I have been observant of traditional Sabbath practices (shomer Shabbat) for about 26 years, and my Shabbat practice has become so second nature to me that I sometimes forget the extent to which it is out of step with the way most people live their lives. However, I didn’t grow up strictly Sabbath observant. It’s something that I began to explore as a teen at Camp Ramah and in my home synagogue, and began to adopt seriously during my year studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was not until I came home after that year that I made the commitment to incorporate the restrictions of a traditional Jewish Shabbat observance a consistent part of my life.
It was not only an adjustment to me, but to my family and friends as well. When I stopped using the telephone on Shabbat, my family was worried about how they would contact me in case of emergency. I assured them that if I was home, I would listen to the answering machine, and if it was an emergency I would pick up. One of my friends began leaving 5-10 minute messages on Shabbat afternoon and calling me 10 minutes before the end of Shabbat, which I suspect was a passive-aggressive way of dealing with his unhappiness at my evolution into “Religious Jew.” Slowly, though, friends and family adjusted.
It was not a terrible adjustment for Congregation Ahavas Israel when I arrived in Grand Rapids. Most of the previous rabbis, including my predecessor, also had a fairly traditional Shabbat practice. However, it is worthwhile periodically discussing how my Shabbat and Holiday practice affects my functioning and availability as a rabbi, and how to contact me in case of emergency, such as death or serious illness.
The answering machine that I had when I first arrived in Grand Rapids has gone the way of the dinosaur. Voicemail has some advantages, but I have not figured out a way to screen calls on Shabbat and pick them up of they are urgent. In the case of death or serious illnesses,if you need to reach me on Shabbat or holidays, there are a couple of options: You can call my Google Voice number (616-929-0459) and leave me a message which I will get immediately after Shabbat or the Festival ends. Alternatively, you can stop by my home or ask someone else to come to my home to notify me. I will discuss funeral arrangements to the extent that I am able, given that it is Shabbat and I will not have access to my calendar. If it would be helpful, I could walk to the hospital (Blodgett or Butterworth only).
Despite the occasional hardships of not using electronics on Shabbat, I find it to be tremendously liberating. I sleep better and have sharper concentration. If you would like a detailed discussion on the use of electronic devices on Shabbat, you can find a very well written paper by my colleague Rabbi Danny Nevins on this page, under the category of Shabbat: http://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/jewish-law/committee-jewish-law-and-standards/orah-hayyim