Jews have kept Shabbat over history, just as Shabbat has kept the Jews, poet and philosopher Asher Zvi Hirsch Ginsberg wrote.
Those words are increasingly relevant today, as Shabbat offers 21st-century Jews a reprieve from the constant demands of technology.
According to the first-quarter 2018 Nielsen Total Audience Report, American adults spend more than 11 hours per day listening to, watching, reading or generally interacting with media on a screen. That means when people choose to take a break, often on Shabbat, it’s a significant transition.
Ariel Arbely, 27, works as a cybersecurity analyst for TD Bank and is active in the Chevra and Chabad Young Philly.
“I am very open with employers, previous and current and, fortunately, they have been very respectful and understanding of the restrictions that prohibit me from using my phone on Shabbat,” said Arbely, who lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Sometimes he works extra hours during the week if he needs to leave early on Friday or to take time off for the holidays.
“The work environment has evolved to the point that we are expected to be available all the time,” Arbely said. “It is really important in this high-speed world to have the opportunity to detach from your device and your career.”
It is just as important to step away from identifying yourself through your work and social media, he said. People are always striving to have a feeling of productivity and meaning, and many try to achieve that feeling by focusing on work and their online persona.
“Putting my device in the drawer is a sense of relief — to be able to turn it off and say I am done,” Arbely said. “Once you get the opportunity to detach, you have the opportunity to connect to your true self through prayer and your community.”
Arbely’s outlook about Shabbat and tech has changed since he was in college.
“When Shabbat ended, I used to run to turn on my device to check my messages and Facebook, but now I am not so obsessed. Now I slowly reconnect Saturday evening,” he explained.
Marni Jo Snyder, a criminal defense attorney in Philadelphia who works six days a week, also makes every effort to disconnect on Shabbat.
“I do not work, but I will answer emergency calls because I am concerned about the urgent needs that affect my clients,” said Snyder, 38, a former public defender. “As a Jew, I feel obligated to look out for the welfare of my clients, especially if they are deprived of their freedom. Other kinds of lawyers can leave an out-of-the-office message, but in criminal defense, that is not going to happen.”
Aside from emergency calls, though, she does not allow electronics to interfere with her interactions on Shabbat. “I want to make sure the day is connected to other people and not connected to the internet.”
It’s a marked contrast from her usual daily schedule. “Sometimes I am on my PC, my phone and my office phone at the same time,” she said. “The opportunity to disconnect on Shabbat is a blessing.”
Though it can be difficult for people who aren’t used to going offline for Shabbat, Arbely encourages people to try it.
“Take a Saturday and turn off your phone, and spend time with your friends and family, and see how meaningful it can be,” he said.
Abby Frank, 48, director of program operations at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, had trouble entirely disconnecting at a prior job.
“Disconnecting needed an explanation, somewhat for Shabbat, but more for the weekday holidays,” Frank said. “It was difficult for supervisors and colleagues to understand you are out of touch for 24 to 48 hours during the week.”
That’s not an issue as a Federation employee, of course, but Frank thinks the culture is shifting away from constant connection anyway. She thinks that’s a good thing. Not being on devices “creates a time and space to connect face-to-face in a deeper way,” said Frank. “It’s liberating.”