Ear­li­er this week, Christo­pher Nox­on shared the begin­nings of his jour­ney from doing Jew” to being Jew­ish and the pro­found impor­tance he found in rit­u­al­ized rites of pas­sage for young adults. He has been blog­ging here all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series on The ProsenPeo­ple.

I start­ed observ­ing Shab­bat fif­teen years before I for­mal­ly con­vert­ed to Judaism. It began, as these things so often do, with bossy grand­par­ents: my wife’s par­ents host­ed din­ner Fri­day nights and would start bug­ging us on Tues­day to bring the kids over. Jenji’s mom cooked like a school lunch lady and the rush-hour dri­ve across LA wasn’t exact­ly nour­ish­ing to the soul, but I began feel­ing a real loss when we didn’t make it. Shab­bat was a mark­er, a reset button.

Even though I wasn’t Jew­ish and had no plans at the time to con­vert, I liked the island in time” that Shab­bat rep­re­sent­ed and was curi­ous about cre­at­ing bound­aries that would allow for rest and recharge. I read Abra­ham Joshua Hes­chel and began to appre­ci­ate the val­ue in ded­i­cat­ing one day a week to slow­ing down, con­nect­ing and check­ing in with one­self and loved ones. No way was I ready for tra­di­tion­al pro­hi­bi­tions on dri­ving, spend­ing mon­ey, or using the phone — but I loved the spir­it behind being shomer Shab­bat and want­ed to cre­ate some ver­sion for my fam­i­ly and self.

If the idea behind Shab­bat was to wake us up, to remove what­ev­er inter­feres with our appre­ci­a­tion of what’s tru­ly impor­tant, I didn’t have to look far to iden­ti­fy the biggest source of distraction.

Our fam­i­ly spends an inor­di­nate — but hard­ly unusu­al — amount of time look­ing at screens. Smart­phones, lap­tops, desk­tops, TVs, video games — our lives are large­ly lived in dig­i­tal space. We work, shop, social­ize, study, relax, play — all con­nect­ed to some sort of device. Our kids have grown up like this — but Jen­ji and I remem­ber when life was lived offline in three dimen­sions, or as the kids say, IRL (“in real life”).

This would be our family’s ver­sion of Shab­bat: one full day IRL.

For us that meant no TV, no email, no social media from sun­set Fri­day to sun­down Sat­ur­day. Using the phone is okay, we decid­ed, as are movies in a movie the­ater — but for us, the goal was to stay away from any screens that iso­late us from one oth­er and the world around us.

The kids weren’t thrilled about it, and both Jen­ji and I would some­times cheat (no one can see you on your iPad when you’re on the toi­let!), but I think we all came to appre­ci­ate screen-free Sat­ur­days. We had a few amaz­ing read­ing par­ties” splayed out on blan­kets on the front lawn with dogs, games, and bowls of grapes. We planned out­ings with friends to places in the city we wouldn’t have vis­it­ed oth­er­wise — Watts Tow­ers, the Self-Real­iza­tion Fel­low­ship gar­dens, water­falls in the San Gabriel Mountains…

Next we start­ed mark­ing Sat­ur­day sun­down hav­dalah around our back­yard firepit with a song, a big cup of wine, and a satchel of scent­ed cloves. The tra­di­tion­al ele­ments were nice, but hav­dalah only came alive after we took a sug­ges­tion from my friend Rachel to start a fam­i­ly prac­tice called take for­ward, leave behind.” Each mem­ber of the fam­i­ly names things from the past week we want to con­tin­ue (lay­ing off carbs, say, or get­ting to bed before mid­night) and dis­con­tin­ue (tex­ting in the car, fight­ing with siblings).

Excit­ed by our progress, I joined up with some friends and start­ed an online newslet­ter called The Undo List, offer­ing tips and inspi­ra­tion for oth­ers observ­ing a week­ly Tech-Free Sabbath.”

Here, with some rein­ter­pre­ta­tion and exper­i­men­ta­tion, was some­thing tru­ly use­ful, an ancient prac­tice giv­en a mod­ern spin that made our lives better.

Christo­pher Nox­on is the author of the nov­el Plus One, a roman­tic com­e­dy about care­tak­ing men and bread­win­ning women in con­tem­po­rary Hol­ly­wood. His writ­ing has appeared in the New York­er, Details and Salon. He feels weird writ­ing about him­self in the third per­son but is hap­py to speak to JCCs and loves work­ing with the JBC.

Christo­pher Nox­on is a jour­nal­ist and illus­tra­tor who has writ­ten for the New York­er, the Atlantic. Salon and the New York Times Mag­a­zine. He is the author of the nov­el Plus One about an inter­faith fam­i­ly in Hol­ly­wood, and the non­fic­tion Reju­ve­nile: Kick­ball Car­toons Cup­cakes and the Rein­ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Grown Up.