Dear Sito,

My son’s bar-mitzvah is coming up, and I was thinking of including a note on the invitation stating that, “No phones or electronic devices allowed during
the services.”

I have witnessed people occupied with their phones and electronic devises during weddings, berit milahs, and even funerals. I think this is so rude and disrespectful. In this digital age, it seems as though we have lost touch with basic
common decency and respect for others.
I notice this not only among children, but among adults, as well. I have been planning my son’s bar mitzvah celebration for almost one year, and I feel that I have a right to request that people refrain from using their gadgets for a couple of hours so they can enjoy and focus on the event. 

My husband thinks I’m crazy and that people may get offended by this type of request. What do you think?


Frustrated with Phones 

Dear Frustrated with Phones,

Mabrouk on your son’s bar mitzvah. What an exciting time this must for you as you prepare and work to ensure that the event is a complete success.

I share your frustration over the current trend of “siamese cell phones” – cell phones that seem to be attached to their owners. How I would love to be a cell phone that is taken everywhere that my owner goes. I would be constantly looked at, consulted, and responded to, and it wouldn’t matter what my owner was doing if I beeped, binged or whooshed –
I would have his/her complete attention in an instant. If only husbands and wives paid that much attention to each other or parents responded to their children with such interest. In the age of virtual connection, not only have we lost touch with basic common decency, as you say, but we have lost touch with our actual lives, with the flesh-and-blood people in front of us, and with the festive occasions and social events that enhance our lives. It saddens me to think that our human relationships have to compete with our digital ones. I have heard phones ringing at weddings and funerals, and just the other night I was at a play and someone’s phone began to ring. Not only was it distracting to the audience – it disrupted the flow of the people on stage, as well. In our generation, perhaps more than at any other time in human history, we can recognize Hashem’s wisdom in giving us the great gift of Shabbat – a time to break our habits and routine and live on a higher plane.

Certainly, then, I do not think you are “crazy” by wishing to ensure a “cell free” simha where the guests focus on the celebration of your son’s milestone. And while your husband is correct, that some guests may likely be offended by such a request, my opinion is that in this situation, it does not matter. You are making a reasonable request – that people do the right thing and follow basic etiquette by focusing their attention on the event into which you’ve invested so much. Moreover, I hope that your idea could set a precedent that others will follow when planning semahot.

However, in order to encourage your guests to comply, you need to think of a way to convey this message most effectively. In my experience, humor is a powerful way to make a point without getting people upset, and so perhaps incorporate some humorous content in the invitation when asking the guests to make the event “cell free.”  Just to offer an example, I have taken the liberty to compose a short little poem that could serve this purpose:

Much time and effort has gone into the plan

to make this occasion especially grand.

We kindly request you come alone

Leaving behind your distracting cell phone.

You’ll be amazed at the fun to be had

Cell phones at simhas are really bad.

Short of asking everyone to hand in their cell phones at the front door (which my grandson and his friends do whenever they have a social gathering; even the youngsters know how caught up they can get in their phones!), you can only hope that the guests will respect your wishes.
If you are having a program of speeches where you would like everyone’s attention, you can make an announcement such as, “If any of you have chosen to bring your phones, would you be so kind as to shut them now.”

If enough of us feel this strongly about this issue and have the courage to make this request when planning events, then perhaps we can return to the days when only doctors needed to be on call 24/7.

All the best,