I picked up a couple in Capital Hill area of Seattle to take them to the airport. The woman saw my kippah and quickly surmised that I was a rabbi. It turns out that she was a therapist who had a unique insight into the work that I do for Panim Hadashot. She explained that she works with lots of familie, especially ones with teenagers. Many of them are Jewish. One of the big problems that she sees with so many families is teen addiction with social media. Families spend less and less time together, and when they are together many members are absorbed with their cell phones. She followed the studies about the serious problems of cell phone use and the connections to depression and loneliness among young people. Because of her awareness of the screen addiction and the decline of facetime, this therapist was passionate about recommending to her families to rediscover the Sabbath and the Sabbath meal.
The fascinating thing was, she was not Jewish. But she knew about Shabbat from friends and colleagues. She was fascinated by my focus on Shabbat hospitality and thought it might be a concrete suggestion she could offer to her clients. I told her about the Sabbath Manifesto, http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/. The Sabbath Manifesto is a creative project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world. For the entire way to the airport we discussed the challenges of limiting the damage of screens on young people and society.
I certainly think a Shabbat practice, especially a hospitality practice elevates connecting to people as a very important activity in our lives. If young people are taught as early as possible that the Shabbat table is a cell free zone, a foundation for interconnection to others becomes possible. I have not relied on a critique of technology to promote the beauty and joy of Shabbat hospitality, but it is certainly in the background of what Panim Hadashot is trying to do. Our goal is to connect people through hospitality, the old model of sharing meals and making people feel comfortable in a new place. In the age of distraction this practice becomes harder to do, and even less interesting than the enticements of the screen.
One of the oldest comments about hospitality in Jewish tradition refers to a reading in Genesis 18 that Abraham gave higher priority to meeting wayfarers than greeting the God. The rabbis conclude that greeting guests was greater than receiving the Divine Presence. It would seem to me that the presence of the Divine would be a 100 times more compelling than any screen. If we are to care for people more than receiving God’s presence, then how much the more so should we turn away from our screens to regard the people who sit with us at our Shabbat table. Rabbi Dov Gartenberg