When The New York Jewish Week published an article about the new phenomena of ‘Half Shabbos,’ a phrase used to describe the idea of religious teens texting and using their smartphones on Shabbat, Southern NCSY mobilized. They knew they needed to do something to spread awareness as well as combat this new phenomenon.
NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union.
Southern NCSY, which is based in Boca Raton, covers Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana (New Orleans), Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee.
At Southern NCSY’s Fall Regional Shabbaton held earlier this month in Tampa, 25 teens from public and day schools enjoyed the Shabbat experience while proudly wearing bright orange wristbands that read “TXT ME — after Shabbat!” The idea is to promote awareness that there are teens who do not use their cell phones on Shabbat -- and even in this generation, it can still be the cool thing to do.
“We see teens from religious backgrounds, on our programs and off, choosing to abandon the ways of their families and I quite honestly don’t have the answer for that,” said Todd Cohn, Southern NCSY Executive Director. “But I do know one thing: NCSY makes it cool to be Jewish. And if this idea takes off, we’ll make it cool to keep Shabbat as well.”
The bracelets proved so popular that even teens who weren’t on the Shabbaton began to request them. Rabbi Ben Gonsher, Director of Institutional Advancement for Southern NCSY, explained,“Teaching teens not to use their phones on Shabbat is especially difficult given how popular and addicting smartphones are. NCSY doesn’t force kids to keep halacha (Jewish law), but instead empowers and encourages teens who are interested in spiritual growth.”
Rabbi Gonsher continued, “NCSY has always created an environment where it becomes ‘cool’ to wear tzitzit (a fringed undergarment), dress in modest clothes and learn Torah. With the current spirituality crisis and growth of the ‘Half Shabbos’ phenomena, teens are making a statement that it's okay to refrain from technology for 25 hours.”
Peer pressure is an important factor in the Half Shabbos crisis, noted North Miami Beach Chapter President Yisrael Weiss. “I think my friends keep ‘Half Shabbos’ because they find themselves unable to resist texting for an entire day, rationalizing to themselves that it's okay because other people are doing it too. So the more we publicize our ability to keep Shabbat, the more the message is broadcast to others that it is possible to resist.”
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