A sweeping statement yet fundamentally the truth.
I’ve been thinking for a while as to what I’d do on Yom Kippur. I’ve established previously that I don’t believe in G-d…. and that I do love many of the Jewish traditions. I’ve established that although I don’t believe, I have a VERY strong connection to “my people”, to “My heritage” and to my ancestors. Yet here I am, writing this at the start of, and then adding to it during Yom Kippur (So, please excuse the differing tenses!), the Jewish “Day of Atonement”. The day where you atone and repent for the things you have done over the last year, the one day a year where people who do little else religiously or spiritually all year round, decide they are going to withhold from eating… and I’m Drinking tea…. or maybe eating lunch.
Discussing my eating habits recently I realised that actually the vague adherence I keep to the laws of Kashrut (keeping Kosher) are one of the few areas in my life where I regularly exercise self control. While not strictly the rules of Kosher, I have a clear set of rules in my head and I stick to them. Monday this week, I found myself in Waitrose and for the first time in a very long time I was genuinely enticed by a chicken salad. I almost picked it up, before a voice in my head said “no, Exercise some self control!” (The Pesto Pasta was lovely all the same!)
Having thought long and hard about what keeping my form of kosher means to me, and that mainly being self control, I thought in the same vain about what Yom Kippur means to me. I have never “fully” observed Yom Kippur in the Traditional Orthodox Sense, just like I’ve never kept strictly kosher. (No Use of anything electrical, no driving, no washing, no making anything… etc)… But to me, it means time spent with my family, it means time spent in Synagogue; it means being dehydrated, hungry and feeling irritable. But as well as those things, the one thing I think of, possibly the most each year as the day approaches is the time I spend Counting Time.
Counting the time until the fast is over.
I am the one counting the pages, before checking my watch, before recounting the pages again. My mind becomes distracted from the purpose of the day and focuses on how long until I can stop my raging headache and my tummy from rumbling.
“On the tenth day of the same seventh month (Tishrei – The Month both Rosh Hashannah and Yom Kippur fall) you shall observe a sacred occasion when you shall practice self-denial” (Numbers 29:7). “Self denial”. The Torah is a little vague. Our ancestors interpreted “Self Denial” as not eating, as well as not washing, and not engaging in sexual relations. But is that a true representation of Self Denial today?
For me, practically Yom Kippur is a nightmare. Practically in the sense that I am a grazer. I eat 3 meals a day, but they aren’t huge. But between the meals I’m eating. Be it sweets or chocolate, or crackers or fruit, I love to eat. I think this is partly the reason that I find Yom Kippur so difficult – because my body is expecting snacking or a cup of tea. I’ve thought for a few days as to how I can help reduce the want to graze, how to survive the fast, how to distract myself from counting pages and time to focus on the actual purpose of Yom Kippur – To make yourself a better person in the coming year.
Thinking about what I could do to pass the fast, led me onto thinking as to if I actually wanted to fast. I thought long and hard at what I felt fasting would achieve and concluded that actually other than the piercing headache, hunger and distraction, personally the fast wouldn’t achieve anything potentially lasting.
In my commute, I have been blessed (and when I say that, I mean it) with a solid central part of my commute being underground. Underground where the phone signal doesn’t reach. Being phoneless means I have had to find something else to pass the time. I’m thankful for this time as it has enabled me to start reading again. As the northern line rattled its merry way north, on the night before Yom Kippur I was deep in the final pages of Schindler’s Ark. Since Poland, I’ve been meaning to read it, and this commute has given me the chance to finally read it. As the train rattled out of the Tunnel toward East Finchley, I felt the customary “East Finchley Vibrate” of both my Phone and my Work phone. For the first time I found this really inconvenient.
Engrossed in the book, the vibration made me anxious and it distracted me. On one hand I wanted to carry on reading, finalising the complex story I’ve been reading for weeks, yet on the other hand I was bound by the buzz to stop reading and stare at the lit screens of my phones, reading who wants to play candy crush, looking at photos of friend’s last meals before the fast or looking at emails from work. Whilst the prisoners of Zwittau , in the book, were liberated from the sub-camp that was Schindler’s factory, I was, you could say, incarcerated by the urge to stop what I was doing and flick aimlessly down social media, checking my emails and watching pointless updates about food.
I am undoubtedly digitally addicted. I work in IT. I love Technology, Gadgets and things that ping buzz and light up. I am constantly checking my phone, thinking I’ve got a notification, writing messages, sending pictures and liking posts. Not a day goes by without a considerable amount of “Idle time” spent aimlessly on my phone. Even on Rosh Hashannah and previously on Yom Kippur, I’d find myself flicking aimlessly.
With that in the forefront of my mind, and with the conscious realisation that for the next 24 hours I didn’t actually need my phone, at about 8pm…. I switched off.
The last time I switched off, was 2 years ago. I had no choice. I was on a cruise. We were at sea. There was no signal, the phone was useless. (Lord did I try to get signal – on the top deck of the boat pointing at the land, refreshing the empty list of unavailable networks). Yet now, 8pm on the 10th October 2016, I found myself consciously choosing to switch off.
Just before switching off, I was heating up my dinner. I found my-self aimlessly scrolling as per normal. Frantically scrolling through nothing. Re-looking at old posts, totting up how many likes I’d gotten here and there aggressively time wasting with no purpose.
Once I’d eaten my dinner and had started washing up… it was when I had the rubber gloves on that the final straw broke this Camel’s back. I’d just put the gloves on, just run the water, when *Buzz* *Buzz*. “For Goodness sake” I muttered as I took one glove off my hand to be distracted by the glaring screen…. A spam email…. For Goodness sake” I muttered again, and decided that was enough. I’d already turned my laptop off and had set my tablet to flight mode to allow me to write without interaction. (I’m dyspraxic – it’s my version of pen and paper!!) I pressed the power button, I held the power button, and then I pressed power off. I took the currently silent iPhone from my pocket, held the power button, slid the slider and both phones were plunged into darkness.
Lying in bed is a funny feeling. Firstly I noticed it’s 10:30pm. For me that’s pretty early. I am often up late reading random articles people share or chatting to friends etc. Finally I’m experiencing that myth I talk of often… an early night!
Not only is the early night funny, but I’m consciously aware that normally I’d waste valuable sleeping minutes distracted by the old stale news feeds of my phones.
Without the distraction, there was more time for a quick spot of reading, following which, sleep came easy!
Waking up was again interesting. I overslept. Majorly. Which is odd because I had such an early night and compared to a work day was having a lie in anyway! Once I did actually wake up, my default action was to roll over and reach for my phone. On rolling over, I realised it wasn’t there and rolled over the other side and got out of bed!
I decided post lie-in not to go to synagogue this morning… Arriving late at our Synagogue is a little awkward plus, by the time I got there, the morning services would be nearly over. Instead I’ve sat talking to mum who is feeling ill and I’ve done more reading and more thinking. (and a little dozing!) I’m incredibly relaxed.
Frankly I’ve not missed it. I’m not craving it as much as I thought I would be…. or really at all! There was an odd time that I wanted to look something up, and a time I considered checking my phone to pass a moment of time or just to see what other people are up to. But from this I have learnt, that I don’t need to seek or give the constant approval available from having my smart phone attached to me 24×7.
After getting dressed and eating some food, I decided it would be nice to go down to the hospital and visit Grandma who is currently in. Often I’d find myself sat in the room with her idly flicking through my phone whilst talking to her. Sharing my attention between two. Not today. We sat and chatted at length about all different things, giving her my full attention. Walking out the hospital I felt really good.
During my visit, mum had spoken to someone there who came down to see grandma and asked me to call mum. I could have very easily taken this opportunity to turn my phone on and be met by a barrage of notifications. I made a point of not turning my phone on, but borrowing grandma’s to phone home – I knew that by turning it on, I’d become distracted and so decided to exercise higher self control to not turn it on at all!
I came home from the hospital and got dressed and went to Synagogue. It was pretty
uneventful apart from the 47ish second Tekiah Gedolah Blown by my brother! I noticed that I was not interested in how many pages were left, how many minutes, or seconds… but was happy to be sat there joining in.
What was exceptional was that upon leaving Synagogue, I had no urge to turn my phone on. In fact, I drove home, came in, got changed and still didn’t turn my phone on. If anything I started to feel like actually I didn’t want to turn my phone on at all.
I’ve not craved my phone like I normally crave food. I didn’t really think explicitly about food. Lunch time came and I had something to eat before carrying on with my day. I’ve not been distracted by my usual distraction, and yet in removing something else, I’ve not really been distracted by that either.
Removing the distractions, you could even say fasting from my phones, has allowed me to focus more on personal reflection and what I’d like to change personally in the coming year, a process that’s roots seem stem this year from my extreme reaction to some drugs in September. Removing the distraction has allowed me to focus more on talking to my family, writing this post and actually relaxing on what is supposed to be not just a day of repentance but also a day of rest.
So there you have it. I didn’t fast on Yom Kippur. Not at least in the traditional sense. But maybe in a more modern sense, I’ve learnt the value of spending time without constantly seeking reinforcement through likes, I’ve learnt not to constantly need digital conversation, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, but most of all, I’ve learnt how to pass Yom Kippur without counting the pages, the hours, the minutes, the seconds, until it’s over.