Disconnect to Reconnect – How Celebrating Shabbat is Good for your Mental Health

 In Holidays

The author, Justin Milrad’s professional endeavors range from consulting to Private Foundations to consulting for The Berman Center—a mental health and substance abuse Intensive Outpatient Program. Justin also started The Blue Dove Foundation which is a foundation to help individuals and families who are struggling with mental illness and substance abuse. Justin is the founder of the “Moments In Time” project, a video project funded by the Marcus Foundation to utilize video to capture and share a collection of insights across 3 generations of Jews in Atlanta. A native of Toronto, Canada, Justin graduated from the Goizueta School of Business at Emory with a Masters degree in business. Justin plays (really just collects) guitars, likes to travel, plays hockey and most importantly is dedicated to his family. 

Growing up in Toronto, I really enjoyed our Friday night dinners. We would have my grandparents, uncles and cousins join us for Shabbat. I have great memories of playing in the backyard with my cousins and practicing my golf swing with my grandfather. When it came to mealtime, we would say the prayers, light the candles, break the bread, drink the wine and enjoy hearing everyone’s stories and experiences from the past week. We actually talked and savored being with one another.

Soon after my grandfather died in 1986, we stopped having our weekly Shabbat dinners. We were getting older, outside activities were taking over, work commitments for my parents were becoming more frequent and Friday nights just didn’t work anymore. So instead of Friday, we changed our routine and as a family, we would go for Dim Sum on Saturday for lunch. There were no Jewish rituals being practiced anymore, but we enjoyed our time “connecting” as a family and enjoying a delicious meal. I have so many fond childhood memories of our version of Shabbat.

So why do I bring this up? Well if you haven’t noticed, we are living in the loneliest generation in history. The prevalence of technology in our daily lives seduces us to substitute “real” relationships with “online” ones. Temporarily, we sometimes feel better when we engage others online, but these connections tend to be superficial and ultimately dissatisfying. We require actual in-person, non-technology fueled “connection.”

Since my wife Alyza and I met almost 12 years ago, we would celebrate Shabbat. But until recently when she returned from the JWRP Women’s trip in November, Shabbat for us was having dinner together and going through the rituals. We would still be mentally fully engaged in our “work week” and be focused on our growing “to do” list while enjoying a nice meal, family time and familiar ritual.

About 20 minutes after returning from Israel fully inspired and clearly enlightened, Alyza said to me that we’re going to do something different. On Shabbat we are turning off our technology and connect as a family: aka – “disconnect to reconnect.” No iPhone, iPad, email, TV, video games, Kindle, Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc. (You get the idea).  We were going to be “present” for one another, talk about our week, play games and be a family. What!?

No phone, no Netflix, are you kidding? I’m going to crumble. Honey, the kids aren’t going to know what do you with themselves? What if I miss out on an important call or text? What if I miss out on a funny cat post? We are actually going to have to talk to one another? This can’t be happening? 

While at first a skeptic and saying to myself, sure we’ll do this for a month and be back to normal in no time, I must say, those who “engage” Shabbat sans technology are really onto something. Those of the orthodox Jewish faith really have this Shabbat and “connection” thing figured out. Needless to say, our family bond couldn’t be stronger, our connection to one another is rock solid, and we are making “moments” that as a family we will remember for a lifetime. I also can’t ignore the extreme proud and happy moments Alyza and I have when our 3 kids are fully engaged and enjoying the Shabbat rituals. We are learning more about our faith and more about each other.

Batsheva Gelbtuch, Co-Director of Jewish Women’s Connection of Atlanta explains it as follows:

Judaism teaches us that part of our mission is connecting deeply within three spheres.
1.  Connecting with ourselves (our souls/our own unique missions),
2.  Connecting with others (anyone God placed in your path is there for a reason, to connect) and
3.  Connecting with infinity/spirituality, to God.

We live an uber-connected world:

  • 90% of people are within three feet of their device 24 hours a day.
  • 52% of people wake up in the middle of the night just to check their device, etc.

We can connect with people on the other side of the globe with a click of a button. However, are we connecting, really connecting? The way we measure that is evaluating these three spheres. When we walk into the grocery and we are on the phone as we are checking out, we may be connecting with whomever is on the other end, but are we connecting with the cashier who is right there in front of us? Did we smile at her, ask her how she’s doing? Judaism demands this of us—to be fully connected on all three spheres.

Shabbat is the time we get to truly immerse ourselves in this connection, to truly notice those around us, to fully witness our kids, and to be present for spouses, friends, family and ourselves. To take the time and evaluate, how connected am I?

On Shabbat we rest from connecting externally. In essence we disconnect in order to fully connect. We rest from creating, and that is the opportunity for introspection. What have I achieved this week and how am I better? Am I closer to becoming the best version of myself? Am I more self-aware? Have I become more sensitive? Where do I need to develop in particular? On Shabbat we are evaluating; we are taking a real honest look at oneself. Rabbi Akiva Tatz says that the meditation of Shabbat is the meditation of being, not becoming. It’s from the awareness of being that the next weeks “becoming” is generated.

We live in a world in which we are all doing so much, becoming so much, the expectations we place on ourselves, our kids, colleagues, spouses, are generating a level of stress, we have yet to encounter. Shabbat is the way we don’t lose sight of why we are doing it all, what really matters, says Batsheva.

So here is my challenge to you. Try “disconnecting to reconnect” for three weeks straight on Shabbat and see how it makes you feel. I can pretty much assure you that your stress and anxiety will start melting away while your happiness quotient goes up.  L’Chaim. 

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