More from The Wandering Jew: A return to a place I visited 25 years ago, and some Jewish surprises there
SHABBAT THOUGHT: All the Things Shabbat Are (and are not yet for me); Confession Time
Shabbat is a time to break free of technology and connect with ourselves and others. Now why is that so damn hard?
*Originally drafted April 17, 2021 by Bobby Apperson
- Unplugging from the world—and capitalism—is hard
- Saturdays were my busiest workdays as a business owner, until I meticulously carved them out
- This ancient practice is surprisingly relevant today for work-life balance, connecting with what’s important, and being present and mindful
Shabbat Shalom! As I meditate on this Saturday afternoon* in my new home—San Francisco, which I adore—I hesitate to type. It’s Shabbat, and I’m trying my best to observe what I am able. Nearly two years into this Jewish journey I am still carving out observance and identity, and what Shabbat looks like as a single Jew is still in flux.
At first I observed Shabbat by regularly going to service with Nefesh, my beautiful, beautiful Eastside of Los Angeles community that I miss. But at most that’s twice a month and in practice I couldn’t always make it. On those nights at home I would still light the Shabbat candles at dusk and say the blessing (seen here, below). It’s not the same, doing this alone, but it feels good.
On one of these solo Shabbat nights before I converted to Judaism, I turned my phone off for the first time in ages. I had to work the next day and didn’t turn it back on until 10 or 11am. Not a full day, but 16-ish hours nonetheless. And it felt so good; I took a bath, I meditated, I lit more candles, I went to bed early after reading.
But since then I’ve struggled unplugging. I know I’m not alone.
Anxiety! I have phone anxiety. It’s an epidemic made all the worse during a pandemic, all my gains in removing my tech appendage for 24 hours a week lost with late-night doom-scrolling, wanting to know the latest news in the throes of the spring 2020 train-wreck.
One huge step I took pre-pandemic was to quickly shuffle my work schedule.
As a voice coach and piano / songwriting teacher, I always had to accept that most of my clients wanted weekend slots. When I first started coaching in LA, Saturday was my busiest day until late 2019, when I stopped working on Shabbat. Working Saturdays alone each month used to pay my half of the mortgage. This was a huge shift and really hard to do at first. I also think it cost me money: half my availability on weekends evaporated.
Taking Saturdays off my slate after working them for years at first was weird; I felt like I should be working, like it’s a Monday or something, and had a difficult time scheduling Songsmiths and clients. But it ironed itself out after awhile, especially once I told folks why I couldn’t do their favorite day.
Here’s the thing: Saturday should be a holiday, everywhere, not just for Jews. In Israel, it is. Everything is closed. Here in America, by law it used to be Sundays, and in places like Texas (where I’m from) you can’t buy alcohol on Sundays, at least not in the morning.
- Four days before Election Night 2020, the Super Bowl of partisan politics and news coverage, I sat meditating on this in Austin. Election Day should be a national holiday, and the entire weekend prior (Monday included) to vote, which got me thinking:
- Saturday and Sunday should be holidays with full business closure. Look, I know it’s a huge time for running errands for working folks, but Fridays, as in Israel, should be a day off. A four-day work week makes sense. A fifth to take care of things; and two to rest. One for the Jews, one for the goys, and preferably, both:
- My reality: I now typically work Sundays most weeks, but that’s my choice. I’m off early Friday and all day Saturday, and that feels right, now that I’ve tried it awhile. I *won’t* work Shabbat, but I *can* work Sundays, and still take it off when I’m able to and have it feel like Sundays always did—slow, recovering from Saturday fun, and the eve of a new week.
And yet… I have a hard time with my phone. Rabbi Susan Goldberg always invites us to turn the damn things (my words) off; I struggle. It’s the usual thoughts:
- What if someone needs me? (They don’t, especially if they know I’ll have my phone off)
- What if I miss something?? (I won’t)
- I worked hard all week, I deserve to goof off on my phone! (I do this literally every other day OMG)
So my phone stays on, and then I spend half the evening browsing and “liking” things after staring at screens all week, ESPECIALLY since COVID. My screen time somehow went UP after beginning to observe Shabbat. I suffer from what’s known as not just FOMO but as “revenge scrolling“: my time does not feel my own most of the time with work and obligations, so when it’s lazy downtime, out comes the FOMO finger and my feeds.
Then last night, a breakthrough: before Nefesh’s musical, soulful service began, I uninstalled Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter on my phone. It felt amazing, and it’s an easy re-install later; I use these for work or they’d stay off, and Facebook might. I can do everything I need for work and play on there on my laptop.
Also, Facebook is fascist or at BEST, facilitating fascism, illiberalism and anti-democracy with its policies. So there’s that (and more on that later).
And wow: The quiet! No more grabbing my phone absent-mindedly, scrolling and double-tapping “♥️” on a post before snapping to and realizing I was holding my phone when I didn’t mean to or want to. It’s a damn ghost appendage; I don’t leave home without my phone, ever, and if I pat my front right pocket to find it empty, I immediately find where I left it. It’s a slab of metal, silicon, plastic, glass, and evil; it’s a crude connection to the world that somehow makes us feel less connected; it’s creativity-draining, it’s sleep-depriving, it’s endless information and distraction. And…
…it’s also an incredible invention. Google and WikiPedia alone are the greatest troves of information in human history (used with caution), and I use them a lot. I browse history, random topics, trivia, and watch Youtube History and voyage down geography-topic rabbit holes. It’s fun and enriching, until I find myself liking dog videos all of a sudden.
A traditional, observant Jew will not so much as flip a light switch or press an elevator button on Shabbat. Much like keeping Kosher and avoiding wearing certain things, keeping Shabbat is a meditation, a reflection on our place in the world; not just keeping a law from Torah, but a reminder that we don’t just exist to work. We sometimes just need to be, to reset, to REST, and to
- unplug from capitalism: not constantly work and buy things
- unplug from devices: our phones are opiates
- not rush around constantly like every other day
- connect with family, friends, and our surroundings
- eat, drink, and be together
How are you observing Shabbat, and observing yourself as it unfolds so beautifully and differently each week?
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אַדֹנָ-י אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו וְצִוָּנוּ לְהַדְלִיק נֵר שֶׁל שַׁבָּת קֹדֶשׁ
Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam
Asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat
Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of time and space.
You hallow us with Your mitzvot and command us to kindle the lights of Shabbat.
Check out more here:
- The Shabbat Project: Let Shabbat Heal You
- One Table: Find a Shabbat dinner near you, or host one
- Shabbat Basics at Kveller