My brothers often make fun of me for being a bad millennial. They ask me why I even have an iPhone, and comment on the fact that I would likely be well-served by an old school style flip phone. “You use the ESPN app, the Internet and some Jewish apps.” This is true. I have one sibling who can literally build computers for fun, and another who can expertly navigate complex musical recording software. I sometimes use the flashlight feature on my phone to find something in the dark or to see if my throat is red when sore.
While I am not technologically illiterate, I think that I do spend more time trying to find the beauty in things that are becoming obsolete as opposed to updating my tech. For example, I refuse to buy a kindle. I read a lot, but I don’t think I will ever be able to replace the smell and feel of one new book in my hand with an electronic device that stores thousands of them. There is something magical about holding a book, as there is something divine about reading from the Torah.
Those of my generation still remember what it was like to grow up without technology. Most of my younger days were lived without a computer. When our home got its first computer, it was in my parents’ room, and was a fairly nebulous white machine to my puerile mind. I did not have a cell phone until I was in the 10th grade, and the phone I did have was that old clunky Nokia that had no texting ability (texting did not exist yet). I mostly kept that device in my backpack, and really did not have much use for it. During my even younger days, if I wanted to play with a friend, it actually required either calling their house on a telephone, or…going to their house in person and ringing the doorbell. *Gasp* I am glad that I can use technology, but I am also truly thankful that I got to experience childhood without the sundry of screens that dominate today.
While a schul is a great place to become connected, I am finding that much of its beauty lies in its ability to profoundly enhance my propensity to disconnect. The Shabbat Siddur discusses retreating from the flight of time, and pausing for a while to listen to the rain. When I am at Temple, I find that I am simply able to exhale in a manner that is different from exhalation anywhere else. I can release the stress and tension that comes along with a world that is so connected that privacy and mystery are mostly a thing of the past to now be reflected upon. The Temple is a window into a time when we listened to each other speak–in person. When the Rabbi gives his Drashah, or leads a prayer, we, as congregants, live at once singularly and connectedly. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or any other avenue of social media cannot replicate the tangible energy that dances so freely in a physical space. How can you ever get a feel for a room full of people if you never entirely immerse yourself in one?
I believe that there is much to be gained by sitting with others–by oneself. In Judaism, we honor the past and those who lived there. This is not to say that I am naively looking into the past with rose-colored glasses. The past is not some idyllic Pleasantville in which the milkman waved hello as he strolled by in his white getup. Let’s be honest–most people have some sort of dairy allergy. Also, as Jews and other marginalized groups know all too well, the past was not without its trials, tribulations, injustices, and traumas. But, this does not mean that we cannot pull positivity and meaning from an imperfect place. There was something charming about a time when we passed hand-written notes and did not mindlessly click “like.” There was a mindfulness to living without constant connection. You kind of had to work for it.
The schul is my link to a time–perhaps aggrandized by my mind–in which connection happened in a consequential manner. There are no phones, no computers, and no updates during a service. There is a bridge…a bridge to the ancients, and a bridge to my own personal antiquity.
So, maybe my brothers are right. I might be lacking when it comes to many forms of technological savviness (I think I get along just fine), but I am happy to experience the stillness and quietude that allow me to breathe life into my connection with a perception and place that exist outside of the walls of time.