focused on our growing to-do lists while enjoying a nice meal, family time and familiar ritual.
About 20 minutes after returning from Israel, fully inspired and clearly enlightened, Alyza said to me that we’re going to do something different.
On Shabbat, she said, we are turning off our technology and connecting as a family so we can reconnect — aka “disconnect to reconnect.” No iPhone, iPad, email, TV, video games, Kindle, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. We are going to be present for one another, talk about our week, play games and be a family.
What? No iPhone, no Netflix — are you kidding? I’m going to crumble.
Honey, the kids aren’t going to know what do you with themselves. What if I miss an important call or text? What if I miss a funny cat post? We are going to have to talk to one another? This can’t be happening.
While at first I was a skeptic, saying to myself, “Sure, we’ll do this for a month and be back to normal in no time,” I have found that those who engage Shabbat sans technology are really on to something. The Orthodox have this Shabbat and connection thing figured out.
Needless to say, our family bond couldn’t be stronger. Our connection to one another is rock solid, and we are making moments that as a family we will remember for a lifetime.
I also can’t ignore the extremely proud and happy moments Alyza and I have when our three kids are fully engaged and enjoying the Shabbat rituals. We are learning more about our faith and more about one another.
Batsheva Gelbtuch, co-director of the Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta, explains it as follows.
Judaism teaches us that part of our mission is connecting deeply within three spheres:
- Connecting with ourselves (our souls/our own unique missions).
- Connecting with others (anyone G-d places in your path is there for a reason, to connect).
- Connecting with infinity/spirituality, to G-d.
We live in an uber-connected world. Ninety percent of people are within 3 feet of their devices 24 hours a day; 52 percent of people wake up in the middle of the night just to check their devices.
We can connect with people on the other side of the globe with the click of a button. However, are we connecting, really connecting? The way we measure that is evaluating those three spheres.
When we walk into the grocery and when we are on the phone as we are checking out, we may be connecting with whoever is on the other end, but are we connecting with the cashier who is right there in front of us? Did we smile at her and ask her how she’s doing?
Judaism demands this of us: to be fully connected in all three spheres.
Shabbat is the time we get to truly immerse ourselves in this connection, to truly notice those around us, to fully witness our kids, and to be present for spouses, friends, family and ourselves. To take the time and evaluate “How connected am I?”
On Shabbat we rest from connecting externally. In essence, we disconnect in order to fully connect.
We rest from creating, and that is the opportunity for introspection. What have I achieved this week, and how am I better? Am I closer to becoming the best version of myself? Am I more self-aware? Have I become more sensitive? Where do I need to develop in particular?
On Shabbat we are evaluating; we are taking a real, honest look at ourselves. Rabbi Akiva Tatz says the meditation of Shabbat is the meditation of being, not becoming. It’s from the awareness of being that the next week’s becoming is generated.
We live in a world in which we are all doing so much, becoming so much, that the expectations we place on ourselves, our kids, our colleagues and our spouses are generating a level of stress we have yet to encounter. Shabbat is the way we don’t lose sight of why we are doing it all and what really matters, Batsheva says.
So here is my challenge to you. Try disconnecting to reconnect for three consecutive weeks on Shabbat and see how it makes you feel. I can pretty much assure you that your stress and anxiety will start melting away while your happiness quotient goes up.
Justin Milrad is the CEO of The Berman Center and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The Berman Center offers a path forward for those dealing with addiction and/or mental health issues. Based on the Jewish values of community, healing and wholeness, our spiritually holistic approach helps participants transition from surviving to thriving. We offer a customized, multidisciplinary treatment plan that supports the individual and the person’s family, as well as exceptional post-treatment community integration programs. For answers to your questions related to mental illness and addiction, call The Berman Center at 770-336-7444, or email email@example.com. Inquiries are held in the strictest of confidence.