Posts Tagged ‘Bible’

Facebook Meets Medieval Genizah

September 17, 2013

This piece was first published as “Facebook meets medieval Genizah in intriguing new novel” in The Times of Israel.

'A Guide for the Perplexed' author Dara Horn's fascination with memory and history began in her childhood. (photo credit: Brendan Schulman)

‘A Guide for the Perplexed’ author Dara Horn’s fascination with memory and history began in her childhood. (photo credit: Brendan Schulman)

When author Dara Horn was growing up, she fantasized about being able to record everything that ever happened to her. She always kept journals and diaries, and she wrote everything down.

 She still keeps journals — mainly ideas and observations to fuel her fiction — but now the idea of trying to remember and record absolutely everything is far less appealing. This no doubt has something to do with her busy days as a 36-year-old working mother of four children under the age of nine. But Horn believes it has even more to do with the era in which we are living.

“Technology has turned my childhood dream into a nightmare!” Horn exclaims in a phone conversation with The Times of Israel from her home in Short Hills, New Jersey. She’s paid close attention to how social media, which was originally about sharing, has become much more about recording the minutia of our lives.

“Technology has changed the capacity of how we remember, it’s turning personal memory into public history.”

This was the observation that launched Horn into her new and fourth novel, “A Guide for the Perplexed.” Published earlier this month, it is intriguing readers with its four different narrative strands spanning millennia of Jewish time and space, which Horn deftly weaves together while asking two key questions: “How does memory differ from history?” and “How can we have free will, if all is predetermined?”

The contemporary strand places the novel in the near future, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where brilliant software developer and Internet entrepreneur Josie Ashkenazi has invented a social media platform called Genizah that not only allows users to upload any and all information (photos, videos, text, medical records — you name it) into a virtual storage space, but also automatically records everything users do and catalogs the uploaded information according to users’ instincts and routines.

Josie is married to Itamar Mizrachi, an Israeli man who helps run her company, and together they have a young daughter named Tali. Also in the family picture is Josie’s older sister Judith, who works at Josie’s company and has always been envious of her brilliant and beautiful sibling. When, at Judith’s urging, Josie takes a short-term consulting gig in post-Arab Spring Egypt (she is brought in to help with the digitizing of the archive at the Library of Alexandria) and disappears after being kidnapped, Judith insinuates herself into Itamar and Tali’s lives.

Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


Teaching Torah In A Web 2.0 World

March 15, 2011

This piece was first published as “From Broadcast to ‘G-dcast'” on The Arty Semite blog of The Forward.

Sarah Lefton, G-dcast co-creator

Where would you go to learn Torah, not only from famous rabbis like Lawrence Kushner, but also feminist rapper Hesta Prynn and legal pundit Dahlia Lithwick? It wouldn’t be to any synagogue, JCC or school. In fact, you wouldn’t even have to leave your home. G-dcast, created by Jewish educational entrepreneur Sarah Lefton and writer Matthue Roth, brings commentary on the weekly Torah portion by Jewish artists, writers and public personalities directly to your computer via animated short films streamed on the Internet.

G-dcast, supported by funders including ROI, Natan, Righteous Persons Foundation, UpStart and the Joshua Venture Fellowship, has recently released a DVD of all 55 of its Torah portion videos (“the offline version of the online hit”), accompanied by a book of creative lessons written by educator Emily Shapiro Katz. In addition, an iPad and iPod G-dcast app is in development.

Matthue Roth, G-dcast co-creator

In just a few short years, Lefton, a graduate of NYU’s Masters in Interactive Telecommunications Program, went from pondering the use of Internet technology, to exposing non-traditional Jews to Jewish learning, to having made 65 short films. Indeed, it was Lefton’s original idea to produce weekly Torah portion commentaries aimed at a young audience — the same people to whom she had been marketing t-shirts through her (now defunct) business. Her plan to reach this demographic by distributing animated shorts via YouTube, Vimeo and Facebook (in addition to the website itself) was successful beyond her expectations.

Click here to read more and view G-dcast’s latest video, this one about Purim.

© 2011 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.


A Cautionary Tale Of Two Nedas

July 6, 2010

This post first appeared on The Sisterhood blog of The Jewish Daily Forward. Click here to read it there.

Neda Agha-Soltan. She was murdered by an Iranian militia in June 2009.

It’s been more than a year since the beginning of the Green Revolution in Iran, and the murder of Neda Agha-Soltan by an Iranian militia — turning her into a martyr in the fight against the country’s brutal regime and a symbol of the hope for democracy among its people.

While reading a recent article in Foreign Policy, I learned that at the same time that Neda Agha-Soltan lost her life, another young woman with a very similar name also lost hers — only she is still alive. In a rush to scoop each other, media outlets confused the identity of the woman whom the world saw bleeding to death on the streets of Tehran with one Neda Soltani who was busy with her university studies and far from the mass demonstrations.

When she tried to prove that the Facebook photo that was circulating was hers and not that of the murdered woman, few would listen or correct the mistake. Facing government persecution, Soltani was granted asylum in Germany. But she is alone there, separated from her family and all that she has known.

We see examples of such cases of mistaken identity in a number of biblical stories that figure prominently in the curriculum of congregational and day schools alike (as well as in Bible classes in Israeli public schools). There are major consequences to identify theft in Jacob’s stealing Esau’s birthright, Laban’s switching Leah for Rachel on Jacob’s wedding night and Tamar’s seduction of Judah, among other Torah narratives.

What is usually stressed in traditional Jewish interpretation and study is that the deceit was in service of a greater good. In other words, the omniscient God is the maker and mover of history, so these identity-related machinations — no matter how morally questionable — are all part of a larger plan for am yisrael.

Neda Soltani. Her identity was confused with that of the murdered woman.

Do teachers take the time to explore with their young students the unintended, unforeseen consequences for these human bystanders to the flow of biblical history? We know that Jacob’s relationship with his brother changed, but what about his relationship with his mother? Or what happens to the psyche of a young woman when she is manipulated by her father and put into an intimate relationship with someone who loves her sister? Or what is it like to live in a society in which you feel you have no choice but to trick someone in order to survive?

Jewish sources — both traditional and modern — that deal with these questions do exist. A willingness on the part of all of us to take the time and pay attention to them has the potential to make a big difference.

Similar questioning could have changed the course of Neda Soltani’s life.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.