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Unplugging and Uplifting: Finding Sanctuary in Shabbat

by Steve Katz, President

In the famous musical Bye Bye Birdie, two parents, exacerbated by their children’s behaviors, sing the famous tune, “What’s the Matter With Kids Today?” The parents earnestly ask the rhetorical question, “Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?” It seems that every generation struggles to understand the morays of the young, but as someone who has worked with young people for over 33 years, I can assure you that kids are exactly the same today as they were when I first started teaching at a rural north Georgia high school in 1990.

In my time I have seen no change in the way young people crave structure and stability, seek connection, value relationships, honor challenges, and understand the importance of achievement. What I have seen are more and more young people struggling to meet these aspirations, especially recently, and I am convinced that a major factor is the inability of many young people to disconnect.

As a high school administrator, the number of kids that I work with who are struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness and frustration has skyrocketed. Typically, when these factors are present among young people, they sometimes manifest themselves in verbal or physical acts of violence. Often times these conflicts start with something insignificant — a look in the cafeteria, a perceived negative gesture in the hallway, a bump as one comes off the bus, or a spreading rumor that makes one look weak and vulnerable. Again, none of these things are new, what is new is the kids today literally can’t get away from them.

Before cell phones and endless social media platforms, young people could physically separate themselves from a potential conflict. One could go home and the time away would often help the situation to resolve itself. Young people often do not have that luxury anymore and are bombarded with escalatory language and insults 24/7 — causing them to lose sleep, get increasingly frustrated, and lose all perspective on what is important — often causing them to make terrible decisions in the morning. Physical and emotional separation from the everyday challenges of life is not a luxury, it is a necessity for everyone, and if our young people can’t experience that then we all pay the price.

Our tradition thankfully offers a timeless and timely solution — Shabbat. The UK’s Chief Rabbi, Sir Ephraim Mirvis, was recently on a podcast where he stated that Shabbat is “more relevant today in our fast moving, creative, aggressive 21st century than it ever has been before. The world needs to take a step back.”

Judaism does not view separation as a negative, indeed separation serves as a way to mark holiness. We may all observe Shabbat in our own ways. At my house we have many minhagim (customs) to celebrate Shabbat — some profound, some funny — but all valuable in allowing us to separate from the trials of the day and focus on family and community. I have seen many non-Jewish sources praising the concept of Shabbat and using it to espouse “digital detox” days, where they put technology away for a day and use the time to grow, gain perspective, and reconnect with community.

May all of us, especially our young people, find the strength and the wisdom to seek Shabbat and incorporate its beauty into all of our lives.

Thu, July 18 2024 12 Tammuz 5784