On Wednesday evening, September 18, the student body of Shevach High School launched a Technology Awareness Initiative, spearheaded by its principal, Rebbetzin Rochelle Hirtz. After the school day was over, the girls were transported to the Young Israel of Hillcrest, where they were treated to a catered dinner. Following the meal, Rebbetzin Hirtz introduced the program with a d’var Torah from the Chovas HaTalmidim by the Piacezna Rav. The Rav likened the process of chinuch to an unripe fruit, as when one takes a bite out of the fruit and the taste is not sweet and not fully developed. One’s natural response to that bite is; “This is what I worked so hard for?” To which the Piacezna Rav explains that the planting process requires a lot of patience. In a similar fashion, Rebbetzin Hirtz said, “This evening, we are planting the seeds – the beginning of a process. We must be patient and not become disheartened. When we carry it through, the result will be a beautiful fruit, both inside and out. Technology awareness is a process, and when we implement certain changes, we will produce stronger, healthier relationships, which will be beneficial to our growth.”
The program continued with a trigger film called “Disconnect and Enjoy,” depicting numerous scenes of people using their phones in the company of others, rendering them invisible. This was followed by roundtable discussions facilitated by the Shevach faculty. The students offered their opinions on three thought-provoking questions, which generated animated discussions around the tables.
The highlight of the evening was Mrs. Aliza Feder, m’chaneches at Machon Ora in Passaic and author of the popular book, TechTalk, who addressed the girls on various situations of technology. She began her presentation with a brief personal history of how she got involved in raising the awareness of technology, and offered countless examples relating to technology that the girls could relate to. Several key points that resonated with the students were: “Technology should not own you, rather you should own your technology” and “Do not let the phone become an extension of your hand!”
Mrs. Feder then offered practical strategies that the girls could implement to begin to “cleanse” themselves of technology. The first one was to “push off” owning a smartphone for as long as you can. She likened this step to one who gets a driver’s license. Just as there is an age requirement for one to begin driving, and being younger than that age would present a real danger if that person was on the road, similarly there should be an age requirement for one to own a smartphone. Another tip was “app cleanse” – delete any apps on the phone that are unnecessary.
The girls were riveted to their seats for the 45 minutes of her speech. They afterwards commented that she was relatable, practical, and understanding of their place in society as teenagers. Yet her message was abundantly clear: Technology is a useful tool, but one must be vigilant with its usage.
The evening concluded with the student heads of the technology committee, Seniors Ettie Langer and Esti Goldman, encouraging the girls to take on a kabalah of powering off their cell phones for one hour every evening, from that night through Isru Chag of Sukkos.
The feeling in the room was electric, with the girls prepared to take ownership of their technology and begin to enrich and strengthen relationships that would otherwise be reduced to abbreviated messages on an electronic device. The evening sent powerful messages to the girls that would have impactful lessons enabling them “to be wired for success.”