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Letting in the Light: Enhancing Jewish Practice Through Technology

Letting in the Light: Enhancing Jewish Practice Through Technology

By Naomi Kennedy

It all started by lighting Chanukah candles with a homemade Chanukiah in downtown Jerusalem while participating in Nativ (USY’s Gap Year program in Israel). The experience was an extension of what I had always done during this holiday, but it was also the beginning of a new phase of my life—one that would have me living away from my family permanently.

Skype and FaceTime calls were an indispensable part of this couple’s long-distance relationship.

Upon departing my year in Israel with Nativ, my then-boyfriend (now-husband) Seth and I each went off to separate colleges. We maintained a long-distance relationship for four years, and technology became more important to our daily lives than ever. Constant texting as well as Skype calls also became indispensable parts of our relationship.

While both of our schools had some Jewish life on campus, they did not contain many students who observed Shabbat and kept kosher like we each did. I struggled with how I could reconcile my strong Conservative Jewish identity with the fact that my current community was largely driven by my secular passions.

While many holidays are based around attending shul, lighting Chanukah candles is a ritual often practiced at home. Since we were already Skyping at home in the evenings, Seth and I began the ritual of lighting Chanukah candles together via Skype most nights of the holiday. I don’t want to understate the challenge of being in a community where I was the only Jewish one in the group, and certainly the only shomer Shabbos one. But it was by using technology that I would be able to participate in my own community, help Seth and I build our future family rituals, and still embrace the broader community with which I had chosen to engage. Sometimes practicing dynamic Judaism means expanding your engagement through other parts of (even secular) culture.

Naomi and her now-husband Seth celebrating Chanukah in person in Toronto.

Seth and I now live in New Jersey and have continued the ritual of long-distance candle lighting—many times having two phones up with FaceTime video going simultaneously in New Jersey, Chicago, and Toronto to include both my and Seth’s families.

The beautiful and unique thing about Chanukah is the fact that it is not a yuntef, meaning that technology can be used to its fullest extent. One of the wonderful and challenging parts of Conservative Judaism is that it is in fact dynamic—it ebbs and flows, sometimes flowing organically and effortlessly, and sometimes it is a constant and active choice to make space for engaging with Jewish practice.

This year, Seth and I will take our first trip back to Israel, and will be there for all of Chanukah. While I am incredibly excited and look forward to the unique celebration of the holiday, I also look forward to continuing the rituals I have built with my different families and communities over the years, and to whatever rituals I may build in the future.

About the Author
Naomi Kennedy is a former ECRUSY Communications VP and a participant of Nativ 27. She works in publishing in New York City, and lives with her husband Seth in Highland Park, NJ.

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