Pho­to cour­tesy of the authors

Beth Rica­nati and Tiffany Shlain, authors of Braid­ed: A Jour­ney of A Thou­sand Chal­lahs and 24/6: The Pow­er of Unplug­ging One Day a Week respec­tive­ly, talk about mind­ful­ness, self-care, and set­ting up per­son­al bound­aries all through the lens of Judaism. They dis­cuss the rit­u­al and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty of tak­ing one day a week to recon­nect with your­self and your family. 

Beth Rica­nati: Sit­ting and wait­ing for my turn to present Braid­ed: A Jour­ney of a Thou­sand Chal­lahs for con­sid­er­a­tion to become a Net­work Author with JBC, I was sur­round­ed by fifty or so oth­er authors. What a treat to lis­ten to every­one briefly present their books. When it was your turn, Tiffany, I found myself on the edge of my seat: here was my dopple­ganger in books! Here was some­one writ­ing about some­thing near and dear to my heart, so sim­i­lar to Braid­ed and yet so dif­fer­ent. While I looked at Shab­bat and find­ing pres­ence and slow­ing down through mak­ing chal­lah, you looked at the same themes through the lens of tech­nol­o­gy in your upcom­ing book, 24/6: The Pow­er of Unplug­ging One Day a Week. I couldn’t wait to meet you after­wards; I knew we’d have so much to talk about! I knew that I want­ed to write about what I had learned mak­ing chal­lah after sev­er­al years of doing this every Fri­day – there were just so many lessons that I had come to appre­ci­ate and felt were like­ly uni­ver­sal. When did you real­ize that you had a book in the mak­ing, too?

Tiffany Shlain: I felt the same way when I heard you speak, my lit­er­ary chal­lah-mak­ing soul sis­ter! We both found pres­ence in the rit­u­als of Shab­bat, mak­ing chal­lah each Fri­day morn­ing, and then, for me and my fam­i­ly, a full day with no screens for what we call our Tech­nol­o­gy Shab­bat. I also found it inter­est­ing that we had both writ­ten our books after doing these prac­tices for a decade, a sol­id stretch of time — long enough to change one’s life. I loved read­ing your book and get­ting elbow-deep into think­ing about the ther­a­peu­tic and soul­ful nature of mak­ing chal­lah. It does force you to breathe, to slow down, to push and pull the dough, to smell, to wait as it ris­es. It becomes the best way to set the stage for a full day of pres­ence, fam­i­ly, and enjoy­ing the best parts of life.

BR: I loved read­ing ear­ly on in 24/6 that your tech shab­bat is a twen­ty-first-cen­tu­ry inter­pre­ta­tion of the ancient Jew­ish rit­u­al of a week­ly day of rest.’ I feel, too, that my inter­pre­ta­tion of mak­ing chal­lah each week and say­ing the bless­ing over the dough is also a 21st cen­tu­ry inter­pre­ta­tion. After all, some weeks I have the req­ui­site 5 pounds of flour that makes this bless­ing halakhic, and most weeks I don’t. But I still do the bless­ing; I feel it still mat­ters. I felt so con­nect­ed to your work when I real­ized that we shared this sim­i­lar belief of mak­ing an ancient rit­u­al work for any­one in today’s mod­ern world.

TS: Yes! I used to feel that tak­ing a full day of Shab­bat wasn’t avail­able to me because I wasn’t Ortho­dox. The more I learn about these long­stand­ing rit­u­als and prac­tices, the more I under­stand the pow­er and beau­ty in them. They have last­ed so long for a rea­son. They’re gifts from our ances­tors wait­ing for us to engage with them. I feel that way about many Jew­ish ideas and wrestling with how to think about them in our mod­ern age is what our peo­ple do best. It’s part of our nature and character.

BR: Judaism goes to great lengths to cod­i­fy char­ac­ter strengths; we study, dis­cuss, debate them. I didn’t real­ize at first when I want­ed to share the lessons that I had learned mak­ing chal­lah every week that, in fact, what I was real­ly artic­u­lat­ing were in fact some of these strengths. That you too write about this from a dif­fer­ent lens just rein­forced the uni­ver­sal­i­ty of them for me. And I love that both of us look for­ward to return­ing week after week to these behav­iors of ours in part because of the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be remind­ed and to relearn these strengths. In addi­tion to expe­ri­enc­ing this though on Shab­bat, do you find your­self think­ing about these strengths dur­ing the week, maybe imple­ment­ing what you appre­ci­ate about them dur­ing Shab­bat on a dif­fer­ent day?

TS: Yes. I am so glad you brought that up. The full day of Shab­bat is a beau­ti­ful time to focus on devel­op­ing our best char­ac­ter strengths — strengths like patience, per­spec­tive, appre­ci­a­tion of beau­ty, humor, curios­i­ty, empa­thy, I could go on and on! You also end up think­ing about them more the oth­er 6 days. I become more con­scious of when I need to dial up or down these strengths, and for me that usu­al­ly involves putting the smart­phone away so I can be more present. Smart­phones seem to draw all of our atten­tion. When we turn them off for Tech Shab­bat, it feels like I’m just more present. The oth­er days of the week, when I real­ize I am feel­ing too dis­tract­ed and far away from the char­ac­ter strengths I val­ue, I know that turn­ing off my phone can help.

BR: I didn’t set out to write a book with such a focus on Jew­ish rit­u­al, but much like a chal­lah itself, I found that I was braid­ing togeth­er not only my sto­ry, but the his­to­ry of chal­lah and also some self-help and how to knowl­edge. As a reform Jew­ish girl, and no I know that I iden­ti­fy more as a con­ser­v­a­tive Jew­ish woman, I real­ized as I was writ­ing Braid­ed that I did not know the his­to­ry of chal­lah. I espe­cial­ly grav­i­tat­ed towards the oppor­tu­ni­ty for bless­ing while mak­ing chal­lah: first, to make the dough in the mer­it of some­one, then to bless a piece of the dough— sep­a­ra­tion of the chal­lah” —once the dough has risen and just before braid­ing and bak­ing, and then to say the bless­ing over the chal­lah at din­ner just before eat­ing it. As I think about it now, mak­ing chal­lah week­ly has strength­ened my con­nec­tion to my faith — both from the actu­al prac­tice of mak­ing bread week­ly and also from learn­ing more about the his­to­ry behind the behavior.

TS: I love that you jumped into the whole chal­lah-mag­illah! I learned so much about chal­lah read­ing your book. You can real­ly feel how the very act of mak­ing chal­lah each week for you was like the yeast of your faith ris­ing and grow­ing. So beau­ti­ful. I per­son­al­ly don’t frame it as faith, but com­plete­ly appre­ci­ate every­one who does and I also feel that prac­tic­ing Shab­bat has grown my appre­ci­a­tion for all Jew­ish rit­u­als, and the ideas around Shab­bat. Most of my love for Judaism comes from the prac­tices, ideas, and ethics. And I have great appre­ci­a­tion for every­one how­ev­er they define their Jew­ish­ness. And of course I have major appre­ci­a­tion for the pow­er of mak­ing chal­lah. That’s the one recipe I have in my book: our long-exper­i­ment­ed with Every­thing Chal­lah” Recipe. I think you and I need to do a Chal­lah­paloozah North Amer­i­can tour invit­ing all the chal­lah mak­ers or want-to-be chal­lah mak­ers to come and gath­er around this incred­i­ble life-affirm­ing rit­u­al. Because, as we both have learned… all you knead is love.

BR: It’s fab­u­lous, right, that we’ve got a week­ly built-in self-care prac­tice in Judaism that has been around for so long. Self-care is such a com­mon­place buzz­word now. It is so impor­tant to have prac­tices of self-care, what­ev­er they may be. We know this intu­itive­ly and cer­tain­ly the research backs it up. I see so many peo­ple strug­gle with this con­cept though, unable to some­times fig­ure out how to incor­po­rate this. I like how I feel after I make chal­lah, and I imag­ine you have some of those same feel­ings after turn­ing off your phone week­ly: unplug­ging, with my hands in a bowl of dough, just lets me plug in more ful­ly the rest of the week!

TS: Yes. I com­plete­ly agree. Self-care is the term today but per­haps Shab­bat was real­ly the moth­er­ship on that con­cept. One of my goals with my book 24/6, is to make the word Shab­bat” and Tech Shab­bat” some­thing that every­one feels they can engage with and to real­ly own that term as the big­ger phi­los­o­phy of tak­ing a day each week to be dif­fer­ent from all oth­er days — whether that’s mak­ing chal­lah or also tak­ing a day off of screens or doing all the dif­fer­ent forms of observ­ing Shab­bat. We are liv­ing in a 24/7 soci­ety where every­one is avail­able and acces­si­ble to every­thing and every­one all the time. I don’t think it’s healthy for any­one. I think we need to reestab­lish a bound­ary of our pres­ence — what Rab­bi Abra­ham Joshua Hes­chel so beau­ti­ful­ly describes as a Palace in Time.” So much of Judaism is about cre­at­ing struc­tures for liv­ing a mean­ing­ful and pur­pose­ful life. I think that one day to reflect and be present with your­self and those you love — to learn away from the dis­trac­tions — is an impor­tant part of that. In my book 24/6, I go into the his­to­ry of the day of rest, time on and time off, and the sci­ence and phi­los­o­phy on how good it is to have one day off each week for you mind, body, and soul.

BR: So I have to tell you, Tiffany, that last week­end, I did it — and unplugged for one day! For one full day, I turned my phone off just pri­or to Shab­bat and kept it off again until after din­ner on Sat­ur­day night. Ok, in the spir­it of full dis­clo­sure, I peeked twice on Sat­ur­day to make sure that our kids hadn’t been try­ing to reach me — they weren’t! — but I didn’t do more than press the but­ton to see if a call had come through. It was a rev­e­la­to­ry expe­ri­ence: I felt light; I slept more sound­ly; I went deep with oth­ers quick­ly when we spoke. While I feel most days to be trad­ing in super­fi­cial­i­ties, this day felt dif­fer­ent. And, I must admit, it was easy because I was in a com­mu­ni­ty that day that was whol­ly unplugged. I mar­vel, Tiffany, how you have man­aged to do this for so long in the real world.’ Has it been dif­fi­cult to find sup­port among those around you who are not unplugged?

TS: I am so hap­py you tried it! It is so life chang­ing. Doing it for a decade with my fam­i­ly has been trans­for­ma­tive. Our 16- and 10-year-old daugh­ters love it too. I now rush towards Fri­day night long­ing to be in that unplugged space. And then on Sat­ur­day night, we are all ready to go back online. It has a dual effect of both lov­ing the unplugged world and appre­ci­at­ing all that we can do online, each week. But back to your ques­tion, how have we man­aged to do this so long. The answer is: it is lit­er­al­ly our favorite day of the week. It’s not what we don’t get, but all we get back. We’re not com­plete­ly cut off. We have a land­line so if peo­ple need to reach us they can call us on that, but real­ly it is about not being avail­able to every­one and every­thing. I love that part. For one day, we regroup and recre­ate some bound­aries for our­selves and our fam­i­ly. There is a process of how to com­mu­ni­cate that and how to get every­one around you on board — part­ners, kids, boss­es, etc. I go into all of that in the book. Now all of our close fam­i­ly and friends know, and many of them are around our Shab­bat table on Fri­day night — with­out their phones. Do you think you can your whole fam­i­ly on board to try it with you?

BR: That, Tiffany, is the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion! I would love to get our whole fam­i­ly on board, and real­is­ti­cal­ly, we are slow­ly mov­ing there. When the kids were younger, we were much bet­ter about not hav­ing any tech­nol­o­gy on Fri­day nights and that has slow­ly ebbed. We are great about no phones any­where near Shab­bat din­ner, but we have restart­ed the con­ver­sa­tion regard­ing no tech­nol­o­gy at least for Fri­day nights. Our kids def­i­nite­ly appre­ci­ate the ben­e­fit of no phones, and all talk fond­ly of sleep-away camp when they went for a month with no tech­nol­o­gy. I think it will be pos­si­ble, as the pen­du­lum swings both ways and they are once again appre­ci­at­ing the boundaries.

TS: For the pub­li­ca­tion of the book on Sep­tem­ber 24th, we’re invit­ing peo­ple and fam­i­lies to try turn­ing off screens for a Tech Shab­bat for four Shab­bats in a row. We are going to make it fun and pro­vide a lot of resources — what to do, how to con­vince part­ners, kids, boss­es etc. This will be the big focus for a glob­al event my film stu­dio hosts called Char­ac­ter Day: on the neu­ro­science and social sci­ence of how to devel­op one’s char­ac­ter. Last year we had over 200,000 groups join us. This year the big focus will be on screen use and your char­ac­ter ask­ing this ques­tion: when does being on screens enhance your char­ac­ter and when does it dimin­ish it? How does turn­ing off screens, turn on the best parts of you? (Peo­ple can find out more at 24SixLife​.com or Char​ac​ter​Day​.org.) Beth, I would love for you and your fam­i­ly to join us and all read­ers here to try it en masse with us. Every­thing is more fun when you do it with others.

Now Beth, the tagline to your book is A Jour­ney of a Thou­sand Chal­lahs. Now that you have been out with your book Braid­ed for over a year, dur­ing that jour­ney—what has been the most inter­est­ing thing you have learned or heard from peo­ple as you have shared ideas from the book?

BR: Not only are read­ers send­ing me pic­tures of their beau­ti­ful chal­lah cre­ations, so much so that I’ve put them up on a gallery on my web­site, but in addi­tion, I have been so moved by read­ers’ sto­ries that they share either in per­son, at pre­sen­ta­tions, and events, or direct­ly through emails and mes­sages. They speak of cer­tain lessons in the book as they per­tain to what is going on in their lives at the moment. For exam­ple, a read­er with can­cer con­nect­ed to the mes­sage of need­ing to slow down and be present. She made chal­lah with oth­ers once she was able to after her treat­ment. Life can be stress­ful, and hav­ing ways to man­age that is essen­tial: whether it’s mak­ing chal­lah or turn­ing off tech­nol­o­gy, we need to be remind­ed of this and read­ers con­tin­ue to share with me how Braid­ed has helped them remem­ber this.

I’m excit­ed to see the response you receive when 24/6 comes out this Fall. I antic­i­pate some fas­ci­nat­ing sto­ries from your readers!


TS: To braid­ing chal­lah and unplug­ging week­ly for a more mean­ing­ful life!

Hon­ored by Newsweek as one of the Women Shap­ing the 21st Cen­tu­ry,” Tiffany Shlain is an Emmy-nom­i­nat­ed film­mak­er and founder of The Web­by Awards. Her films (Con­nect­ed The Tribe, The Mak­ing of a Men­sch) have pre­miered at top fes­ti­vals includ­ing Sun­dance, and are used by The US State Depart­ment to fos­ter dia­logue at embassies globally.

Beth Rica­nati, MD, is an award-win­ning author who has built her career around bring­ing well­ness into women’s every­day lives, espe­cial­ly moms jug­gling life and chil­dren. She prac­ticed med­i­cine atNY-Pres­by­te­ri­an/­Co­lum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter, the Cleve­land Clin­ic, and now at the Venice Fam­i­ly Clin­ic. She lives in the Los Ange­les area with her fam­i­ly and one chal­lah-lov­ing dog.