By Lara Salomon
My name is Lara, and I am a Jew.
I am an unkosher, irreligious, orthodox, traditional Jew, and it is something that I am proud of and one of the few things that I really love about myself. It is more than my religion, because hey… I don’t go to shul (synagogue) or keep the faith in any meaningful way. But it is part of my culture which makes it a huge part of me. Growing up, I went to Friday night dinners with the family (we drove to them rather than walking across Cape Town, but it still counts as Shabbat dinner, right?) and I spent many a Pesach seder at a round table in my Granny and Biba’s flat in Sea Point reciting Ma Nishtana and suffering through matzah. So much so that I have actually come to enjoy the stuff and buy it at any opportunity that I can get.
My Jewishness is actually not the point of this post and I am going off track a little, but it did teach me something which is the point. See, despite my lack of religious conviction, I went to a Jewish school, and ended up with some very religious friends. This meant that time spent with them on the weekends tended to be time spent over Shabbat, and in their households, that meant a proper Shabbat rather than the kind that I was used to with my family. See, with my family I was used to driving to Sea Point, saying a prayer or two and then continuing life as normal. With their families, Shabbat meant shul, deep prayer and, and here is the big shocker and the point of this post, no technology.
When I talk to a lot of people about what it means to be a religious Jew, what kind of ‘sacrifices’ you need to make, other than explaining what it takes to be Kosher, the biggest eye-opener to them is what it takes to properly celebrate the Sabbath as a religious, orthodox Jew. It means not creating and not destroying; you cannot start your car or flip a light switch; you cannot write and you cannot erase what has been written; you cannot answer a phone call and cannot send an email. It means, for the most part, that for a full 24 hours – from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday – you cannot do the things that you get used to doing on a weekly basis. Instead, you walk to shul and pray, you come home and rest and pray, you walk back to shul and pray some more and, for a lot of people, you spend time with your family. Real time. Time that is not interrupted by phone calls, SMSes or emails, that is not spent IMing each other or exchanging sideways glances while busy with everything else under the sun. Time that is focussed on the ones that you love without distraction.
While I am the first to admit that I am a gadget addict – I love my laptop (when it works), adore my cellphone and am in a committed, long-term relationship with my DSLR camera – those 24 hours a week were some of the best of my life. To remove yourself from the rest of the world for a short period, to spend some time by yourself or with the people that mean the most to you, is incredibly and surprisingly fulfilling. I am by no means religious, and it has been a long time (over 7 years) since I spent a proper Shabbat with those friends (and almost two years since I last saw any of them) but it is time that I cherish to this day, and it is a lesson that I think we can all learn.
So here’s a challenge for anyone who is up to it – this Saturday, turn off your computer, hide your TV remote, put your cellphones in a drawer and spend a little time away from it all. Take a walk, have a picnic, spend a day without technology – your life won’t fall apart – and connect with those around you instead of emailing, phoning and IMing them. I know that I feel a lot better for it!
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