Posts Tagged ‘Jewish education’

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.


Casting Our Sins In To The e-Wilderness

August 29, 2013

This article was first published in Haaretz.


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 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.

San Francisco’s Jewish Farm Needs More Room To Grow

June 18, 2013

This article was first published in The Times of Israel.

Urban Adamah fellow Laura Ruiz-Needleman (left) and Dani Friedenberg working on the farm (photo credit: Courtesy of Urban Adamah)

Urban Adamah fellow Laura Ruiz-Needleman (left) and Dani Friedenberg working on the farm (photo credit: Courtesy of Urban Adamah)

Twenty of Kehilla Community Synagogue’s 3rd and 4th graders don’t spend the majority of their Hebrew school time at the congregation’s Piedmont, California building. Instead, they dig into Judaism by getting their hands dirty at Urban Adamah, the only urban Jewish farm in North America, located in nearby Berkeley.

These kids are only twenty of the 10,000 annual visitors who come to Urban Adamah’s 1.25-acre site from around the San Francisco Bay Area for hands-on educational programming that combines Jewish values with sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship.

Amazed at how quickly its mission and programs have attracted interest, Urban Adamah, which opened in 2011, has already decided it needs more room to grow and has announced plans to purchase and move to a property twice the size of its current one.

And the best part about Urban Adamah’s pulling up roots is that it doesn’t have to actually do so. Differing from other Jewish farms likeEden Village Camp in Putnam Valley, New York and the Pearlstone Center in Resisterstown, Maryland and Kavanah Gardenin Toronto, which are located in rural or suburban areas, Urban Adamah is currently situated on rented property in an inner-city setting. Accordingly, it has devised methods of growing all its crops in beds that are not only raised above the ground, but also portable and relatively easy to safely transport to a new site.

Urban Adamah’s executive director Adam Berman calls the purchase of the new 2.2-acre parcel in West Berkeley “a once in a lifetime opportunity” for the farm. “This piece of land is off-the-charts amazing,” he told The Times of Israel. There are not many large, open lots in the area, let alone ones that are comprised completely of exposed soil and situated next to a restored creek and wetland area.

 Click here to read more.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.