Connect to G-d

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Rabbi Gideon Goldenholz of  Temple Sinai in Hollywood spends a lot of time on his Blackberry. “It might as well be strapped to my hip,” he jokes. “It’s with me all of the time, except for Shabbat and holidays.

On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish New Year, Goldenholz will remind congregants to turn off their smart phones and other personal electronic devices while they are in shul and to keep them off for the rest of the day.

It’s good to have a day when congregants are “involved in spirituality and higher things,” he said.

I’m a very high tech rabbi. I’m very well connected,” said Rabbi Yaron Kapitulnik of  Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens. Kapitulnik said he checks his e-mails “probably 40 times a day,” is on Facebook and Twitter and sends YouTube videos to congregants on Fridays.

But on Yom Kippur, the other holidays and Shabbat, personal communication devices are a distraction from awareness, Kapitulnik said. “We need to step away from our normal selves. We need to step away from those things that blur our awareness, that prevent us from connecting to our inner selves.

On those sacred and holy times, we refrain from doing the regular things, said Rabbi David Spey of Temple Bat Yam of East Fort Lauderdale. A confessed “technology junkie,” Spey recently switched from a Blackberry to an iPhone. But he doesn’t take it into the sanctuary, he said, preferring to leave it in his office or car.

Spey said Jews need to listen to “the feedback in our hearts and in our souls; that still, small voice from within rather than from that electronic device pressed to our ear.”

At Beth Israel Congregation in Miami Beach, no one comes to shul with their cell phone, said Rabbi Donald Bixon. It’s hard to walk into the synagogue and truly stand before God while using these devices, he said.

I think it’s nice that we have an opportunity to disconnect from the rest of the world and connect to God” on Yom Kippur, Bixon said. “It’s a good opportunity for us to go offline and online with God.

We always tell people to turn off their cell phones when they come into the service,” said Rabbi Dan Levin of Temple Beth El of Boca Raton. It’s not about interrupting the service, Levin said. “It’s a much more spiritual sense of focusing prayer. People have such a difficult time focusing and being present.

Levin thinks that with so many smart phones and other personal communication devices in use, the introspection and contemplation the High Holy Days demand can be more powerful now than they were a generation ago.

He said he will atone for overusing his smart phone by not reading e-mail and texting during meetings and by keeping his focus away from the phone.

There is a difference between technology and wisdom, Levin said. “Wisdom is knowing how to use that technology for our best human purposes. I will pray for wisdom.

David A. Schwartz

(This article originally appeared in Florida Jewish Journal, Staff photo/Janeris Marte / September 7, 2010)

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