‘Yom Kippur: A Day to Reflect, Atone – and Put Down the Phone’


no-cell-phoneThe following report by Carly Flandro appears in the Seattle Times:

Imagine a day without food, drink, electricity – or cellphones. It would mean candles lit rather than lights switched on, walks taken rather than cars driven, a real conversation or laugh instead of a text message or emoticon.

The most observant Jews acknowledge Yom Kippur, the last of the Jewish High Holy Days – which began a week ago with Rosh Hashana — by making these sacrifices.

But as people become increasingly tied to the Internet, social media and their cellphones, keeping that tradition has, for many, become more challenging.

This year for Yom Kippur, a national advertising campaign created by two New York-based executives is urging Jews and non-Jews alike to forgo their cellphones in the spirit of the holiday. Called the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur begins at sundown Friday and ends Saturday.

“It’s a time of year when Jews around the world set aside the day to atone for their sins from the year before,” said Amy Wasser-Simpson, vice president for planning and community services for the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle.

Wasser-Simpson said she thinks turning off cellphones that day and staying away from the Internet could help people have a more significant religious experience.

She said she typically doesn’t use any kind of technology besides her car on Jewish holy days and plans to do the same on Yom Kippur.

Eddie Westerman, 49, said she recently committed to not using her cellphone or checking her e-mail on Yom Kippur because it’s meant to be a day for “looking inward instead of communicating outward.”

She’s become so reliant on technology, she said, that it’s blurred the line between home and work; she often gets home and goes straight to the computer to check her work e-mail. “We don’t ever have down time anymore,” she said.On Yom Kippur, Westerman and her family, including her 17-year-old son, Max, will also go without food. But Max intends to hang on to his cellphone. “My cellphone is a part of my life for friends, school and emergencies,” he said. “If I don’t eat for a day it’s not going to affect other people. But what if my friend called and needed help?”

The Westermans attend Kol HaNeshamah synagogue in West Seattle.

The national campaign for a device-free Yom Kippur was started up by two men who founded a company called Offlining for the sole purpose of encouraging people to take breaks from the Internet and their cellphones.

Eric Yaverbaum and Mark DiMassimo are hoping as many people as possible will choose to give up their gadgets for this weekend’s holiday.

Their ads, published online, in magazines, and on posters around New York City, feature photos of celebrities such as Tiger Woods and Lindsay Lohan with messages like: You don’t have to be Jewish to atone for your texts on Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Anson Laytner, former executive director of the Seattle chapter of the American Jewish Committee, said he loves the idea of giving up technology for a day.

Laytner doesn’t use his phone on Jewish holidays or on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath, and will turn it off again for Yom Kippur. But doing so may be harder for less-observant or younger Jews, he said.

He remembers that a few years ago during breaks between services on Yom Kippur many people were immediately on their phones.

“Electronic connections are kind of addictive,” he said. “It does become hard to turn it off and step away.”

Rabbi Mark Glickman, who leads Congregation Kol Shalom on Bainbridge Island and Congregation Kol Ami in Woodinville, said he disconnects each week on the Jewish Sabbath.

For him, getting offline is about deepening relationships. Electronic communication just can’t replace face-to-face interactions with people, he said. “You can’t see the look on their face. You can’t tell if they look tired or healthy. You can’t hug them or shake their hand.”

His kids, however, have a harder time powering off.

“It’s an ongoing struggle,” said Glickman, who writes a column about faith for The Seattle Times. “They do still use electronics — but hopefully we’ve gotten them to feel guilty about it,” he adds with a laugh.

Mary Sobel, an Orthodox Jew who attends Sephardic Bikur Holim Congregation in the Seward Park area, said pushing the off-button is worth it.

Sobel, 52, has been going without electricity every Saturday for the last 18 years. “It’s very liberating.”

Sobel has learned to enjoy walks — where she sees the trees and feels the rain. And she looks forward to not worrying about what’s going on in the world for a day.

Putting down the phone is another step in the holiday’s spirit of bettering oneself, she said. It’s easier to be mean when you’re sending someone a text message instead of looking at him, for example.

“I think it would be good for everybody to try,” she said. “Not just Jews.”

{The Seattle Times Company}


  1. Mr. Only Frum,

    Why are you such an anti semite (soney yisroel)?
    Not all Jews are just like you. You could learn much about menschlachkeit from these freie people.

  2. Only frum, why didn’t you translate the other non-English word? (Or, why did you choose to translate that one – for whom?)
    But anyway, Sanctimony on the Internet…

  3. I’m glad to see that more people are giving up their technology on Yom Kippur. Personally, I don’t use technology every Friday night and Saturday and use the time to get closer to G-d. Over the next two weeks, I’m planning three straight days each week without it.

    May we all have a g’mar chasimah tovah!

  4. #2. you have a point.
    The Lubavitcher Rebbe said
    Thought of the Week: Feb 6th, 2006
    Without Distinction
    (To a rabbi who wrote about “secular Jews” the Rebbe responded:)
    You categorize them as religious Jews and secular Jews. How dare you make such a distinction? There is no such thing as a secular Jew! All Jews are holy.
    From the wisdom of the Lubavitcher Rebbe; words and condensation by Tzvi Freeman.


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