On Modern Devotion.

As Yom Kippur approached this year, I wondered what I could do to mark the occasion with the fervor that it deserves. (As you may remember, I am pretty observant in general, especially when it comes to Shabbat and keeping Biblical kosher or kosher my way, as I’ve also termed it.) After all, I no longer have an open wound to make amends for as I did last year. But the season of teshuvah, of returning, begins anew every year as Elul arrives, and it lasts through the shofar on Rosh Hashanah and Havdalah on Yom Kippur and (for me) the return to the beginning of the Torah on Simchat Torah. And so, every year, at a time where the secular world is not yet thinking about resolutions and last year’s regrets, Jews all over the world have to find a space in their daily, secular lives to think of their own failings and strive for holiness.

Not a small task, by any means.

On Yom Kippur most Jews, regardless of their level of observance throughout the rest of the year, fast for approximately 25 hours (often attending services for most of that time) in order to purify their bodies and atone for their transgressions so they may also purify their spirits. It is a last effort, a closing to a season of repentance and returning–a last chance to be inscribed and sealed into the Book of Life by HaShem this year. I am no different; even though I attend services more or less regularly, Yom Kippur is the day where I absolutely feel the need to be physically present… and this year, I was not there.

I dragged myself out the door for Kol Nidre, the evening service that would begin the fasting and the intense prayer–and my heart was not in it. The ache that has been growing louder throughout the week culminated in a dull roar, and more than once I felt like I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and stop engaging with the world. A “bad depression day,” in other words. Despite my JDad‘s encouragement to attend the full day of services today, between anxiety attacks and awful back pain (muscle spasm/pinched nerve, it turns out), I was not able to get to services today. To make matters worse, I ended up having to eat in order to take the intense painkillers prescribed at the urgent care center after my x-rays. Not a very typical Yom Kippur, to be sure–and yet this year felt like the most spiritual and honest of my three celebrations thus far.

You see, I did something scarier than not eating/drinking/washing/wearing makeup or perfume or lotion/wearing gold/having sex for 25 hours… I stepped away from social media, and almost all of technology. I sent a “talk to you after Havadalah” to my Twitter and my Facebook, and logged out of Hootsuite. My laptop was turned off most of that time. I actually turned off my phone. I used my Kindle on airplane mode–only to read Yom Kippur notes I had made on my Evernote. Mostly, I slept, and prayed, and sometimes wept. (My students were a little horrified when I told them what I was doing, as were several friends. Two of them called me “devout,” a word that I had not considered when thinking about myself–but one that I think fits the fervor of my observance in the areas I am observant in.)

It was difficult and weird and awesome. There was an awesome feeling of independence–as connected as I feel through social media, and as much as I love it, I do sometimes feel like I’m all about the (mostly imaginary) audience. If I’m worried about how people might react to a tweet or (especially) a Facebook post, I don’t always post it. But stepping aside from social media let me enjoy what I found and experienced without needing to share it with people immediately, and it let me focus on the parts of myself that I need to work on and the ones that I’m proud of without the pressure of an outside gaze. My inner monologue, which usually finds itself spewed out on my Twitter or in Kat’s Hangouts window remained between HaShem and I–and I think that actually helped me verbalize some things that needed to be addressed.

Fasting from social media is the hardest fast I’ve ever undertaken–and I’m officially doing it as a part of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av from now on. If unplugging is what it takes to connect to HaShem, 25 hours twice a year is not too long a time. Who knows? I might end up unplugging during part of Shabbat and maybe even other holidays…

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