Archive for August, 2013

Shofar? There’s An App For That

August 31, 2013

This piece was first published in The Times of Israel.

A screenshot from 'Wake Up World' (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)

A screenshot from ‘Wake Up World’ (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)

You just put your lips together and blow. That’s how you whistle, as Lauren Bacall once told Humphrey Bogart. It’s also how you make a shofar blast come out of your smart phone or tablet.

 Making the shofar sound by blowing in to the microphone of a handheld electronic device is so easy a small child could do it. And that is precisely what G-dcast had in mind when it created it’s new “Wake Up World” app for the preschool set.

“As far as we know, this is the first Jewish app that uses this input technology,” says Sarah Lefton, executive director of the San Francisco-based Jewish educational media non-profit.

 Having started off in 2008 producing Torah commentary cartoon videos, Lefton and her team are now experimenting with interactive mobile apps for young children. Before releasing this new Rosh Hashanah one (for Apple and Android), G-dcast put out a Passover game app, and also an app that takes kids through the steps of making challah for Shabbat — including the blessings recited before washing hands and eating bread.

With “Wake Up World,” G-dcast pairs its newfound strength in app development with its original storytelling chops. Only this time, the narrative is not a retelling or adaptation of an existing tale, but rather a completely original children’s story.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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Casting Our Sins In To The e-Wilderness

August 29, 2013

This article was first published in Haaretz.

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SAN FRANCISCO – If you keep an eye out, you’ll notice a goat wandering around the Internet.

This being the Jewish season of repentance, it isn’t just any goat. It’s an electronic scapegoat onto which computer and smart phone users are unloading their sins in a virtual reenactment of the ancient Yom Kippur ritual described in Chapter 16 of Leviticus.

“I’m too often grateful to get to work and away from my spouse and kid,” confesses one person. “I sexted my ex,” admits someone else. Another individual divulges that they “once ate bacon before the rabbi came over.” One parent apparently only “go[es] cycling with my kids just to get a tan.”

While we may be reluctant to own up to our misdoings, it seems that eScapegoat, a new web app from G-dcast, a fast-growing San Francisco-based Jewish educational media production company, is helping some of us overcome our sheepishness. G-dcast makes self-reflection easy. If you can tweet, then you can atone.

All you need to do is go to escgoat.com and read short texts on the biblical scapegoat story and how it relates to today’s observance of Yom Kippur. Then you enter your maximum 120 character-long confession and post it anonymously. You just type and click your way through the initial stage of atonement. “It’s just like the bible, only nerdier,” the on-screen text tells us.

There is, however, one major difference between then and now. In biblical times, the sins cast onto the scapegoat only went as far as the animal made it in the desert before dying. With this cyberspace-dwelling cartoon goat, our sins could live on forever, having been broadcast out to the world through eScapegoat’s (lightly moderated)@SinfulGoat Twitter feed.

Click here to read more.

@ 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

The Best Loaf: Bay Area Challahs

August 29, 2013

This piece was first published on The Jew and the Carrot blog at the Forward.

challah-pairThe San Francisco Bay Area has one of the largest Jewish populations in North America. But unlike communities in places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto, it has no identifiably Jewish neighborhoods filled with Jewish bakeries, butchers, delis and food shops.

The lucky few who live near one of the local Jewish bakeries can stop by to pick up their bread. But for everyone else, supermarkets and even the front desks of Jewish community centers and synagogue nursery schools are the way to get the good stuff, thanks to challah distribution networks around the city.

With the High Holidays fast approaching, store shelves (and those front desks) will soon be stocked with round challahs with raisins and other treats. Here is a taste of five different plain loaves popular with Jewish residents of the Bay Area. Prices range from $2.99 to $6.75 per challah.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.