Passover-Minded Synagogue Prepares To Sweep All Hametz From Its Inboxes

Romemu Congregants Embrace 'De-Emailing' Plan

Getty Images

By Sigal Samuel

Published April 06, 2014, issue of April 18, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

It happens every year, around this time. Jews start to wage war against hametz, or leavened food, by scouring cupboards and countertops, turning pockets inside out, dusting off books one page at a time — anything to rid the house of the offending particles before Passover.

Now, a New York synagogue has taken this cleansing process one step further. The leaders of Romemu, a progressive congregation on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, announced in a March 31 bulletin that over the upcoming Passover holiday, they will be doing away with what they consider the “ultimate” hametz: email.

Interpreting hametz expansively to include everything overcomplicated and unessential in life, Rabbi David Ingber and Executive Director Ilene Sameth came to the conclusion that email is a kind of “life-hametz,” exerting constant pressure to read and respond at a pace that few can sustain. “If we were going to spend hours cleaning out our homes of hametz,” they wrote, ironically, via email, “how could we not clean our inner homes out of email hametz as well?”

They decided that during the eight days of Passover, Romemu staff members will not send or respond to a single email, though they will be reachable by phone voicemail in case of a death or other emergency. In keeping with the tradition that any hametz owned during Passover should not be eaten after the holiday, the staff will not read any email sent to them during the blackout period.

The Romemu leaders signed off with an invitation to “De-email… and taste freedom.”

The congregants’ response was jubilant. In the hours following the announcement, many said that they felt inspired to extend the practice to their own lives throughout the holiday.

“I think it’s an awesome idea,” said Angie Atkins, a new Romemu board member and the director of the Wexner Heritage Program, part of the Wexner Foundation. “It takes an ancient practice and makes it relevant and spiritual.” As a result, she has decided to swear off not only email, but also social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. “I’m a communications director, so that’s a big deal for me,” she said.

For Rabbi Jessica Minnen, associate director of the Jewish Journey Project, defining hametz broadly is not new: Last year, she linked it to shopping and swore off using her credit card on Passover. Although she can’t ignore her work email, she is planning to modify her virtual behavior “in solidarity” with Romemu. “When I’m alone, waiting for the subway, I often take out my phone to text or look things up; I can’t just be alone,” she said. “So my practice this year will be to just be with Jess, not with my iPhone.”

Rabbi Rachel Cowan, a consultant at the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, believes that Romemu’s decision will have a “positive spiritual effect” on the congregation. She herself has a similar though less extreme practice. Last year, she decided that her “real hametz” was all her backlogged email, and she set about deleting and unsubscribing from all junk mail. “Instead of cleaning my house, I cleaned my inbox,” Cowan said. “And I found it much more liberating than scrubbing and scrubbing.” She will repeat that practice this Passover.

That the congregation has responded with such sweeping positivity — on Romemu’s Facebook page, people called the idea “great” and “brilliant” and “awesome” — did not come as a surprise to board member Larry Schwartz, who is also considering giving up email during the holiday. “That’s what’s so special about Romemu,” he said. “People are really into exploring Judaism and trying new things.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.