Unplugging, turning off, powering down — for some Jews, this happens routinely every week on Shabbat. But for many others, shutting off phones, laptops and tablets doesn’t happen at all. David Katznelson thinks that’s a pity.
“It’s not only unplugging, but it’s also reflecting,” said the executive director of San Francisco-based Reboot. “That’s the gift that Shabbat gives you.”
The organization, which produces innovative takes on Jewish traditions, is behind the 24-hour “National Day of Unplugging” taking place March 9-10, and now in its ninth year.
Since 2010, a slew of local and national events have been built into the day, all designed to get people away from their screens and into their communities. It’s not the usual Shabbat activities, though. This year it includes a bike ride in conjunction with the San Francisco Bike Coalition, and taking over a bunch of restaurants with the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.
“What we’re trying to suggest is that there are many ways to unplug and reflect,” Katznelson said.
The idea grew out of the Sabbath Manifesto, an early Reboot project encouraging people to wind down once a week and honor Jewish traditions by taking a day to live mindfully. But it soon became clear, Katznelson said, that unplugging from phones and computers was the hardest part. That’s how a day without devices or technology was conceived.
The “National Day of Unplugging” shows its Jewish roots with its sundown-to-sundown Friday-Saturday schedule. But since its inception, the idea has spread across the country, into non-Jewish spaces and even internationally. “Reboot really was in the forefront of this unplugging movement,” Katznelson said.
The activities are meant not only to get people off their phones, but also to encourage face-to-face conversations. To help, Reboot will once again distribute over 35,000 “cellphone sleeping bags,” cotton drawstring sacks, where people can tuck their phones.
In New York, there will be yoga, coloring and tales of online disaster. In San Francisco, there will be the 14-mile bike ride and small-group dinners at various Inner Richmond restaurants in conjunction with the Federation’s young adult dinner series. At the usual dinners, post-college young adults are encouraged to make new friends. The difference this time is that they will have put their phones away in the sleeping bags.
After the dinners, guests can adjourn to Congregation Emanu-El for a late Shabbat with Rabbis Sydney Mintz and Jason Rodich, followed by drinks, a Reboot photo booth and games.
Sharon Siegel, Federation manager for young adult engagement, said the Federation and Reboot have collaborated before, but this year the two organizations decided that timing it for the “National Day of Unplugging” would be ideal to foster connections even further.
“We’re all inundated with technology, communication and everything you can think of under the sun,” she said.
Siegel said Reboot’s innovative programs that put a twist on tradition are right in line with the Federation program. “Reboot is so great at reshaping these traditional Jewish values,” she said.
Katznelson said he is encouraging people to inquire at their synagogues or JCCs about any activities they might have planned for unplugging day. And if nothing else, “there’s nothing better than unplugging and going on a walk,” he said. “That alone will feed your soul.”