Many years ago, a Jewish friend said to me, “Jews don’t go camping.” What I think she meant is that, in many North American Jewish families over the last few generations, the kids go camping at summer camp, so why should the family go together? Camping is for the kids, they like it the most, so why should we parents have to suffer through it?
I never went to summer camp, Jewish or otherwise, which may explain why I still like to go camping. Car camping, backpacking, and even wilderness middle-of-nowhere camping. Here in Asheville, we are all very fortunate to live in a place surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers, so accessible to camping and other outdoor activities.
Like many people, I’m not so good at putting away the connected devices or totally unplugging. I’m also not really that interested in silent retreats or meditation. But, I very much like being in true wilderness, where there is no possibility of connection to any media, or technological distraction. When I’m disconnected in this way, I imagine the many generations of our ancestors who experienced only what their own senses supplied in each moment. I think many of our spiritual practices and traditions as Jews have meaning in part because they help us focus on our primary senses, on what is happening immediately around us. I suppose some of you might tell me this is just spiritual awareness, and what do I think meditation is anyway?
My family is not really planning for greater spiritual awareness (that might be self-defeating), but we are planning for camping season this coming spring and summer. It might even be our most ambitious summer of camping yet as a family. Our kids may well mark each disconnected day, hour by hour. My hope is that they will nonetheless develop a type of muscle memory of the experience of having no technological distraction.
As Reform Jews, we have no mandate to be shomrei Shabbos, but I think we all long for periods of freedom from our devices. Even if you meditate or keep Shabbat every week, I invite you to consider new ways to disconnect from the digital experience and reconnect with your own sensory experience.