A weekly technology cleanse
Tucked between Legoland’s Welcome Center and Mexican eatery Super Nacho in the village of Goshen stands a person-sized silver menorah marking the Chabad of Orange County. The local Jewish community knows this as a cultural hub and synagogue; Rabbi Meir Borenstein, his wife Rivkie and their seven kids also call it home. Their Saturday sabbath—Shabbat or Shabbos—gets an early start at sundown on Friday night. By Molly Colgan
SOCIAL MEDIA CLEANSE You know how everyone’s always like: “I’m leaving Facebook for two days!” We that do every week. It’s a beautiful thing.
GROUND RULES Starting from Friday night, until Saturday night, we don’t do any work. It’s a prohibition from the bible—the Torah. So we don’t use any electronics: no phones, no computers, no Facebook, no emails. We don’t use any cars or anything that involves turning on a motor: going on a plane, getting on a train. We don’t use a bicycle. We won’t have anything in our pockets. The idea is to sort of be completely in a relaxation mode. We don’t touch money, we don’t do any business. We don’t turn the lights on, we don’t turn the lights off.
SIGNING OFF Throughout the last hour or two, everyone gets ready. Everyone gets dressed special for the Shabbos; making sure you’re responding to your last phone calls or emails before you have to put your phone away for 24 hours.
IT’S LIT My wife and the girls light the candles and we say a prayer. Then we begin our Friday night meal.
SOUP FOR THE SOUL We begin the meal with a cup of wine or grape juice. Then we make a blessing, welcoming the Shabbos. The traditional challah is usually just braided bread, but today we have a chocolate one with raisins. Usually our first course is gefilte fish with salads. My wife is very into health—it’s great, it’s amazing. So we try to have healthy food. Second course is usually chicken soup with a matzo ball, and the main course is usually a protein—chicken or meat with rice, string beans, potatoes. And we always have some kind of dessert. The kids love dessert.
GOT SCHOOLED The kids go to a Jewish school in Monsey. My father is a rabbi in Florence, Italy. My parents still live there. Growing up where I was, there was no Jewish school. My parents wanted me to have a Jewish education. So I used to go away to Milan, which was quite a journey. So for us having a Jewish school in Monsey is a treat. I used to come back, stay over sometimes, it depended on the week. This is much easier. Today they finish a little earlier than normal for the Shabbos. In general, the schools are very dedicated to train the kids for Shabbos. They’ll do a project they can pull out and show guests at the Shabbos table. Every kid has a chance to show me what they’ve done on their test, what they’ve studied, what they have to review.
GAMENIGHT We’ll sing some songs, say a story. I ask some questions sometimes about the weekly Torah. After dinner, we sometimes play Stratego or Rummikub. The kids have a whole stack of games with different things we can do Friday night and Saturday morning. In general, the kids have a chance to relax.
‘NIGHT, LIGHTS We do have lights, we do have A/C, but we have a system where we have it set on timers. Others leave it on. It’s not a restriction, you figure it out.
SLEEP IN Saturday morning: it’s the one day a week where you don’t have to get up at 6 a.m. There’s no phones, there’s no alarm clocks—I mean, you could set one, in theory, on Friday for the next morning, but you can’t shut it [laughs]. But listen, thank God, I have seven kids. So I have an automatic alarm clock in the house.
WE DIDN’T START THE FIRE The kids get up, we eat breakfast. On Saturday we don’t cook, because we don’t put on a fire: can’t turn on the oven or electric. So we’ll have fruit, yogurt or cold cereal. We buy special—healthy—cereals that we like. We don’t have Fruity Pebbles here, my wife’s not gonna let that happen [laughs].
LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER After breakfast, we go to prayer services at our community synagogue right next door. We have a lunch as part of the service. All of the kids and the whole community will get together and get involved. We have a whole spread, and there’s a food called cholent. It’s a mixture of potatoes, sweet potatoes, barley. It’s like a little stew. It’s in a Crock Pot, so it’s allowed.
A WALK IN THE PARK Everyone who came to pray goes home, and we have the rest of the afternoon. It’s a special time that we get to spend together. If it’s a long day—now it’s a short day, our Saturday Shabbos is going to end around 5:30—but if there’s more time, we’ll go for a walk to the park. There are swing sets, the kids will play tag, hide and go seek. Then we’ll come home, there’s a short afternoon prayer. We pray three times a day.
DOYOUWANNABUILDASNOWMAN? When it snows, we can’t shovel. We can’t really make a snowman because we can’t carry. So at 5:30, we’ll put on our boots after Shabbos is finished and we’ll go out and have a snowball fight or build a snowman.
THE GIST For us, the idea of how to spend a Saturday is not a burden. It’s not: “Oh my gosh I can’t put the light on, I can’t use my phone!” It’s a privilege to have that, especially in today’s day and age. For us, it’s the biggest blessing that we have, that we can connect: my kids, my wife, my family. When was the last time you were home for dinner at 7 o’clock and you had all of your teenagers around the table, nobody using their cell phone, nobody out with a friend, and they all ate for an hour straight, telling you about their week, their day? We’re in unity.