I’m a boring kind of person. I’d much rather be in bed at 11pm than doing almost anything else.
Unfortunately for me, Shabbaton schedules typically stretch long into Friday evening, often into Shabbos morning.
Fortunately for me, when it comes to shabbaton activities after 11, my FOMO only applies to communing with my pillow.
I was in seminary.
The seminary was in Bnei Brak for the weekend.
In this city dedicated to isolationism and Torah we were going to discuss… isolationism and Torah.
The Friday night panel hosted four of our most kollel teachers to talk about keeping outside influences out of our lives.
“I’m going to sleep,” I told my friends, when they started to leave my room for the panel.
“What? You can’t do that! You’ll miss the panel!”
“I’d rather go to sleep,” I insisted.
They insisted back. They urged me to seize the moment, a lone Shabbos in Bnei Brak with our teachers – something that would never be duplicated again in my life.
They had a point.
I realized I would have to come up with a better reason than sleep to make them leave me alone. The thing was, I had already attended this panel at Lakewood Shabbaton in 12th grade. Being out-of-towners, they hadn’t, and it was all fresh and new to them.
So I drew a deep breath and told them exactly why I didn’t need to go to the panel:
“Do you know why I don’t need to go to the panel? Because I know exactly what is going to happen at this panel. Because every discussion on this subject is identical. They all go exactly the same way.
“First, the teachers will speak about the beauty of a Torah-true lifestyle. They will say this means immersing only in Jewish practices and culture. Anything that seeps in from secular culture is poisonous.
“They will say that you don’t need anything but Judaism to live a rich and fulfilling life. They will tell inspiring stories about people who lived beautiful, religious lives and didn’t even know what country they lived in.
“Then they will move on to describing the insidious, creeping influence of secular culture. They will recommend avoiding television, movies, magazines. They will even tell you to avoid newspapers. They will sigh about unavoidable billboards. They will talk about the man in Monsey who fixes alarm clocks so the radio doesn’t work, and how, after a month without radio, you’ll be amazed by how much more time you have for reflection.
“When they’ve reach the point where they think they have you inspired to live in a bubble, they will accept question. And someone will stand up. She will say, ‘But don’t you have to vote? If Jews don’t vote, the government won’t look after us.’ And the teachers will agree that it is important to vote.
“’But don’t you have to know who to vote for?’ the student will pursue her point. ‘How are you supposed to know who to vote for if you never follow the news?’
“The teachers will agree that, for some purposes, news sources might be unavoidable.
“Emboldened, another student will stand up. ‘What about for work?’ she will ask. ‘Some people can’t do their jobs without internet. The internet is the single greatest source of information on everything, and most jobs require you to use it.’
“The teachers will admit that some people might require internet, in an isolated way, to do their jobs. But this should in no way impact what goes on in their homes.
“Another student will stand up. ‘What about emergencies?’ she’ll ask. ‘The radio is how the government communicates emergency information to citizens. If the sirens go off, how do you know what’s going on without a radio?’
“The students will continue tearing down the perfect little bubble. By the end of the night, there will be accepted exceptions for pretty much everything they originally said to unconditionally avoid.”
I paused and gazed slowly around my skeptical circle of friends.
“And that is exactly how it’s going to happen, and I know it will, so I don’t have to attend. Now I’m going to sleep. You guys have fun.”
And with that, I pulled the covers over my head. My friends rolled their eyes and left.
The next day, they were all groggy, but I was up at 7am to make Shacharis in Ponovitz.
Afterward, I asked them how it went the night before.
“Well, Mrs T spoke about how well you can live without newspapers. Rebbetzin K came out strong against internet. Mrs. B decried magazines and radio. They told the story of Rabbi Y.
“Then Kayla stood up and asked about voting. And Bayla asked about work. And yeah… it was kinda like you said.”
Pity they had to hear it twice. They could have just gone to sleep after my summary.
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