It’s erev Pesach, 2016, and I’m a high school student. Since nursery, I have been taught that Pesach is all about freedom. But practically speaking, what does freedom mean to me? This year, with uncanny timing, Bais Yaakov’s Discovery Program launched a new challenge during the month of Nissan that really hit the nail on the head. The title of the program was M’avdus L’Cheirus – Genuine Freedom.
Mrs. Shifra Rabenstein, a noted Bais Yaakov teacher, kicked off the program with a penetrating idea: Time is the only thing you can’t live even a second without. Your life is an accumulation of minutes and seconds, so how you spend your time is really what makes up your life. And what is the primary villain that causes many of us to lose track of, misuse, or waste our time? Technology, of course.
The statistics Mrs. Rabenstein presented regarding the widespread misuse of technology were shocking but not surprising. Who hasn’t experienced the feelings of disgust and emptiness that come over a person after spending excess amounts of time using cyber-technology? But Mrs. Rabenstein showed us a way out: “What makes something good or bad is whether I control it, or it controls me.”
This compelling speech was followed by a very moving video presentation and an original song produced by the students of Bais Yaakov. The message rang loud and clear in a beautiful and positive way.
Mrs. Yehudis Feldman, Chumash teacher and coordinator of the program, shares some of the background behind the challenge: “Genuine Freedom was designed for the current teenager, who wants to free herself from the enslavement of technology but doesn’t really know how. After speaking with many girls and teachers and communicating with schools around the world, we developed an effective and user-friendly program that we thought the girls would embrace.”
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There were two parts to the challenge. Each girl could choose one of these options – or even both, if she was ambitious!
A. One out-of-school hour per day to be her “machsom hour.” During this hour, she does not use her cell phone, computer, or any other technology. In addition to that one hour, her cell phone is shut off every night by 12:30 a.m.
B. Each day, from the time she gets up until the time she goes to sleep, the student cannot use any form of social media (Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook, etc.) and will not watch any secular movies or shows (including streaming).
What a challenge! And yes, there was an incentive: We received tickets according to how many days we completed either part of the program. A girl could receive a ticket for completing even one part of the program for one day! This ensured that everyone would feel included, even those girls for whom this program was truly a challenge. The tickets were entered into a drawing, and the prize was an exemption from one final exam! There were four winners, one from each grade. In addition to this incentive, a barbeque lunch was planned for anyone who earned two or more tickets – another way for everyone to be a winner. But, as we all know, the real prize is gaining control over our own time, something that is rightfully ours.
A beautiful and easy-to-use calendar, created by the Discovery heads Shani Bortz, Esti Leff, Chani Isbee, and Sara Naiman, was distributed, so we could keep track of our progress. Each girl had the option of choosing a buddy to help remind her of her machsom. What’s great about this program is that each girl can take it as far as she wants. It’s obviously harder for some and easier for others. One girl might feel that putting her phone down for an hour a week is a big accomplishment, while another might feel like she wanted to do both A and B for a whole week. There’s something in it for everyone, even the girls who don’t have smartphones. The idea is to be in control of your time. If a phone isn’t the thing that’s taking up your time, then find something that is, and work on that for an hour a day.
“Each girl’s response was different than her friend’s in stating what the challenge would be for her,” said Mrs. Feldman. “We saw very clearly that everyone struggles with her use of technology, but in different ways. We sought to address each girl and her unique challenge.”
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I think the most exciting part was our response to the program. The school was hopping with excitement after the assembly. Everyone wanted to do it! It was encouraging for us as students to see each other so excited about something like this. Here, my classmates speak for themselves:
“I tried…it was just a step…but for that try I felt like I had a much greater connection to people and the world. Not only was I in a much better mood the next day, because I went to sleep before 12:30, but I had an entire hour to feel fulfilled: completely and honestly free. Thank you for that opportunity.” (Twelfth grader)
“It felt so good to take a break from all this stuff. The school should do it again next year.” (Tenth grader)
“The program definitely made me focus on not constantly looking at my phone and not keeping it on me. Thank you for helping me make my Pesach more enjoyable.” (Twelfth grader)
For some girls, it was a matter of awareness: “Thank you so much for the amazing program. It raised my awareness of how reliant I am on my technology.” (Twelfth grader)
Even girls who don’t have smartphones were able to benefit in some way. “I started wearing my watch, because it reminds me that time is constantly passing and I shouldn’t waste it.’ (Eleventh grader)
For some girls, the message ran very deep: “I was having an internal debate about whether I should get a certain app on my phone. I knew it would be dangerous for me, because it would not let me utilize my time properly. I thought, I wish I’d get a ‘sign’ to help me, so I don’t get the app. The next day, Friday, the technology program was announced. That was my sign! I didn’t get the app! From the bottom of my heart, thank you for being the ‘sign’ I needed.”
As an eleventh grader who participated in the program, I too thank the school and all who helped bring this beautiful program to us in a positive way, encouraging us to do what we all really want to do.