The Sabbath Manifesto, Death Over Dinner & more with Reboot's Josh Kanter

June 12, 2019
Reboot imagines Jewish ritual and tradition afresh, offering an inviting mix of discovery, experience and reflection. Today we speak with their Outreach & Partnership Manager, Josh Kanter, about the organisation's evolution, Sabbath Manifesto and more.

Reboot is now in its eighteenth year – that’s quite a time producing projects to spark the interest of young Jews. Can you tell us a bit about the organisation’s founding, and how Reboot has evolved since the early aughts? 

Reboot is an arts and culture non-profit that reimagines and reinforces Jewish thought and traditions. As a research and development platform for the Jewish world, we catalyse our Rebooter Network of creators, entrepreneurs and activists to produce experiences that inspire Jewish connections and meaning. Our productions  including events, exhibitions, recordings, books, films, DIY activity toolkits and apps – have engaged over a million participants, and continue to evolve the Jewish conversation and transform society.

Founded in 2001 by a small group of imaginative young Jews who greeted the new millennium with a desire to manifest Jewish lives full of meaning, creativity and joy, Reboot has grown into a community of doers who are committed to experimenting with Jewish ideas for the twenty first century. The network of Rebooters now consists of over 600 Jewish and Jew-ish leaders who are transforming industries such as art, culture, technology and social justice. Our annual summit convenes a diverse group of change agents and creates an intellectually-provocative environment that challenges them to discover new ways to engage with their Judaism. We then work to sustain that inquiry through year-round engagements, acting as an incubator and accelerator for select programs derived from the creativity and connections of the Rebooter Network. These projects are distributed throughout the Jewish community via 1,250 community organisation partners, reaching a diverse audience of millions.

In 2019, Reboot celebrated Chai with a new Strategic Plan to optimise its ability to leverage its network to develop transformative experiences and products for wandering Jews and the world we live in. Reboot Studios was established as the Research and Development arm of the organisation to focus investments towards Jewish arts and culture that are impactful and scalable. Reboot also announced the Jewish Ideas Festival, debuting in spring of 2020 in San Francisco, to offer its audacious vision for evolving the Jewish conversation and transform society to a wider audience.

Your Sabbath Manifesto appears in our exhibition exploring Shabbat, 1001 Lights. Can you tell us a bit about the development of the manifesto – which encourages us to unwind and unplug, relax and reflect, get outdoors and connect with loved ones – and its counterpart program, the National Day of Unplugging? What kind of results have you seen – personally, in the community and beyond? 

During our Summit in 2009, Rebooter Dan Rollman was in the middle of launching his new startup, an online database of world records. As he sat on the mountain watching the sunset for Shabbat, he began to think of how dependent – or addicted– he was to technology, and that this connectedness never allowed him a moment of pause. He convened an Open Space session called Sabbath Unplugged to discuss how technological connection was replacing human connection and whether our professional worlds would allow us to unplug for 24 hours.

From this conversation the Sabbath Manifesto was developed – in the same spirit as the Slow Movement, slow food, slow living – by a small group of artists, writers, filmmakers and media professionals who, while not particularly religious, felt a collective need to fight back against our increasingly fast-paced way of living. In the Manifesto, they adapted our ancestors’ rituals by carving out one day per week to unwind, unplug, relax, reflect, get outdoors, and be with family and friends.

An outgrowth of this project has been The National Day of Unplugging, a 24-hour global respite from technology. The National Day of Unplugging highlights the value of disconnecting from digital devices to connect with ourselves, our loved ones and our communities in real time. This year alone, we had nearly 1,000 partner events with over 100,000 participants engaging in our tools and resources around the world. In the program’s history, we’ve had nearly half a million people participate in over 3,000 programs worldwide.

I think the National Day of Unplugging gives people the chance to pause and think about their use of technology and how it impacts them, their relationships and the world around them. From there they can take small steps to work moments into their lives when they can put it away. People are so used to using the phones to connect to others and also to shield themselves from discomfort. If they set a small goal to go out to a bar or another social situation without a phone, or to put it away for a half hour while they are there, they would notice the difference. I had a young woman tell me after an unplugged party that she had talked to more new people in the few hours of the party than she had in a a year of going to bars in San Francisco, because she opened herself up by not having her phone with her as protection.

People want to stop living through the online worlds and reconnect with family, friends and the community around them in real life, they just don’t know how. We had an unplugging party at SXSW once during the interactive festival where nearly 200 people spent a couple hours together without the phones. Afterward a woman came up to us and said how powerful it was. She said, ‘My friends and I had conversations that we never would have had if we had our phones on.’ We hear this over and over again when we do unplugging events.

More recently, you’ve collaborated with IKAR and Death Over Dinner on Jewish Edition, an event series which empowers us to talk about death. What does a typical Death Over Dinner, Jewish Edition entail – and how might it help young Jews find meaning?

Death Over Dinner Jewish Edition is a project designed by Reboot to disarm this historically taboo topic and make the conversation as welcoming as breaking bread. It creates an invitation to call friends, family and neighbours to the table to talk about those things that matter to us most and guides a conversation through a framework created by Jewish and Jew-ish scholars, theologians, palliative care experts, poets and rabbis who have been threading Jewish end-of-life wisdom into their teachings for centuries. The structure of programs can range from large community gatherings featuring storytelling and art, to intimate dinner conversations for young adults supported by OneTable. We have created a beautifully designed conversation guide that encourages small, curated conversations around Jewish rituals, values, and ideas that can be used in any setting.

Participants finish dinner having had an intimate Jewish experience around a formerly difficult topic. By design, dinner guests can easily become dinner hosts, allowing the project to have ripple effect among other family members and friends. Fundamentally, for those for whom death is a mere concept, Death Over Dinner Jewish Edition delivers a transformative experience through a Jewish lens. When death ultimately and inevitably touches their lives, participants will have the resources, guidance and cultural permission to engage in Jewish practice.

Hailing from New York, Reboot has an outpost of sorts in Chicago – any chance of one in Australia some day?

Reboot has long had homes in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Over the last few years, and with the support from generous local funding, we’ve been able to establish and grow our presence in both Chicago and Detroit. While we don’t have plans for a permanent presence in Australia in the short-term, we do have partners who are using our projects to create unique Jewish experiences in communities across the country – including a partnership with Shalom who is hosting a program, Succah by the Sea, in conjunction with Sydney’s Sculpture by the Sea. We welcome any Jewish organisation, community or individual to explore our resources and reach out to use to create a unique and meaningful experience in their community.

Reboot’s Sabbath Manifesto can be viewed in 1001 Lightsshowing at the Museum until 14 July.