iKeep: Solving the Teen “Half-Shabbos” Epidemic
By Ari Needle, Akiva Prager and Dovi Lederer | December 11, 2019
On November 10, over 100 Modern Orthodox high school students from across North America from 14 different schools traveled to Stamford, Connecticut, to attend a conference run by NCSY and the Orthodox Union, called NCSY JUMP. The goal of this conference was to empower Modern Orthodox teenagers to first identify a crisis plaguing the teenage community, and then propose an initiative geared toward solving this crisis.
We, as three current TABC seniors, accompanied by faculty and our rabbinic advisor, TABC’s Rabbi Dovid Einhorn, were TABC’s delegates at this conference. Throughout the conference we had the extreme privilege of hearing from renowned educators such as Rabbi Dovid Bashevkin, Rabbi Josh Grajower and Dr. Noam Wasserman, among many others.
We were taught many skills, like public speaking and marketing, and were exposed to many current leaders of the Jewish community who have started initiatives of their own. This included attending the Orthodox Union accelerator conference, which really gave us ideas for how to change the future of the Jewish community.
Attending NCSY Jump inspired us to really take a stand and battle an issue that is affecting so many children and families in our community. We decided that an immediate problem in Jewish high schools today is the recent drop in the number of students keeping Shabbos on a weekly basis, so we polled students from various yeshiva day schools across the tri-state area to gauge levels of Shabbos commitment.
The results were absolutely frightening. We found that 27% of the over 400 who responded admitted to using their phones on Shabbos, either as a one-time thing or routinely. Let that sink in: One in every four Modern Orthodox high school students would admit to breaking Shabbos, a fundamental aspect of our collective Jewish identity. We could not stand by and watch our friends and classmates fall so far off the path, and we decided to do something about this situation. With that, iKeep was born.
We presented iKeep to the board members of the Orthodox Union at the conference and they gave us their stamp of approval, along with a generous grant to help us start our programming. iKeep is a student-initiated and student-run organization working toward a more spiritual and uplifting Shabbos for teenagers and families. iKeep’s mission is to create a culture of Shabbos observance in our schools, shuls and larger communities, not only with regard to keeping the laws but also promoting an understanding and appreciation for the sanctity and beauty of Shabbos, with a specific focus on high school student observance. Our goal is to infuse Shabbos with the kedusha it should have.
Rabbi Josh Grajower, the director of day school engagement of New Jersey NCSY and high school rebbe, said when asked about iKeep, “iKeep is an incredible idea that can really unite a family around the positive culture of keeping Shabbos. I think the notion of a family coming together to put their phones away before Shabbos is a really powerful message about the values of that family and the way that they enter Shabbos together. I really think that it can be a really positive movement towards a greater appreciation and focus on keeping Shabbos within our families and within our communities.”
We want to run educational programming for parents on how to foster kedusha in their homes on Shabbos, as well as programs at school for students about Shabbos. Specifically, we want to target the family experience of Shabbos, mainly through educational programming at three levels. First, we envision programs for parents on how to inculcate kedusha into their homes on Shabbos. Then at the communal level, we could highlight Shabbos observance by having our community leadership promote these issues. We are currently working on Yimei Iyun in local high schools focused on these goals, and we are looking to hold workshops for parents in the community to educate on how to optimize the kedushas hayom to transmit it to their children. In addition, as Rabbi Grajower talked about, we are creating special Shabbos boxes for families to be able to put everyone’s devices in the box before Shabbat, so as to create an environment in the home of disconnecting with the outside world while reconnecting with Hashem. The boxes are lucite acrylic boxes with the words Shabbos Kodesh printed on top. Not only do we want to eliminate the possibility of one using technology on Shabbos, but we want to create a culture in the home that Shabbos is a truly meaningful family experience where one must disconnect from technology to truly tap into the kedusha of Shabbos.
For example, last Shabbos, December 7, we asked the Bergen County shul rabbanim in Teaneck and Bergenfield to dedicate their drashos to discussing these topics. We wanted the conversation at every Shabbos table to be about how the rabbi’s drasha inspired them to enhance their own Shabbos. This was a perfect way of jump-starting our programming.
Rabbi Adler, the mara d’asra of Congregation Rinat Yisrael and the rosh yeshiva of TABC, said when asked about how that Shabbos went, “On Shabbat during my drasha at Rinat I tried to impress upon everybody that there are areas in which we can certainly demonstrate significant improvement in terms of our commitment to a more wholesome Shabbat experience. I emphasized that this iKeep program is not driven by parents or rebbeim or professional educators. It is a student initiative and it is incredibly meaningful to myself and should be to you as parents when a student is already raising an issue about some of the practices within our community which really undermine a real wholesome Shabbat experience. Be it the construction that takes place on Shabbat which is rabbinically prohibited, be it the lack of recognition that a dress code is appropriate on Shabbat and that wearing casual clothing is not appropriate for Shabbat. And I gave the illustration that if someone would come to a wedding wearing a T-shirt and a pair of shorts, I don’t think the hosts would be terribly pleased, because clothing has the opportunity to frame the occasion, and on Shabbat and Yom Tov frame the essence of the day. And I gave several other illustrations as well and I know that it will require further meetings to establish more concrete and positive steps on how to occupy a young adult’s time. Eventually, we should try to eliminate the ball playing that takes place, the scooter-riding that takes place for older kids; again, for a younger kid that’s another ball game. But that’s what I tried to share with my entire kehillah this past Shabbat.”
The following is an excerpt from an article written by Dovi Lederer published in Kol Torah, the TABC weekly parsha publication: “A shiur was given by the Kedushas Levi, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, during Shabbos Parshat Vayeitzei as the holiday of Chanukah approached rapidly. In this shiur, Rav Levi Yitzchak stressed the importance of getting ready to do the upcoming holy mitzvos of Chanukah. He writes that it is very interesting that we commonly refer to the miracle of the oil as the miracle of Chanukah. His given reason for this is that the word Chanukah comes from the vernacular of chinuch, meaning consecration or education. The pasuk states with regard to the garments of the kohen gadol, “U’vigdei hakodesh asher l’Aharon yihiyu l’vanav acharav l’moshchah va’hem u’lemalei vam es yadam, And the holy garments of Aharon will be [passed down] to his sons after him, to become exalted through them, and to be installed [as kohen gadol] through them” (Shemos 29:29). Before the kohanim were allowed to perform their sacred service, they had to be provided with suitable vessels to be used, i.e., priestly garments. Wearing these priestly garments was so important that if they performed their duties improperly dressed (even missing one of these garments), this was a cardinal sin (see Rambam Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 10:4). Thus, the garments act as the “chinuch” to the kohanim, getting them ready and enabling them to partake in the avodah. Just like the kohanim, children go through chinuch as well; we teach them the basics of Halacha and how to keep the Torah so that when they become bar/bas mitzvahed and are chayav in mitzvos, they will then be ready to take on a life of Torah observance.
This process applies to all of us throughout life, no matter what age. We always have to prepare ourselves to fulfill mitzvos. Through hachana, preparing, we are mechanech ourselves like the kohanim to be able to be involved in devarim she’b’kedushah. In the miracle of the oil, the Jews had to search for the oil and work for the return of the Menorah’s light to the Beis Hamikdash. That is why we refer to it as the miracle of Chanukah, because through their search for the oil they prepared themselves to return to the avodah of the Beis Hamikdash.
Hopefully, our programs will act as the chinuch of the community. We want to enable and prepare everyone to feel the real kedusha of Shabbos, to involve them in shemiras Shabbos, and to pass it on from generation to generation.
iKeep can be contacted at email@example.com, or via Twitter and Instagram @ikeepshab. Please be in contact with us if you would like to be involved in our initiative or if you would like to make a donation to help fund programs.
By Ari Needle, Akiva Prager and Dovi Lederer