My little Jewish practice

Todd Hasak-Lowy
December 1, 2011
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The temptation here is to play around with the word “practice.” To exploit its position in the phrase “practice makes perfect,” as if I have my eye on becoming the best Jew ever. Or to think aloud a bit about the way the term “practice” gets a lot of circulation these days in the phrase “yoga practice” and then to wonder what it means for the fairly recent ascent of yoga in our culture (an ascent I’m all for, by the way) to somehow become the occasion for a reconsideration of some type of intentional, regular Jewish, I don’t know, habit, action, observance, ritual, etc.

But, just to see what might happen, I’m going to be serious this time around. Call it a whim.

Here’s the situation: I really like email. Like it in a manner that forces me to admit that “like” couldn’t possibly be the right word. “Need” is closer, “depend upon deeply” isn’t totally inaccurate. I work alone much of the time, I have friends all over the country and in Israel, I have a lot of nervous energy, every once in a great while I actually receive a truly meaningful email—all these are reasons that might explain why I check email (and check it regularly) with a pure and purely desperate hope that something life changing, or even just life sustaining, is waiting for me in my very own inbox.

Being honest with myself about this is better than being delusional about the whole thing, but it doesn’t solve much of anything. What I came to realize was that it was in my best interest—as well as the interest of my wife and children—if I figured out a way to demonstrate my ability to control this urge to check email all the time. So this is what I did: I elected to not check email from 6pm on Friday until 6pm on Saturday.

Let me make a couple relevant things absolutely clear here: #1 – I am not a particularly observant Jew. I am much more likely to prepare my children bacon on Saturday morning than I am to pray or attend synagogue or even put away the candlesticks from the night before (and not, in regards to that last one, because I’m lazy, but because it wasn’t very likely they were taken out in the first place). #2 – I was fully aware that I chose Friday evening to Saturday evening to take a break from email. I was, in some sense, honoring the Sabbath or making it a day distinct from the other days of the week. Put differently, I realized (and possibly even embraced) the fact that I had colored my weekly email detox with a rather Jewish hue.

It has been a very good thing for me. In fact, I now don’t check until Sunday morning. I am not yet preaching to others about this, but if given the chance I’ll certainly tell people I think it is a fine and perhaps necessary activity for most anyone who spends much of their time interfacing with screens.

I’m still not sure what the value of the word “practice” is in all of this, maybe it’s just a matter of the repetition, a matter of emphasizing process over outcome. Sunday is going to roll around and by Monday at noon I’ll be wound up again, picturing my own golden-ticket email. But the practice makes it—this longing, this despair—bearable. And so, no jokes this time, I’m grateful for this Jewish practice of mine.

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