Best Jewish Apps for iPhone & Android

My list of the Best Jewish Apps of 2010 at The Jewish Week has generated a lot of attention. The list of thirty-three apps for the iPhone, iPad and Android phones has been reposted on several blogs around the Web. With over 300,000 apps available and over 7 billion downloads to date, there are quite a few Jewish apps to choose from. I separated the utilities from the novelties, and made sure to include the Jewish apps for the Android (full disclosure: I’m a Droid user).

My list includes Jewish texts and luachs (calendars), kosher restaurant databases and recipes, and a few kitschy but fun apps. Of course, after The Jewish Week published my picks I began receiving email messages from app developers around the country (and from down the street) complaining that I didn’t include their apps. Well, I couldn’t include all of them.

For Hanukkah alone there are dozens of apps that let users do everything from sing the blessings (Behrman House’s (iHanukkah) and light virtual menorah candles (iMenorah) to spin dreidels on the iPad (Captain Moustache’s Dreidel HD), catch jelly donuts (Catch the Sufgania), and learn the rules of the dreidel game (iDreidel).

As I wrote in the introduction to the list of the best Jewish apps, “As more Jewish people acquire the latest in handheld technology, there will be more Jewish-themed applications available for download. Some of these apps will be utilities for checking the Hebrew date or learning about the weekly Torah portion. Other apps will be novelties like making shofar sounds for Rosh HaShanah and grogger sounds on Purim. With many Jewish developers around the world, you can be certain there will be no dearth of Jewish apps in the coming year.”

Here’s the link to the list. And as aways, check out www.jewishiphonecommunity.org for a comprehensive listing of Jewish apps as they are released.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

The Jewish Classroom, More Wired Than Ever

Also published in The New York Jewish Week’s Fall Education supplement and cross-posted to Jewish Techs

Many 30- and 40-year-olds will remember when a cart with a computer and monitor was wheeled into the classroom and students formed a single line waiting for a chance to use the device for a few minutes. Perhaps it was typing out a few lines of code in BASIC to move the cursor several inches along the screen, or perhaps it was creating an elementary art design.

Today, the Technology Age has entered the classroom at full speed and it is integrated in every subject and curriculum. Jewish day schools have recently added chief technology professionals to their management teams. Congregational schools have technology experts on the faculty. Synagogues have cleared away dusty books in the library from a bygone era to make room for student computer labs and SmartBoards.

At the Jewish Academy of Orlando, Apple iPods are not an unusual site. While the students are not allowed to listen to Miley Cyrus or Matisyahu in school, they can be found hooked up to their iPods to learn Torah trope (cantillation). One of the school’s Hebrew teachers has created a set of podcasts for the students to learn individually as she works with small groups. The school has also used blogs to connect with other Jewish schools on topics of interest. Digital photography mixed with the latest production tool was used to create a slideshow of the children in kindergarten using their bodies to form the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Linda Dombchik, the school’s director of technology, explains that middle school students used technology to create a virtual Holocaust museum using Keynote, Apple’s presentation creator, to teach their peers.

While many Jewish day and supplemental schools provide access to computer labs with dozens of computers, some schools have transitioned to ensuring that each student has access to a laptop computer throughout the day. Many schools struggle to keep up with the latest technology as students become accustomed to faster computers at home and the technology quickly moves toward obsolescence with each passing school year. Jewish federations and foundations, like AVI CHAI, work with day schools and synagogues to provide the newest computers and devices, including SmartBoards and iPads.

The AVI CHAI Foundation has engaged with classroom teachers through experiments in an educational technology grant program, in which 400 applications were reviewed and 30 allocations were made. Eli Kannai, who directs educational technology at AVI CHAI, notes that the field is now starting to use SmartBoards (“more than just fancy projectors”) in many classrooms demonstrating the shift to “interactive teaching.”

In the past decade, the Jewish classroom has become integrated with technology. What was once a stand-alone experience, technology is now a utility for all subjects in schools, from math and science to Hebrew and Torah study.
Students at Hillel Day School in Metropolitan Detroit use an interactive tool called Wordle to visually represent the concept of technology. These young students might type a descriptive paragraph about the week’s Torah portion, a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai, or the words of a psalm. Wordle then generates a “word cloud” with the provided text. The words appearing more frequently show up comparatively larger in the word cloud.

Perhaps the single greatest technology integration into the Jewish classroom centers on Hebrew language learning. Kannai cites the enhanced use of audio and video devices to teach Hebrew. Rather than rely on the language labs of old, both day and supplemental schools are using the latest interactive software applications to make learning Hebrew fun and challenging. Students who are accustomed to playing video games at home enjoy the thrill of gaming at school to learn the ancient Jewish language.

TES, the largest Jewish software distributor, has released several applications focused on teaching children to read Hebrew, conjugate verbs, and master biblical Hebrew in an innovative way. Today’s children are more comfortable in front of a computer than any previous generation and the mode of learning must match the familiarity level.

Another trend is “user-generated content” in which teachers now create richer lesson experiences for their classrooms, and share these tools with other teachers. Each teacher maintains a webpage and blog that students and parents may access to complement classroom learning. Additionally, students are generating their own content by filming videos and uploading them to YouTube, blogging their research projects, and collaborating with their peers on websites and PowerPoint presentations to teach classmates.

These forms of user-generated content create a virtual classroom of sorts without formalizing the distance-learning approach.

As more students own personal devices that can access the Internet, we are near a situation when every student will have such a device in class, be it a Smartphone, tablet, or small laptop. The lessons of the past should prove helpful to a Jewish education system that needs to continuously adapt to the technology changes in this new world.

It is up to the educators to realize that before banning iPods, iPads and laptops from the classroom, they must seek out the ways to integrate this technology into the curriculum.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Apps for Torah Study & Grace After Meals

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs
As the Apple iPhone has become even more popular and an increasing number of Apple fans have picked up the iPad, there has been a wave of new applications created for these devices. Some are good and useful, while others… well, let’s just say I’m not going to take the time to write a bad review.
Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, now calling himself “The App-ter Rebbe,” has announced the publication of a new commentary on the Torah for Apple’s iOS devices: iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
Garfinkel, who previously published the well-received hard-copy Torah commentary “Mikraot Ramah,” for use at Jewish summer camps, now adds “Mayim La-Eidah” to the App Store. Mayim La-Eidah is a Torah commentary and discussion app to supplement the study of the weekly Torah portion. This current week’s installment includes 23 Divrei Torah (commentaries) on the Torah portion and 17 discussion questions to be used for sermons, adult education, and youth programming. If reading material on a screen isn’t your cup of tea, or if using these electronic devices doesn’t sit well with you on Shabbat, just tap the “Send Me A PDF” button in the lower-right hand corner. You’ll receive a printer-friendly PDF in your email, and you are free to photocopy it for educational purposes. The commentary includes material for laypeople and professionals alike. Installments only cost 99 cents and can be downloaded here.
Another useful app for the Chosen People is iBirkat. This is a Birkat Hamazon (Grace After Meals) application for the iPhone. This app, created by the Jerusalem-based development firm appSTUDIO, is a free app without ads that is being released as a public service.
Currently this is the only benscher app that is on the market as the other apps for the Apple family of devices that include the Birkat Hamazon text are not focused solely on Birkat Hamazon, but rather include it along with other texts and features. With iBirkat there’s no need to navigate through an entire Siddur to find the Birkat Hamazon. iBirkat has an elegant scroll view as opposed to static page views and takes advantage of the accelerometer and adjusts the text to the adequate screen position.
This app was developed when members of the team realized that the only time they found themselves using an iPhone Siddur app was to recite the Birkat Hamazon. They saw the need for clean, convenient and quick access to the text of Birkat Hamazon. iBirkat is free and available for download at the Apple app store online.
A new app recently released for the iPad is Totally Tanakh, a joint project of RedleX and the Davka Corporation. Totally Tanakh lets you browse, search and study the Hebrew Bible and features crisp Hebrew text with precise placement of Hebrew vowels and cantillation marks, and verse-by-verse synchronization between Hebrew, English, and Rashi’s commentary. This app includes the Hebrew text and English translation of the entire Bible plus the Hebrew text of Rashi on Torah with vowels. This app has great search capability and easy navigation. I also liked the bookmarking feature and the ability to view the Rashi commentary and the Hebrew text in parallel columns.
Totally Tanakh sells for 9.99 and is available at the Apple app store.
(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Even the Weather in Jerusalem Has Become Political

Cross-posted to Jewish Techs

The LA Times Babylon & Beyond blog reported on Sunday that Apple has reunified Jerusalem.

Has Steve Jobs become a United Nations peacekeeper? Did Apple release a new app that unites the holy city of Jerusalem during these tense times? Maybe you thought Jerusalem had already been reunified several decades ago.

Well, it turns out that even the weather in Jerusalem has been politicized. Yahoo, who runs the Apple iPhone Weather app with information gathered by Weather.com changed created two choices for viewing the weather in Jerusalem – East Jerusalem and West Jerusalem. This is different than the designations on Yahoo’s own site and on the Weather.com site.

Edmund Sanders reports from Jerusalem for the LA Times:

Right-leaning Israeli politicians like to refer to Jerusalem as their “undivided capital.” But iPhone users here and around the world found recently that the storied, disputed city had been split in two.

In the smart phone’s weather application, the listing for “Jerusalem” disappeared earlier this month and was replaced by “West Jerusalem” and “East Jerusalem.”

Both Israelis, who dominate the west part of the city, and Palestinians, the majority in the east, claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Middle East War, though Palestinians (and most of the international community) never accepted it.

The debate over how, or whether, to divide Jerusalem is still one of the thorniest issues in Mideast peace talks.

Perhaps frustrated with the lack of progress in the peace process, iPhone engineers apparently decided to impose their own mini-version of a two-state solution by partitioning the city and, in essence, forcing users to pick sides.

A similar change took place on Yahoo’s weather site, which gave users the option of checking the temperature in “Jerusalem, West Bank, Palestine” or “Jerusalem, Israel.”

Reaction was mixed. A few Israelis and Palestinians got a kick out of the option, even though temperature information and other data were identical for East and West Jerusalem.

But many Israelis, here and in the U.S., took deep offense and accused Apple, the company that makes the iPhone, of “political propaganda.”

One Jewish advocacy group, American Israeli Action Coalition, called the changes “extremely hurtful to the American Israeli community” and said they “smack of anti-Semitism.” Israel’s U.S. ambassador reportedly sent a letter of protest to Apple chief Steve Jobs and Yahoo chief Carol Bartz.

Well, it turns out that both Apple and Yahoo reversed their political decision and reunified Jerusalem.

The following statement was released: “The issue for the iPhone Weather app has been fully resolved. The fix was pushed to all production servers and verified…. This resolves both the issue with the default weather location Jerusalem as well as searches for “Jerusalem”, “East Jerusalem” and “West Jerusalem”. One note: Users who have already added the locations “West Jerusalem” or “East Jerusalem” on the Weather app will continue to see these names on the client until they remove these locations and add Jerusalem again.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Technology and Summer Camp

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Just about every summer camp today has policies in place regarding the use of technology by campers. Rules governing whether campers can bring their cell phones, iPods, digital readers, and smartphones to camp (and if so, when they can use them) have been part of ongoing discussions as new forms of technology are introduced into the marketplace.

The most important thing to remember about these rules is that they are being created by people (AKA, adults) who know far less about these gadgets than the young campers. And where there is a will to use these devices at summer camp, the campers will find a way to use them.

Marjorie Ingall, who wrote a wonderful parenting column in the Forward newspaper for many years under the pseudonym “The East Village Mamele,” argues for keeping kids unplugged at summer camp in Tablet Magazine. She writes:

The most significant difference between my kids and me, though, is that they can’t imagine being unwired. I showed them a picture of Gordon Gekko holding his then-super-futuristic cell phone in the movie Wall Street, and they asked if it was a giant walkie-talkie. Josie recently quizzed me about Superman: What was a phone booth, and how did he change clothes in it? When I tell her we had to stand up and walk over to the television to change the channel and that we only had telephones attached to walls, she stares at me as if I’m speaking Urdu. I showed her Atari’s Pong, the antiquated video game we played on my TV growing up; she thought I was playing a joke.

So, is today’s sleepaway camp—with its lake, trees, cabins, chadar ochel, and drama and crafts bungalows looking exactly as they did generations earlier—an artifact, an artificial construct belonging to an earlier time, like some New World version of a Roman Vishniac photo? Is it ridiculous to expect kids to give up their iPods, handheld computer games, Facebook, Twitter, IM? Can we really trap them in this historical setting, like bug-spray-scented, cell-phone-less flies in amber?

My answer: We not only can; we should. Kids need unplugging… [I]n the summer—the last vestige of carefree childhood in a high-pressure, high-connectivity world—kids should be forced to interact face-to-face with each other, with their counselors, and with a sylvan world. It’s one of the last great communal spaces for kids. Every camp has its own rules about the use of technology, of course. Some allow cell phones but let kids use them only right before Shabbat or right before bed. Others allow iPods in the bunk only. (In my day, at rest time, we were allowed our giant, awkward Walkmans that seemed the height of techie cool.) But whatever a camp’s written rules, compliance varies. One Jewish website is rife with whispered tales of texting in bathroom stalls.

A June 2008 article in TIME Magazine by Nancy Gibbs titled “The Meaning of Summer Camp” also lamented the use of cellphones in what is supposed to be a euphoric environment for children. She wrote, “So I applaud the effort of traditional camps to pull the plugs: the ACA found in a 2007 survey that at least 3 out of 4 camps make kids leave their gizmos at home. It probably tells us something that the resistance often comes not from the kids but from Mom and Dad. Parents have been known to pack off their children with two cell phones, so they can hand over one and still be able to sneak off and call. Camp expert Christopher Thurber reports that parents grill directors about why they can’t watch their kids’ activities from a webcam or reach them by BlackBerry. Services like CampMinder and Bunk1.com do let camps post news and pictures to ‘help our families to feel as if they are with us at camp,’ as a Texas camp owner puts it. But that just invites inquiry about why Johnny looks sad or how Jenny’s jeans got torn.”

The problem is that children today are already wired to be, well, wired. The know about connectivity. They own the latest, greatest gadgets. Asking them to be stripped of their iPods and cellphones before boarding the camp bus is like asking them to board the bus naked. And yet, there’s so much to be gained from experiencing a summer unplugged. A summer in which a child cannot text Mommy and Daddy after every skinned knee or breakup with the boy in Cabin 3.

There is a slippery slope in the question of just how unplugged campers should be at summer camp. After all, if campers of previous generations were allowed to pack their boom box, and then their Walkman cassette player, and then their portable CD players, shouldn’t it follow that today’s campers should be able to listen to their Apple iPod on their bed during rest hour?

And if they are allowed to bring an iPod, what about the Apple iTouch with WiFi capability? What if the iTouch is used to surf the Web and email the parents back home?

And if books are allowed at camp (and of course, they are!), what about an Amazon Kindle? Or how about the new Apple iPad? What if the iPad is used to text friends back home?

Of course, the children who go to a day camp can return home each night to plug into their technological universe, but they are missing out on so much that the overnight camping experience has to offer. While there is something quite cool about little kids living in tents and wood cabins in “the middle of nowhere” still being able to connect to those satellites floating in outer space in order to download the latest songs, it’s just not right.

Even if the technology is now available that allows campers to open their iPads and watch each pitch of the baseball game in real time while chatting with Dad, they should still have to do what I did — Listen to the late Ernie Harwell calling the game over the transistor radio that was buried under my pillow while I wrote my “old man” a letter the old fashioned way… with a pen and paper.

Because, well, that’s Summer Camp!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Trope Tools – Learn to Read Torah on the iPad

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

Rabbi Eli Garfinkel, rabbi of Temple Beth El in Somerset, New Jersey and the techie behind the award-winning RabbiPod, has created his first app for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad family of Apple devices.

Garfinkel’s new app is called Trope Tools. It allows users to learn, teach, and review ta’amei hamiqra for Torah and Haftarah reading. As he advertises: “Do you want to know how to leyn the “yerach ben yomo” that appears in Parashat Masei? There’s an app for that!”

You can find Trope Tools in iTunes on a computer or in the App Store on your device. It costs only 99 cents. The website for the app states that it’s a perfect gift for anyone who wants to learn how to chant from our sacred texts and has an iPhone or iPad.

The app teaches the ta’amei hamiqra (Torah cantillation trope) and is recommended for bar/bat mitzvah and adult education students who are learning how to read from the Torah or haftarah.

What prompted the “RabbiPod” to create this app? He says he did it because his students all have these Apple devices. “I teach them trope, and in the beginning, they all need help remembering the melodies of the various notes. Now they have that information in their pockets.”

It took Rabbi Garfinkel (pictured) about a month to learn enough Objective-C programming and then another month to actually create the app.

This won’t be his last app either. He’s already completed a second app that will appear soon called Politicometer (rhymes with thermometer). A lot of people don’t really know why they vote the way they do. The Politicometer asks a series of 50 questions in ten categories. Based on the user’s answers to those questions, the app then advises how they should vote. The most conservative users receive a rating of “Tea Party or Reagan Conservative,” while the most liberal users receive a rating of “Progressive Liberal.” In between, there are ratings of moderate, mainstream Republican, mainstream Democrat, etc.

He also plans to write a basic Jewish knowledge quiz. It will have a hundred questions that cover material he thinks every Jew should know.

Finally, he’s also in the planning stages of what could be a controversial app. It’s called “Should I Marry Her?” and it will help guys figure out whether they should marry their girlfriend of the moment or move on. For instance, the app will ask “Are you and your girlfriend of the same religion?” If the answer is no, it will discourage the marriage. It will also ask, “Do you love her?” “Do you enjoy spending time together?” etc.

Back to Trope Tools. How does the rabbi plan to use the Apple app in his own synagogue? Every one of Garfinkel’s students who has a compatible device will buy the 99 cent app. (“If their parents can afford the device, they can afford a 99 cent app!” he adds.) They can use it to review the notes, and I can use it to quiz them.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Torah Scroll? Yes, There’s an App for That!

Cross-posted at Jewish Techs

There will no doubt be many times when a new app is released for Apple’s iPad and people exclaim something to the effect of “Well, it was only a matter of time until someone created that!”

This was certainly the case yesterday, when RustyBrick, a New York Web service firm specializing in customized online technology, released its first iPad app. Approved by Apple, it is named the iPad Torah, and is essentially a scan of the Torah scroll on the iPad screen.

The iPad Torah scroll boasts a 248 columns (amudim) view, that allows the user to scroll or navigate through the various Torah portions (parshot). One can easily jump to any Torah portion (parsha) via the navigation and create bookmarks with the interactive pointer (yad).

The actual Torah is believed to have been revealed to the Jewish people on the festival of Shavuot, but RustyBrick has made its iPad Torah available before Shavuot, and with a 50% discount to boot. And it’s downloadable from Apple’s app store, so you won’t have to travel to Mt. Sinai to receive it!

Here is a video demonstration of RustyBrick’s iPad Torah:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller