In an Era of Online Rage — Prayer May Be the Answer

I was raised to pray daily. Judaism values routine above all — there are specific times for morning, afternoon, and evening prayers, and there are restrictions on each, in order to ensure consistency. Growing up, I loved this ritual dearly; it gave my day structure, purpose, focus.

But in recent years, I’ve been praying less. Adulthood sucked me into the relentless churn of modern life. I became a rabbi’s wife, I had two babies in two years, while working full-time throughout, in American Jewish media in the era of Charlottesville and Pittsburgh.

Life quickly became an indecipherable blur, a daily marathon of survival and logistics, of keeping up with emails and tweets. I became a slave to my inbox, to my need to be “up to date,” to my group texts. And the first thing to go was my daily prayers. My main priority right now is my family, my work, and my community, I would console myself. God understands.

But what I learned was that God wasn’t the one who needed my prayers. It was I who needed them more.

As an adult, as a millennial, as a working mother, making time to whisper ancient words has taken on a whole other nature. It feels like a radical act of resistance. Prayer is the ability to say no to the demands of technology; to turn off devices, close the door, and recite the afternoon service. It is a brief taste of Sabbath, slipped into the frenzy of the day-to-day; it allows one to put everything aside and turn away from screens to paper.

But even more than that — prayer is the ability to say no to the rages of the internet, to the way that online chatter and its algorithms pit us, increasingly, against one another. Taking part in a service allows one to share an experience with flesh and blood human beings, without the separation of a screen, without the ability to mute others when they bother you.

As we enter the Days of Awe, we are offered an annual moment to truly disconnect, to momentarily remove ourselves from the debates that consume and divide us. The Kol Nidrei prayer even grants us “permission to pray with the transgressors” — let us learn to pray alongside even those who “transgress” our political and religious views, those who vote and think differently. Let prayer do its magic, forcing us to stop for a moment and wonder: What am I actually doing to improve this world? Do I embody the values in the words I am reciting? Do I comport myself with kindness and humility, with the knowledge that there is Something Greater Than Me?

May it be God’s will that we merit to answer those questions with resounding confidence.

Avital Chizhik-Goldschmidt is the life editor at The Forward. A version of this essay appeared in Vox.

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