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Saturday, August 30, 2014

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Jewish and Israeli apps

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The new iPad 3

With mobile devices and other electronic gadgets taking over the world, even the most technology-resistant of us are giving in to the latest toys.

Tablets and e-readers have become widely accepted so quickly. When Apple launched its iPad in 2010, 14.8 million units were sold by the end of the year.

The phenomenon had my brother questioning whether it would be necessary for our toddlers – once they reach grade school – to be taught how to write on paper, or whether they’d be reading from Kindles instead of textbooks.

Of course, with the emergence of iPads, Androids and, most recently, Microsoft’s Surface, applications (software designed to entertain, inform, and perform certain tasks) are what keep these devices current, relevant and evolving.

With more than half a million apps available to choose from, there are bound to be a few good Jewish and Israeli ones. Here are just a few of the many that are out there.

Recently, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Avigdor Liberman announced the launching of a new app called the Tourist Information app.

The idea is that Israeli citizens would receive information about their travel destinations, whether they’re travelling for business or pleasure.

“I commend the excellent work and co-operation of the Consular Department and the Bureau for Information Technology and Communication Services who developed an application that enables Israeli tourists around the world to utilize the services provided by our diplomatic missions in the countries they visit, and to view all pertinent information regarding the country,” Liberman said in a statement.

“This application is not static. It will continue to develop, and this is an additional layer added to other [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] initiatives designed to improve service to the public.”

Travelling observant Jews will also benefit from the Shabbat and Jewish Holidays app, which automatically adjusts the candlelighting times of Shabbat and other holidays based on your location. You can also choose to show times for other cities by plugging in the city’s name. Chabad.org also provides information for the app on the Jewish holidays and weekly parshiot.

If learning how to read and write Hebrew is an ambition, the Any1 Hebrew app is designed for beginners.

It introduces the characters of the Hebrew alphabet and uses flash-card modules, quizzes and interactive games to help you memorize.

It also provides audio to allow the user to hear the proper pronunciation of each letter, as well as video to show how each letter should be written.

Once you’ve mastered the Hebrew language, you might be feeling ready for the long list of apps that allow you to study the Torah and Tanach without cracking the spine of a book.

For a complete English translation of the Torah that integrates commentaries from Rashi and Ramban and has a full keyword search, there’s I-Torah.

For regular shul-goers, there’s another app called I-Torah Blessings that can help you practise for your next aliyah  to the Torah. It features Touch-n-Read technology that lets you hear the word as you skim the screen, and you can also record and play back what you’ve just recited.

People who like to pray in private might enjoy the Pocket iSiddur, which offers every version of the siddur you can think of – although it’s probably best to leave your iPad at home on Shabbat and the High Holidays and opt for a good old-fashioned prayer book.

There’s only one iPad app that focuses on the Tanach’s Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings), called iNach. It features English translation, a search option, as well as classic Jewish medieval commentaries.

For those who are more nationalistic than religious, there are a number of apps that appeal to Zionists who are interested in telling Israel’s side of the story.

StandWithUs, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting a pro-Israel narrative, recently developed an app called ShareIsrael that promotes Israel in a positive light.

Michael Dickson, StandWithUs Israel director, said “anti-Israel groups constantly use misinformation on social media to demonize and defame Israel. This app uses Israeli technology to maximize sharing [and] helps people set the record straight via the content they share.”

ShareIsrael allows information and images to be shared through Twitter, Facebook and email.

If your interest in Zionism is more superficial, Zionation, developed by the World Zionist Organization, will suffice, as it offers a calendar of important events and significant dates in the history of the State of Israel.

And if you’re someone who loves to drop bombs like, “Did you know actor Scarlett Johansson’s mom is Jewish?” there’s the Jew or Not Jew app.

Although this app was banned in France after a French anti-racism group threatened to sue Apple, it’s still available in North America. The developers insist the app is just for fun, allowing users to guess which actors, politicians and other public figures are Jewish and defining their religious background based on whether the celeb has a Jewish mother, a Jewish father or converted to Judaism.

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