Tag Archives: technology

The Plight of the Three-Day Holiday

by Rebecca Borison

The good news is that a long holiday gives us an excuse to eat cheesecake for three days.

This past Friday, I turned off my iPhone at approximately 7 pm and prepared myself for three days of being disconnected. Shavuot happened to fall on Sunday and Monday, which meant that Shabbat led directly into the holiday, allowing no time to catch up on missed emails on Saturday night.

While I am used to unplugging for one day a week, the three-day holiday always poses a greater challenge: It’s a lot harder to deal with three days of unplugging than one. But ultimately, I found the three days to be more beneficial than bothersome. I was able to catch up with high school friends, play basketball with my younger brother, go to synagogue, and even read some George Eliot. Granted, I don’t think I’d be able to do it every week, but once in a while, it’s actually nice to disconnect for three days.

For observant or traditional Jews, 25 hours a week of unplugging is commonplace. Every Friday at sundown, iPhones are turned off and laptops are shut down. In today’s world of constant connectivity and instant feedback, those 25 hours can be extremely challenging. Add on two more days of Shavuot, and you’re practically salivating at the thought of checking your email.

The three-day holiday always seems to return as a shock. Outside of Israel, observant Jews keep two days of Shavuot, and when it falls out on a Sunday and Monday, that means three full days of synagogue, lots of food and no technology.

For many, even one day of Sabbath can seem impossible. In a 2010 New York Times article by Austin Considine, Jill Soloway, a television producer, said that a  day without her iPhone was “next to excruciating.” Not being able to connect to the modern world leaves one feeling anxious and antsy.

In that same article, Considine writes about an experiment by Reboot, a nonprofit think tank of Jewish professionals. Reboot had decided to promote a National Day of Unplugging.  Some of the day’s instructions were to “avoid technology,” “find silence” and “drink wine.” According to Reboot, unplugging fulfills a major need, whether or not you’re Jewish.  While it may be difficult to turn off the iPhone, it can also be extremely beneficial.  In today’s fast-paced society, it is crucial that we step back and reflect.

Growing up, my family always ate dinner together, seven days a week. But once we were old enough to get our own cell phones, the weekday dinners shifted entirely. Yes, we all sat at the same table and ate the same food, but we were all texting our friends at the same time. It only got worse with the transition to smart phones. My parents tried to enforce no-cell-phone rules, but we always managed to hide our cell phones in our pockets or under the table.

Friday night dinners, on the other hand, were entirely different. It was no longer just my parents enforcing the no cell phone rule, it was Shabbat. All of a sudden, my siblings and I were actually engaging in real-life conversation.

Six days a week, we are constantly in touch with the modern, digital world. Even for those who don’t intend on fully observing the Sabbath, unplugging for one day a week can serve as a great way to relax and promote family time.

But what happens when it turns into three days of your week? Former religion reporter for The New York Times Ari L. Goldman used to call the stretch “the triple whammy.” “As Sabbath observers,” he writes, “we already know what it is to unplug for a day. Two days is unusual, but three is almost imaginable.”

As the years passed, however, Goldman began to actually look forward to the three-day holiday. He sees the need to disconnect from  technology as a blessing. It allows him to catch up on reading and spend valuable time with his family.

Maybe three days of unplugging is a bit much for the average Internet frequenter. I happen to agree with Goldman. I can appreciate the three-day holiday as an additional excuse to relax and spend time with friends and family.

During the week, I find myself feeling guilty for not being productive and lazing around. When I’m forced to relax, however, the guilt melts away. Why wouldn’t I want two more days of that?

Three days without an iPhone forces you to be creative. Maybe you take out a board game or a puzzle; maybe you grab a novel. Or maybe you go for a walk with your mom. The possibilities are endless. And let’s be honest, how likely are we to actually think outside the box when the Internet is at our fingertips?

Passover Remixed

by Amanda Walgrove

For thousands of years, the Passover Seder has evoked universal themes of personal liberation and religious freedom. Each generation tells and retells the story of Moses leading the Jews out of Egypt. But the annual remembrance also has a history of being a uniquely malleable occasion that can be customized to certain values of an individual or household. From its conception, Passover has been a holiday predominantly based on interpretation of Bible narrative, using an aggadic midrash as its leading text for instruction and discussion during the Seder. While tradition has always been an important aspect of Jewish practice and ancestry, how much wiggle room is there to expand upon and perhaps amend certain traditions?

The adaptation of the Passover Seder is commonly accomplished through the modification of two main tools used during the annual observance: the Haggadah and the Seder plate. New songs and activities to include in Passover celebrations abound on the Internet; Each new year delivers a fresh batch of innovative variations of these iconic objects, and with the development of technology and the continuing exploration of certain core values, 2011 is no exception.

Seder plates, now used as microcosmic edible message boards, have a history of being modified with new foods that represent certain values and causes. Oranges have been known to symbolize the power of Jewish women, olives as a call for peace between Israel and Palestine, and an artichoke for the interfaith-friendly plate. Activists have grabbed onto the plate phenomenon as well. Last year, the Progressive Jewish Alliance put together a “Food Desert Seder Plate” that replaced the traditional items with ones symbolizing lack of access to fresh food in low-income neighborhoods.

Feminists have also latched onto the opportunity to emphasize certain values and key figures in the Passover Seder. “Jewesses with Attitude” (JWA) recently debuted a short video highlighting Miriam’s role in the Passover story, her legacy as a leader, and the contemporary Jewish women who follow in her footsteps. While Miriam may be the only Biblical woman who is “not described as somebody’s wife or mother,” she is absent from the traditional text. But this hasn’t made her famously essential role in the Passover stories any less profound. Now, many observers include Miriam’s cup in their Passover Seders, representing “the recognition of women’s contributions and the commitment to inclusivity more generally, making sure all Jews have a voice.” JWA is teaming up with JewishBoston.com—which has already released a free, downloadable, customizable Haggadah—to produce a Haggadah that celebrates the contributions of women to Jewish life.

In the virtual Haggadah department, DIY Holiday Co. just released their first product, Do-It-Yourself Seder, which allows families to create their own personalized Haggadot. Offering content relating to current events, foodies, kids activities and songs, the new project serves to broaden the Passover tradition with an interactive and creative approach. Similarly, Haggadot.com, winner of the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund award, allows users to cut and paste their own Haggadot. The Forward compares the process to Amazon.com, which has thousands of retail partners from which you can mix and match. Users can add their own photos and stories, pull from those others have shared, paste it all together, print it out, and upload it for others to ponder.

For fans of the most traditional form of Passover capitalization, the overwhelmingly popular Maxwell House Haggadah has been given a makeover to go along with its first new translation since its original printing in 1934. Conforming to contemporary vernacular, “thee” and “thou” have been replaced with “you.” God is also no longer gendered by the proper pronoun, “He.” Along with the new cover design, the text will also be larger, and the layout easier to navigate.

The message of Passover hasn’t changed, but the ways in which we retell the stories will continue to evolve for each individual, family, and generation. If you ever remember acting out the Passover story in Hebrew School, now you can see it all through your Twitter feed as @twitplaymoshe, @twitplaypharaoh, @twitplayammon and friends reenact #exod2011. While some may fear that “watered down” versions of the Haggadah and internet fads can damage the observance of the holiday, a sense of community and accessibility is important during a time when Jews give thanks for religious and personal freedoms. With the internet on board as Moses readies himself to lead the Jews out of Egypt once again and Jake Gyllenhaal preparing to hide the afikomen on “Sesame Street,” all we need now is the iPad and Kindle to consider joining the Seder so we can say, “Passover?” “There’s an app for that!”

Our New Cover!

Get excited!  Here’s a sneak peek at the über-modern cover of our new issue, going to press today: