Public Service and the Sabbath

As a modern orthodox Jew, I have always valued the Sabbath from sundown Friday until after sundown Saturday. Shutting down all electronics, turning off media, preparing food in advance, sitting together for a warm family meal, often with guests (remember when that was possible?), not spending any money or getting in a car.

The Sabbath is a day to reflect, rest, and recover with family and community. I relish Shabbat (the Hebrew word for Sabbath) as a moment out of time to recharge. Spending time with my four children, husband, parents and community without the need to react to the world. In fact, the origins of the Sabbath lay in G-d’s decision to stop creating; in fact, Shabbat can be considered the oldest sustainability regulation on record.

In my career, I’ve always both worked hard and kept the Sabbath sacred, and it never interfered with accomplishing what I set out to do. In fact, it helped me be more effective. As a future member of the New York City Council, I expect that super-charged, Sabbath-inspired effectiveness will continue and grow. Knowing that I have boundaries for work has driven me to prioritize what’s important and get things done before this valued time with family and community.

But it’s also important for a City Council Member to be available, to have systems in place for constituents to submit questions and problems, to know that their concerns are heard, and to see results. These things are fundamental.

As a City Council Member, my district office will be run by a diverse group of dedicated staff, as multilingual and multicultural as the neighborhoods in the district. We will have an inviting store-front with staggered hours so that we can be available to the neighborhood outside of the regular work day. We will take advantage of easy to use technology to gather information, communicate, and connect.

I have lots of experience at this. As the co-founder of a startup, I made sure that our customers and potential clients were able to reach us, that the team was empowered to respond, and that we tracked how responsive we were. We established a “Service Level Agreement,” or SLA, with our customers as a promise that we’d be prompt and helpful and that we’d be there for them.

As a council member, I may be offline on the Sabbath, but my office will be available and responsive. If there is an emergency requiring my attention, the team, which will always be empowered to serve the community, will know how to reach me, and will reach me.

Sometimes I feel lucky that I have inherited the oldest sustainability law on record. Shabbat — the Sabbath — reminds me to slow down, take a break, and stop creating. It is also a time when we give the Earth a break, stop taking from it, and let it rest, too.

Shabbat, in my tradition, is not meant for working. it is a time for being with the community and for reflecting on our collective values and responsibilities: to ourselves, to the planet, and to the society we live in. You can trust that my office will be available and if the community needs me, I’ll be there.

Climate activist, tech entrepreneur, and working mom of four, running for NYC Council, District 11 in The Bronx. www.JessicaHaller.com