Simchat Torah Mysticism in the Age of YouTube

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Google Images and YouTube videos are helping Jewish educators create new midrash and bring sacred meaning to age-old traditions. Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz created an innovative, interactive experience for the seven hakafot (circles) of Simchat Torah.

Her “Seven Dances for Simchat Torah in the YouTube Era” is available on the Sh’ma Koleinu website. Sh’ma Koleinu is an online center for spirituality and connection from Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, CT, which seeks to bring sacred meaning to convey something of the deeper meanings of the High Holy Day liturgy.

Gurewitz’s Simchat Torah blog entry uses YouTube videos and Google Images “to try and tap into the different energies and attributes of the lower sephirot as encapsulated by the seven hakafot on Simchat Torah, with selections of images, stories and YouTube videos to explore the seven energies of dance.”

View her creation here.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Celebrity Ushpizin

Cross-posted to CommunityNext

So, we’re right in the middle of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. And if you’re like most people, when you hear the word “Sukkot” you’re thinking of shaking lulavs (palm branches), smelling the etrog (lemon-impersonating fruit), and eating in the sukkah (temporary hut). But there’s this really cool ritual on the holiday that many people don’t know about… it’s called “Ushpizin.”

Now, some people have heard of “Ushpizin” because of a popular, low-budget film by the same name that came out a few years ago about a Hasidic man who spends his rent money on an oversized and overpriced etrog. (I hear James Cameron’s directing the sequel in 3-D.)

If you’ve never heard of the custom of “Ushpizin,” it’s sort of like inviting dead relatives to a dinner party. Ushpizin is derived from the Latin hospes meaning guests (like hospitality). According to Kabbalah, there are seven ancestral guests we invite into our sukkah: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David. Today, some invite the famous women from Jewish history as well.

Inviting the same imaginary folks into the sukkah year after year gets a little, um, boring, so I was thinking it’s time to shake things up a bit (we shake the lulav, so why not this Ushpizin tradition too?!). Here’s what I’m thinking: One night, eight celebrity guests, my sukkah… let the video cameras roll. Now that’s what I call “Reality TV.”

Remember, the sukkah’s not a very big space so it’s going to get crowded. Here’s who’s on my celebrity guest list this year:

1) Mayor Michael Bloomberg – He’s just so Jewy and the gazillionaire probably wouldn’t have a problem picking up the tab for the food. Plus, his take on the whole Islamic center and mosque by Ground Zero controversy makes for interesting dinner conversation.

2) Chelsea Clinton – She just married a Yid, so why shouldn’t she have a nice meal in my sukkah during her first Sukkot.

3) Mel Gibson – After spending a nice evening under the stars with some yummy Jew food, even this guy might warm up to the Chosen People. Plus my wife’s matzah ball soup will help him relax a bit.

4) Tiger Woods – I mean, where else is he getting a home cooked meal these days? And, I’d love to see him hit an etrog with his 9-iron.

5) Michael Jackson – Hey, if we can invite King David into our sukkah, why can’t we invite the King of Pop?

6) Michael Imperioli – The Soprano’s star has been in “The D” filming the new cop drama “Detroit 1-8-7” so I figure he can provide some protection for the other celebs in the sukkah.

7) LeBron James – He’s upset with Dan Gilbert’s irate letter after he left Cleveland for Miami, so a little love from the Jews would help. But I am a little concerned about the 6 foot 8 NBA star fitting in my sukkah.

8) Oprah and Dr. Phil – With all these celebs, we’re going to need someone to moderate and someone to provide some therapy and I guess these two are a package deal anyway.

Oh, and of course my grandma’s invited. What’s a holiday meal without Bubbie? I just hope Mel Gibson watches what he says.

If you could invite eight celebrities for a night in your sukkah, who’d be on your guest list? Leave your list in the comments section below.

Happy Sukkot!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

When Technology & Shabbat Collide, Give the Benefit of the Doubt

This past Sunday, the president of New York University issued a mass e-mail apology to students and staff. The day after Yom Kippur might sound like a sensible day for issuing apologies, but the question is whether John Sexton actually needed to make a Mea Culpa.

You see, this official apology to the entire university community was for sending an earlier mass e-mail (the university president’s academic year report) on Friday evening when Jewish students were already observing Yom Kippur at Kol Nidrei services. Apparently, the report was supposed to be sent during the day on Friday (before the advent of the holiday), but it was delayed due to technical problems.

While it’s nice that the university president issued this apology before any complaints were even made, I’m not sure how an e-mail coming into one’s inbox on the Day of Atonement is offensive. Personally, I abstain from using my computer or phone (and thus no e-mail) on Shabbat and Jewish holidays, but I’m not offended if messages reach my account during these times.

I don’t think Jewish institutions should send official e-mail messages on Shabbat and holidays, but of course it depends on the type of Jewish organization. A reform temple sending a reminder via e-mail to its membership on Saturday afternoon about a program that evening might not be considered unseemly, but a JCC or Jewish federation releasing a broadcast e-mail message in the middle of Shabbat would be tacky, raising eyebrows and drawing complaints. NYU, a secular institution, shouldn’t worry about sending e-mail messages to the student body on Jewish holidays. Jewish students at NYU were legitimately angered that the second day of classes were held on Rosh Hashanah, but the president’s e-mail message reaching the inbox once Yom Kippur began is not an egregious act. Sexton’s apology is just an example of political correctness gone too far.

There are certainly times when technology and Shabbat or Jewish holidays collide. In some cases, a tactful conversation is necessary. For instance, leaders in my synagogue might send each other casual e-mail messages on Shabbat and Jewish holidays regarding congregational matters. But it is only when a leader sends an e-mail to the entire congregation that it is problematic. True, no one is being forced to turn on their computer and log-in to their e-mail account to read it on Shabbat or a holiday, but it gives the impression that official synagogue business is being conducted on these days and that’s an impression I don’t want to give.
There are other times when technology seems to collide with Shabbat, but without that intention and the benefit of the doubt should be granted. Here are two examples to demonstrate my point:

1) For several years my Facebook account was set up to automatically upload this blog’s RSS feed onto my Facebook page. This process often took a few hours after I published a blog post. So, on one occasion I posted to my blog at around 4:00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. The blog post wasn’t fed onto my Facebook account until later that evening, after Shabbat began. The following Monday, I received a finger-wagging message through Facebook from a member of my local Jewish community. She commended me on my interesting blog, but questioned how I, as a rabbi and role-model in the community, could publish a blog post on Shabbat.

Even after explaining to her that the actual post was published well before the onset of Shabbat, but that it didn’t posted to my Facebook profile until several hours later, she chastised me for not taking that into account when I originally posted to my blog. I was immediately reminded that certain activities are prohibited even before Shabbat commences lest others think that you have transgressed the laws of Shabbat (i.e, one may not put wheat into the watermill unless there is enough time for it to be ground before the onset of Shabbat).

2) I am an avid user of Constant Contact, the Web based e-mail newsletter marketing application, and I used to send a weekly newsletter to my subscribers on Friday afternoon. On one particular Friday, the site experienced a maintenance problem and it didn’t send the newsletter until Saturday morning. I discovered that the newsletter wasn’t disseminated until Saturday morning when I checked my e-mail following Shabbat. Of all the subscribers, I received only one irate message from an individual who complained that I sent the newsletter during Shabbat. The irony is that he sent his chastising message to me on Shabbat afternoon. I replied with the explanation that Constant Contact experienced maintenance problems, he he responded, “I figured it was something like that. Sorry. And I guess I shouldn’t have responded on Shabbat anyway!”

So, sometimes it’s important to give people the benefit of the doubt when technology and Shabbat collide. Before jumping to conclusions, it’s possible that the message sent to your discussion group on Shabbat was actually sent by someone in Israel where Shabbat had already ended in that timezone. Maybe that message from the Jewish federation’s CEO to the entire community was scheduled before the holiday, but it got delayed in Cyberspace.

And if you’re a college student at NYU who returned home after breaking the fast Saturday night to find that an e-mail message from your university president had been waiting for you in your inbox since Friday night… let it go. Your e-mail account’s Sabbath observance hasn’t been compromised.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Judaism and Sports

Last week I received a call from the producer of “Mojo in the Morning,” a popular morning radio talk show on 95.5 FM here in Detroit. She asked if I’d be willing to offer a prayer for the Detroit Lions. Knowing how funny the show is, I wasn’t concerned that the prayer would be taken seriously. So, I agreed to give a tongue-in-cheek prayer for our city’s woeful NFL team (audio below).

The following are the prayerful words I offered:

Our God and the God of our ancestors. The God of Billy Sims, the God of Barry Sanders, and the God of Eddie Murray. (It’s always good to invoke the name of a placekicker… God likes placekickers). Almighty God, Ruler of the universe, who is mindful of the desire for a playoff-reaching football team in this great city, Grant your mercy to the Detroit Lions. Heal their injuries, allow them to overcome their misery, and let us all forget their many seasons of woe. Let the defense divide before them like the Red Sea so they may go forth and scoreth and spiketh thy ball. In victory may they conquer every enemy team that comes before them. Give sight to the blind referees who error in judgement before Thee. And may You grant the Detroit Lions the power to grasp the Superbowl trophy. Ken Yehi Ratzon… And so may it be. And let all of the Detroit Lions’ faithful say ‘AMEN.’

Now, I don’t know if that prayer will work for a team that actually went 0-16 two seasons ago, but it was fun to be a guest on Mojo. An hour after speaking to the Mojo crew, I received an unrelated phone call from Alan Zeitlin, a reporter for NY Blueprint and The NY Jewish Week. He contacted me regarding an article he was writing entitled “By God, Should LeBron be Forgiven?”

Zeitlin wanted to know if I thought LeBron James, the star basketball player who upset just about every citizen of Cleveland by leaving the Cavaliers as a free agent to play for the Miami Heat over the summer, should offer an apology to the people of Cleveland for his actions. I explained that, while LeBron didn’t owe the city of Cleveland an apology, it would be nice if he did some soul searching about the way he went about his departure and then offered a sincere “sorry” to Cavaliers’ owner Dan Gilbert for not returning his calls in the weeks prior to his decision.

What was most interesting about Zeitlin’s phone call was the response he told me he received from other rabbis to whom he posed the LeBron question. Many refused to answer the question, explaining that professional sports shouldn’t be taken so seriously and Jewish people should get their priorities in order. One rabbi went so far as to call professional sports “idolatry.” Now, I agree that it’s important that we have our priorities in order (especially in the days before Yom Kippur), but I see nothing wrong with being interested in sports and discussing the off-the-court actions of superstar athletes.

Yes, there are many important issues going on in the world that should occupy our attention ahead of whether a star athlete should apologize to the city he departed as a free agent. However, sports in our country hold great entertainment value for adults and children. Cleveland fans have a right to be disappointed by LeBron’s exit and the way in which he exited. For professional sports franchise owners like Dan Gilbert, it is also a business and a financial investment, and he has every right to criticize an employee for leaving even if it was within the employee’s legal rights to do so.

I maintain that there is nothing wrong with having a discussion about whether a star athlete should do teshuvah (repentance). After all, many children look up to star athletes as role models and questioning their integrity and actions is fair game.

Praying for a football team to win a game? Well, that’s just tongue-in-cheek humor that makes for funny morning radio bits.


Rabbi Jason leads a prayer for the
Detroit Lions on the “Mojo in the Morning” radio show.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Karma Contrition: Joel Stein’s Child’s Nut Allergy & Rabbi Compares Helen Thomas to Hitler

This Yom Kippur, I plan to speak to my congregation about issuing apologies for things we shouldn’t have said. I know, that sounds like “nothing new under the sun,” but I’m going to look at how karma plays a role in our contrition.

Here’s an example: The witty Joel Stein, who writes the bi-weekly back page for Time Magazine, penned a funny, yet hurtful, LA Times column back in January 2009 claiming that American parents have gone nuts over nut allergies. He wrote, “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” Ouch!

Stein clearly won no fans from the parents of children with peanut allergies. And I’m sure there were a good number of those parents out there wishing that Joel Stein would get a taste of what they go through on a daily basis — carrying Epi Pens and worrying that their child would come into contact with an allergen. Stein wasn’t alone in writing cynical articles calling into question the mass hysteria caused by over-vigilant parents, but his wit came out as criticism and was very hurtful to many parents.

Fast forward to August 2010 and Joel Stein when karma comes knocking on Joel Stein’s door. In his mea culpa column in Time, Stein writes:

At the beginning of last year, I wrote a column that questioned whether the increase in food allergies among children was a matter of overreporting. It began with this carefully calibrated thought: “Your kid doesn’t have an allergy to nuts. Your kid has a parent who needs to feel special.” After that, I got a little harsh.

The column was not the first thing that came to mind after my 1-year-old son Laszlo started sneezing, then breaking out in hives, then rubbing his eyes, then crying through welded-shut eyes, then screaming and, finally, vomiting copiously at the entrance of the Childrens Hospital emergency room an hour after eating his first batch of blended mixed nuts. But it was the second thing. Because after my nut-allergy column came out, many parents wrote me furious e-mails saying they hoped that one day I would have a child with life-threatening allergies.

Stein maintained his trademark wit and mockery in the column, but managed to sneak in some contrition as well. Perhaps he was thinking that Yom Kippur was approaching and he owed an apology to all the peanut-allergy parents out there. He wrote, “I realize that the more I understand of other people’s difficulties, the less funny they are.” I’m sorry that Stein’s son Laszlo developed a peanut allergy, but I’m glad the writer saw the error of his ways and found the ability to apologize. That is the message of this season of repentance.

Another possible example of karma calling is Rabbi David Nesenoff getting tripped up in an interview with the Jerusalem Post. Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi, made headlines last May after videotaping journalist Helen Thomas issuing a career-ending anti-Semitic opinion that Israeli Jews should return to Germany and Poland. Yesterday, in either an act of karma or gotcha journalism, Nesenoff put his own foot in his mouth.

Even though he retracted his comparison of Helen Thomas to Adolf Hitler, The Jerusalem Post made sure that both his comparison and the retraction became part of the public record. The Jerusalem Post reports that “Nesenoff proved he isn’t immune to impolitic remarks when he drew analogies between Thomas, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and sex offenders, before retracting the Hitler comparison… Nesenoff also went on to draw an analogy between Thomas, the long-time former UPI and Hearst Newspapers correspondent, and a high school teacher found guilty of sodomy, asking whether such an individual’s record in educating children shouldn’t be blemished by his offense.”

At the end of the phone interview, Nesenoff acknowledged that his comparisons were “a little exaggerated.” The rabbi then retracted the Hitler comparison and said he was sorry.

I don’t question the fact that Helen Thomas should have resigned after making her comments, but the type of journalism used by Nesenoff to acquire those comments was questionable. “What comes around goes around,” as they say. Nesenoff now finds himself apologizing for his own insensitive comments. This could be karma masked as gotcha journalism. Nesenoff tried to retract the statements he made which are damaging to his own character and integrity, but he learned the same lesson that he taught Helen Thomas: Anything you say can and will be used against you.

A lesson was learned in both the case of Joel Stein and the case of Rabbi David Nesenoff. Both men got a taste of their own medicine and issued apologies. No matter how we get there, that is the ultimate goal of repentance — feeling contrite and owning up to your wrongdoing.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Israel Pays Porn Website Owner $3K for @Israel Twitter Name

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs (The NY Jewish Week)

The Web can be a misleading place. For years, if you typed whitehouse.com into your browser, it wouldn’t take you to the official home of our President on the Web, but rather to the home of a pornographic Web site.

In 2004, the owner of that website decided to get out of the seedy porn site business because his oldest child was about to begin kindergarten and he was afraid of what the other parents might think. The LA Times reported that Daniel Parisi started Whitehouse.com in 1997 and it “has frequently been confused with the official government site Whitehouse.org.”

Earlier this week, it was reported that the Israeli government purchased the Twitter account @israel for a six-figure sum from a pornographic Web site owner. More recent accounts, however, have Israeli officials denying the claims of a six-figure payment, yet confirming that they gained access of the Twitter handle in exchange for $3,000.

The Jerusalem Post quotes Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, who said the selling price was significantly lower than that originally asked by its owner, Miami-based Spanish citizen Israel Melendez, who also runs a porn Web site. “I won’t go into the details of the negotiations, but originally he asked for a five-digit sum and all we paid him was $3,000, period,” Palmor said. (Those sound like details to me!)

The New York Times and MSNBC.com both ran stories about the transfer of the Twitter name. Melendez opened his @Israel Twitter account in 2007 but was soon harassed by users who thought it belonged to the Israeli government. On August 26, the Israeli government took over the account from Melendez and tweeted the following: “The IsraelMFA twitter account name has been changed to @Israel. Look for us here: twitter.com/israel.”

Already, the new Twitter account has claimed over 7,000 followers. It is evident that Israel is moving full steam ahead in the social media realm with increased activity on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, and YouTube.

I’m not sure who counseled Israel Melendez to settle for only $3,000 for the Twitter name (perhaps the Shin Bet?), but hopefully he’s a smarter businessman in his other endeavor.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Dancing for the Bride

It’s no secret that Jewish wedding rituals have been borrowed by non-Jews. At weddings in which neither the bride nor the groom is Jewish, it is no longer odd to see the groom stomp on a glass at the conclusion of the ceremony. Gentile brides and grooms are now being hoisted up in chairs as the guests dance a circle around them to traditional Jewish Horah music.

The “Mitzvah Tantz” (tantz=dance) performed at weddings is a Hasidic custom of the men dancing before the bride on the wedding night during the reception. It is a mitzvah dance because of the commandment to rejoice with the bride and groom on their wedding night. The Hasids must have appropriated the custom because it is mentioned earlier in the medieval Machzor Vitri (compiled by Simhah ben Samuel of Vitry, who died in 1105).

In the Talmud (Tractate Ketubot 16b-17a), the question is raised: keitzad merakdim lifnei hakallah (“how do we dance before the bride?”). While the question in the Talmud focuses on the debate between the schools of Hillel and Shammai as to whether honesty is the best policy in the case of describing an ugly bride to the groom, there should be no question that it is an honor to dance for the bride on her wedding day. Today, at traditional Jewish weddings, the men sing “keitzad merakdim lifnei hakallah” while dancing joyfully in front of the bride.

Those words came to mind the other day while I watched the popular YouTube video of actor Lin-Manuel Miranda entertaining his bride, Vanessa, at their wedding. Miranda, who wrote and scored the Tony Award winning hit “In the Heights,” recruited the bride’s father and the bridal party to perform the song “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof.” Neither the bride nor the groom are Jewish, but they managed to have the word “L’chayim” mentioned more at their wedding than at many Jewish weddings. While not a traditional Jewish wedding ritual, this production clearly fits the mandate to dance before the bride.

Interestingly, in recognition of his portrayal of the Washington Heights neighborhood in “In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda received an honorary doctorate from Yeshiva University, which is located in that neighborhood. The actor, who also appeared in the TV show “House,” is the youngest recipient of an honorary doctorate from YU.

I think it’s fair to say that Lin-Manuel Miranda answered the question: keitzad merakdim lifnei hakallah. Mazel Tov to the bride and groom! Here’s the video:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

In Desire of a Less Political 9/11 Anniversary

Last week, I was asked by the Detroit Free Press to submit three paragraphs reflecting on where I was on September 11, 2001 and how my life changed as a result of that day. The irony for my wife and for me is that we made the conscious decision to go ahead with our plans of moving to Israel for the year even though there was violence in Jerusalem throughout the summer of 2001. It wasn’t until the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred here in the U.S. that we made the difficult decision to alter our plans and not move to Israel.

This year, the anniversary of 9/11 was a collision of religious events as it fell on the Sabbath following Rosh Hashanah — a fast day were it not the Sabbath — and on the Muslim celebration of Eid al-Fitr — a holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan. 9/11 was turned into a political storm as a result of the explosive debate surrounding the planned Islamic cultural center and mosque just blocks from Ground Zero.

There are some similarities between the planned building of Park51 (formerly known as Cordoba House) two blocks from the Ground Zero site and the potential building of a convent near the Auschwitz concentration camp in 1989. However, Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, writing in the Washington Post, explains that the lesson taught by Pope John Paul II in not allowing the nuns to move their convent to that site is not necessarily what the “‘move the mosque’ spokespersons would want to hear.”

More than the debate on whether to allow the Islamic cultural center and mosque to be built so close to Ground Zero, what has surprised me is that the family members of the victims from the Twin Towers have not voiced loud opposition to the fact that their loved ones’ graves will become a shopping mall. The lower floors of the rebuilt World Trade Center will be stores. Some will argue that this displays our resolve to rebuild that site as a place of commerce. Others will recall the debate, again at Auschwitz, of constructing a shopping mall in a building once used for storing hair and possessions from murdered prisoners of the camp. A mile from the Auschwitz camp, the site of the proposed shopping mall had been a disco until it was forced to close.

All of this controversy comes down to the issue of space and how we seek to sanctify it. Ultimately those who argue that a mosque would desecrate the hollowed ground of Ground Zero, the burial spots of thousands, and attempt to prove their point by burning copies of the Koran are just as guilty of desecration. I’m hopeful that in the end, calmer heads will prevail, and the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks will be a more civil display of remembrance rather than a petty political debate. I’m nostalgic for the passionate displays of patriotism that prevailed in the weeks following the attacks in our country.

Here is the unedited reflection I submitted to the Detroit Free Press last week:

My life was in limbo on September 11, 2001. My wife and I had spent our first two years of marriage living in a small apartment in Manhattan, just twelve blocks from the Jewish Theological Seminary where I was studying to become a rabbi. We planned to relocate to Jerusalem after the Jewish holidays where we would experience life in Israel for the year and I would continue my rabbinic studies. In the week prior to Rosh Hashanah, I traveled by plane to Chicago to visit my friend who had just moved there. Little did I know I would be stranded in Chicago and our plans to move to Israel would be canceled.

I woke up on the morning of 9/11 in my friend’s Chicago apartment. Jeremy told me to turn the television on to the Today Show on NBC because a plane had just flown into one of the World Trade Center towers. I couldn’t believe my eyes and then we saw another plane fly into the other tower. The world would change forever, and so would the way people talk about that date in history. My flight was canceled, but I was able to take a train back to Michigan a couple days later. Air France, with whom we had booked our flights to Israel, decided they would no longer fly to Israel and immediately refunded our money. We made the difficult decision, along with many of my classmates and their spouses, to stay in the U.S. for the year rather than spend it in Israel. Ironically, it was a choice we made because of the terrorism in America and not because of the scary terrorist acts that had plagued Israel all summer long.

My wife and I had already rented out our New York City apartment so returning there wasn’t an option. Instead, we took our possessions out of storage and moved to Caldwell, NJ – close enough to commute into Manhattan and live in a vibrant Jewish community where I would intern at the local synagogue. For us, 9/11 altered our plans. We never had the chance to live in Jerusalem for a year (at least not before children), but that is certainly no comparison to the way so many lives changed dreadfully as a result of the horrific events of that day. We made the best of a change of plans, while so many families will never be the same. Our country will never be the same after being shaken from the acts of 9/11 – as much as we came together as an American people in the weeks that followed, the events of that day have also torn us apart.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

When Technology Needs a Day of Atonement Too

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

I’ve been following the Offlining campaign pretty closely. It’s the brainchild of Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo. They partnered to launch Offlining, an initiative to promote unplugging that was introduced on Father’s Day, to ask people to make a pledge to have 10 device-free dinners between then and Thanksgiving. To date, more than 10,500 have signed on to this pledge.

Yaverbaum told Jessica Ravitz, a reporter for CNN.com, that he “is as guilty as anyone of making technological transgressions. He’s ignored family to check emails while at the dinner table and tuned out of actual conversations to tune into Twitter… I’m the guy who sleeps with his BlackBerry. I’m raising my hand and saying, ‘Yes, I’m an addict.'”

Perhaps that’s why Yaverbaum, who is Jewish, and DiMassimo, who is not, have decided to use the Jewish Day of Atonement as their next big day to get people to give their gadgets a rest. They encourage everyone, religious backgrounds aside, to make Yom Kippur (September 18) a technological device free day. That means that in addition to refraining from eating, drinking, showering, wearing leather shoes, applying perfume, and having sex, the Offlining guys are saying “no” to cellphones, Facebook, Twitter and texting too on Yom Kippur. Jews and non-Jews both use technology to do the precise things we ask forgiveness for on Yom Kippur, like gossiping, so I guess it makes sense to give those things a rest on this day.

As DiMassimo was quoted in the CNN.com article as saying, “It’s annoying to be in a room with people, and yet not be really with them. My dad’s an electrical engineer, and he’s always said, ‘We invent this stuff to serve us, not for us to serve it.'”

The Offlining campaign isn’t the first attempt to get people to give their tech gadgets a rest. If you remember, Reboot launched a Sabbath Manifesto a few months ago to get people to avoid technology and connect with loved ones for a 25-hour period. Signing the Sabbath Manifesto not only meant putting cellphones and computers on hold for the day, but it also meant getting outside, avoiding commerce and resting.

Offlining has a catchy marketing campaign. Using DiMassimo’s advertising company, they’ve created posters with images of celebrities who have gotten into trouble through the use of modern communication technologies. The tagline is that you need not be Jewish to amend for your tweets (Lindsay Lohan), give up drunk dialing (Mel Gibson), or atone for your texts (Tiger Woods, of course) on Yom Kippur.

When I spoke to Ravitz last week about her upcoming article on the Offlining campaign (my quotes apparently didn’t make the final edit), I explained that “it’s great that Offlining’s campaign is directed at everyone, not just Jewish people, because we all use our technology to sin sometimes. Whether it’s texting gossip or belittling someone on Facebook, we need to put technology aside to really atone on Yom Kippur. Plus, without the nuisance of our phones and computers we’ll be able to concentrate on the task at hand much more attentively on the Day of Atonement (prayer and seeking repentance).”

On Yom Kippur we fast — refraining from food and drink — and it has a cleansing feel to it. I think that in the 21st century, a fasting from technology is a necessary cleanse as well.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Sweet Like Honey

One thing I’ve learned since I started Kosher certifying a grocery store’s bakery section is that there are a lot different types of honey. Last week, I was a guest on the Fox2 Detroit Morning Show’s cooking segment called “Cooking School.” I wanted to display various foods related to Rosh Hashanah, so I went to  Johnny Pomodoro’s Fresh Market in Farmington Hills, Michigan and grabbed as many different varieties of honey as I could find.

A recent article in Hadassah Magazine by Adeena Sussman (“Sweet Talk”) argues that it’s time for honey to share the stage on Rosh Hashanah. Sussman introduces the reader to many new sweeteners, but I think there’s still enough different types of honey to go around.

On the Cooking School segment I baked (well, not really baked… it was staged) a honey cake for the Jewish New Year. Here’s the final part of the video from Fox2 with Lee Thomas:


I wish everyone a sweet new year!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller