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JudaOSm: Consider This Next Time a Phone Rings During Services

JudaOSm: Consider This Next Time a Phone Rings During Services

My wife and I found our seats just as Rosh HaShanah services were about to begin, preparing ourselves to engage in worship. Our prayer books were at the ready and our cell phones turned off. With a few deep, cleansing breaths, the music began. We sang along with the choir and the cantor. The rabbi approached the bimah, welcomed us, and asked us to rise for the first prayer.

As I stood, I felt a familiar yet unexpected vibration on my wrist. Though I had turned off my phone, my new smartwatch was still on. Bathed in the warm glow of worship and community at my beloved synagogue for the start of the new year, I glanced at my watch and read the words on its face: “You’ve reached your goal.”

My watch was telling me that, in rising, I had reached my goal of standing at least 12 times during the day. The fact that I received that alert as I stood for the first time during the 5777 High Holiday season was particularly meaningful. My technology told me I had reached my goal, and there I was at temple, enjoying my 50th High Holiday season. My wife Lynn – my life partner, my best friend – was by my side, holding my hand, and though our two daughters were not with us, we knew they were away at college, safe, engaged in their education, and pursuing their own goals.

Yes, I had reached my goal – in more ways than one.

Technology is often dismissed as the great worship disruptor. We are told to silence our phones as worship begins. We are asked to please turn off our devices so others won’t be disturbed. We glare at those who dare use their phones or tablets during worship, and we see everyone look around accusingly when a phone rings because someone forget to set their cell to vibrate.

But maybe those intrusive rings aren’t as bad as we think they are. I’m not suggesting we should all leave our phones turned on so they can ring throughout the service, but just as the “You’ve reached your goal” alert on my watch served as a meaningful reminder to me during Rosh HaShanah, perhaps the occasional ring of a phone can serve as a meaningful reminder, too.

There is a busy world outside our sanctuary walls, a world that does not stop just because the rabbi has said “Shabbat Shalom” or “Shanah Tovah” as services begin. We have made the choice to temporarily separate ourselves from that world so we can connect with, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel so beautifully wrote, “what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the creation of the world to the world of creation.”

Yes, the loud ring of a phone serves as a rude disruption to that sense of eternity and mystery. But that same loud ring can also serve as a powerful and effective reminder.

Consider this: Just before such a ring, all was quiet. It was peaceful. We were one community in worship and reflection. But the interruption of the phone reminds us that as we stand still and silent, the world moves quickly around us. While other people are going out to eat, attending sporting events, watching television, and shopping, we are with our sacred community. We recite the prayers and sing the songs. We look at our children and listen to the rabbi and the cantor. We enjoy the warm glow of our community. That loud, brash ring that interrupts our worship can, in fact, remind us that we have “reached our goal” of getting ourselves to temple that week, finding a little bit of Heschel's “world of creation” while the world buzzes outside.

So when the phone rings or when your wrist vibrates, take that interruption as an opportunity to pause. Recognize and appreciate where you are in life. Acknowledge what is happening outside the synagogue and embrace what is happening inside the synagogue. Your goal has been reached. Time is eternal, and creation remains a mystery.

Larry Glickman, FTA, is the director of Network Engagement and Collaboration for the Union for Reform Judaism. Prior to joining the URJ in April 2013, Larry worked as a synagogue executive director for 10 years, most recently at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL, and served as a board member and officer for the National Association for Temple Administration.

Larry Glickman, FTA
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