From Sabbath Manifesto to Wilderness Torah

By Nancy Shaw

Wilderness_croppedIn 2009, I was laboring away in a corporate cubicle in downtown San Francisco. A freshly-minted MBA with a nonprofit background, I was working to bring environmental values to the private sector.

Raised secular, I had focused on creating meaning in my life through my work, relationships with friends and family, and practices like meditation and yoga. But the question of my identity always hovered in the background. I was Jewish. What did that mean, and what did it mean to me?

At around the same time, I saw the Sabbath Manifesto on Facebook and immediately felt the “ping” of recognition. Slowing down busy lives. Unplugging. My overworked corporate self said: “Yes, I need that!” And the part of me that was starting to consider Judaism looked at the Shabbat elements: “Avoid technology.” “Avoid commerce.” “Spend time with friends and family.” Maybe there was something in this Shabbat thing for me?

I printed out the Manifesto and hung it up on the grey wall of my cube. I would look at it with longing, as though actually doing it was beyond my reach. But slowly, I began experimenting. I turned off my computer and phone at sundown Friday, to be left off for 25 hours. I stopped doing work on Saturdays. A chronic over-scheduler, I left that day open, creating space to connect in unhurried, spacious ways with friends and family.

Fast forward five years: Shabbat is now a sacred time in my week. It’s a time apart from the demands of the rest of the week; a day I sometimes go to services and study texts to connect more with the tradition; a day that allows for the kind of unplugging and recharging that our souls and bodies need.

And I am no longer in the corporate cube. I’m now the managing director of Wilderness Torah, a nonprofit that brings Judaism alive in the wilderness for thousands of participants, through festivals like Passover in the Desert and nature-based youth and community programs. Wilderness Torah and the National Day of Unplugging are answering the same deep call that so many of us feel: to reconnect to something slower, deeper, and more meaningful in our lives.

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