Could I meet the challenge and unplug for an entire Shabbat

No e-mail? No Facebook Scrabble? No Google? For Shabbat two weeks ago, I took the Unplug Challenge to see if I could live by the 10 core principals of the Sabbath Manifesto, an initiative we  wrote about in j. back in April (“Disconnect to reconnect”).

andy altman-ohr

It’s a call to slow down our lives in an increasingly hectic world — something I strive to do every weekend anyway. But this would be different. The manifesto’s No. 1 principal is to avoid technology for the 24 hours of Shabbat.

Could I do it? Could my wife? We’re not constantly using our smart phones or our shared laptop, but we do spend time on them, even when chilling in a coffeehouse on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

And though I’m addicted to online Scrabble, I actually was looking forward to avoiding it for a full day. I was also anticipating some of the other tenets: No. 9, find silence; No. 5, avoid commerce; No. 8, eat bread; and No. 4, get outside. If there was a toughie on the list, for me it was No. 10, give back.

So here’s how things went.

First, I wanted to start this Shabbat unrushed and in the right frame of mind, so I left work early and enjoyed a relaxing, no-tech bus ride across the bay. At home, I docked my iTouch, and my wife put aside her Droid.

As per usual, I baked a challah (having let the bread machine prepare the dough). Stacey and I always light candles, chant the Kiddush and say HaMotzi. Normally it’s just the two of us, but there was a bit more prep work this day as close friends were coming over — No. 2 on the list, connect with loved ones.

Dinner went fine and two more goals were achieved: No. 6, light candles, and the semi-controversial No. 7, drink wine (some have admonished Reboot, the group behind the manifesto, for directing people to drink alcohol).

After cleanup usually is the time I grab my iTouch and play Scrabble. On this night, I let it rest on the nightstand.

Saturday, of course, was the big challenge. Nearly a full day of no commerce, no Web, and we also chose not to watch any DVDs or TV (we OK’d the radio, but for music only, no talk or news). And we still hadn’t solved the “give back” challenge.

We stayed in bed later than usual, then spent time on the couch reading. No, not the Torah, but I did read about 1970s Oakland A’s stars Ken Holtzman and Mike Epstein in the new book “Matzoh Balls and Baseballs.”

As lunch approached, fate came knocking: an overnight package of bagels from Detroit, a payoff from Stacey’s mom for a lost bet. “Eat bread,” indeed! Deprived as we are of good bagels, we devoured five in no time. (Oh, and I also gave one to the postman, who made the delivery despite an incorrect address. Did this count as “giving back”?)

In the afternoon, we enjoyed each other’s focused company, visited the library and went on a hike in the Oakland hills, fulfilling No. 4 on the list, and also No. 3, nurture your health, particularly by eating wild blackberries along the creekside route.

After that came a small bump in the road. Stacey had plans to meet a friend that night, and our car’s gas gauge was on empty. I agreed to stop to fuel up on our way home, as long as Stacey pumped and paid. I avoided commerce, right?

Back at home, it was time to see the manifesto through. My notes say that at 6:30 p.m. I was dying to watch a DVD. Instead, I lit some candles (I never do that!) and made a batch of oatcakes. After that, I laid down as darkness approached, and a feeling like a runner’s high washed over me. Shabbat had proven to be not only relaxing and freeing, but even slightly spiritual.

In that moment, I was uncertain if I’d do it again. I love a Saturday movie and a cappuccino at a café, but Shabbat still felt special without them — and especially without technology and errands. As darkness fell, I thought about the need for doing Havdallah, for a truly special, momentous period of time (not just a normal day) was coming to an end.

Andy Altman-Ohr lives in Oakland. Reach him at andy@jweekly.com.

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr is J.'s former managing editor and former Hardly Strictly Bagels food columnist. He lives and writes in Mexico.