I left my phone locked in my car yesterday while I attended Rosh Hashanah services.
It was an exercise in mindfulness as well as a life hack: I knew I wanted to be respectful and attentive inside the synagogue. I also knew I would be tempted to sneak a peek at my device during services if I tucked it into my purse or pocket. So I left it behind, where it couldn’t tempt me — one less distraction during a time when Jews reflect on a brand-new year.
I’m not particularly religious. I describe myself as a cultural Jew, more in it for food and family and less for God and rules. I don’t feel a particular need to pray, or to pray in an organized setting, but in Thunder Bay, where I live, the Jewish community is tiny, and I feel a responsibility to show up: Jewish law stipulates that 10 adults need to be present in order to read from the Torah or participate in many religious rituals, and our congregation is so small that every body counts. So I go to support my community, with whichever of my children decide to come along. And I brush up on my Hebrew skills and enjoy the melodies of my youth, doing my best to make the hours in the sanctuary meaningful.
Hence, no phone.
The timing of Rosh Hashanah — which translates to “the head of the year” — always seems spot-on to me. Like so many North Americans, September rather than January has always felt like the start of the “real” new year. It’s been (cough) roughly two decades since I actually started a new school year in September, but the sense-memory of that time is strong: September is a time for fresh starts, new routines, a clean slate — literally as well as metaphorically. It’s traditional to dip apples into honey to symbolize our wishes for a sweet new year.
And so, I’ve been thinking a bit about what I want to accomplish, to change, in the upcoming year. In the past several months, I’ve had the pleasure of talking to all kinds of interesting, driven women who are finding creative ways to live fully and happily while consuming less. People like Emily Kerton, Sarah Robertson, Leah Simeone and Trish Jane, who are committed to reducing plastic and waste in their lives, and finding new contentment as a result. People like Sue Hamel and Nicole McKay, intent on (re)connecting people to the land and their communities. Moms who are committed cyclists, like Marlene Wandel and Christina Nagy-Oh. First Nations women like Jolene Banning and Leanna Marshall, intent on preserving traditional lands and resources and applying traditional Indigenous teachings to contemporary life and problems. Women like Kenda Al Yakobi, who combines her passion for low-waste living with her commitment to her faith.
All of them have inspired me. In the past several months, I have stepped up my game, in no small part because of their examples. I have refused plastic toothbrushes (we’re switching to bamboo). I now carry Tupperware and cutlery in my car, and a water bottle and coffee mug, so that I’m not stuck with plastic take-out containers. (True story: last week, I took my own spoon and reusable bowl to the soft-serve ice cream place down the street, and they made my low-waste — if not low-carb — hot-fudge sundae in a reusable container and didn’t bat an eye.) I cycle more, bring my own bags and containers to the bulk store, and pick up trash while I walk.
And so, when Rosh Hashanah came around this year — year 5779 on the Jewish calendar, to be exact — my Jewish New Year’s resolution was to continue to find ways to reduce my use of plastics and my overall consumption. And it still is. But as I gathered with members of my spiritual community, sans phone, it occurred to me that I want to make one more resolution: in addition to a lower-waste and lower-plastic 5779, I want a lower-phone 5779. I want to be more present in my home, my spirituality, my community, my family, and my life in general. So I’m going to leave it behind more often when I go for walks, put it on silent (in another room) while I work, and lock it in the car when I find myself succumbing to the siren song of Facebook and Instagram.
My phone is a great connector. It’s also a great distraction. I’m not going to give it up entirely, just like I’m not giving up all sugar. But when I do indulge, like I did in that sundae, I will do it mindfully. Here’s hoping that makes for an even sweeter year.
SUSAN GOLDBERG is a regular contributor to the Whole Family Happiness Project, where she is thrilled to eco-geek out on composting, reducing plastics, and other low-carbon life hacks. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Ms., Toronto Life, Lilith, Today’s Parent, Full Grown People, and Stealing Time magazines, and several anthologies, including Chasing Rainbows: Exploring Gender-Fluid Parenting Practices. She is a regular contributor to several websites, including CBC Parents, and co-editor of the award-winning anthology And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families. Susan is based in Thunder Bay, Ontario, where she can often be seen picking up cans to recycle on her neighbourhood walks.
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