Jewish dating app JSwipe helps millennials find their beshert


It was love at first swipe for engaged couple Samantha Rudnick and Michael Brand, who met on the photo-driven mobile app JSwipe, popularly dubbed “the Jewish Tinder.”

“It’s totally cliche, but as soon as I saw his picture, he looked so kind, so personable — I don’t know how to explain it,” said Rudnick, 26, a marketing strategist at a medical supply company in Boca Raton, Fla. 

Brand, 39, who works at J.P. Morgan in New York, stressed that there’s much more to creating a solid relationship than simply looking at someone’s photo and swiping to the right with a finger to initiate communication.

“It’s a cute headline, but it isn’t that simple,” he said. “You can’t love a person until you get to know a person.”

Regardless, both Rudnick and Brand swiped right on each other’s profiles when they were using JSwipe last year. The app, which was launched last Passover as a way for eligible Jews to meet each other and interact, allows users to swipe through one photo after another, until they find someone who looks interesting. So far it’s been used in more than 70 countries.

In the case of Rudnick and Brand, it took a little more than mutual swipes to get love going, though. That happened when Rudnick’s 3-year-old niece got a hold of her phone and accidentally sent a private JSwipe message to Brand consisting of a hurricane of numbers, pound signs and exclamation marks. Little did they know, this garbled message would lead to an engagement proposal exactly six months later in front of Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World.

David Yarus, 28, founder and CEO of JSwipe, originally created the mobile app for people just like the engaged couple. 

“I don’t literally think you’re going to swipe and be in love, but what we try to do is bring the most efficient, effective way of meeting eligible and interested Jews or people who celebrate the Jewish culture in your community or worldwide,” he explained. “We’ve had … literally hundreds of stories about relationships, several engagements and one or two marriages so far.”

The secret behind JSwipe, according to Yarus, is the accelerated screening process. Think of it as speed-dating with profile pictures. 

This is not to suggest, Yarus said, that modern technology is replacing in-person relationships.

“You’re always going to get dinner, and that’s where the magic happens, but getting you to that dinner, getting you to that drink, getting you to that coffee … and through that, I definitely think love at first swipe is possible.”

Yarus, who is originally from Miami, moved to New York five years ago. Adjusting to a new city, he attended synagogue, as well as all sorts of events. Then, after witnessing the success of the secular, swipe-based dating app Tinder, he came up with the idea for JSwipe.

“In one Sunday, sitting on a couch at home using JSwipe, I swiped through more eligible interesting people than I did in the entire course of my four years going to these events,” he said.

JSwipe has had over 250 million swipes so far, and “249 million are probably me,” Yarus said, joking. Currently single, he originally used JSwipe’s services and even went on a few dates.

But people are using JSwipe as more than a dating app, too, he said. There are stories of people using the app while traveling or moving to a new city and finding a group of friends.

“It’s what you make of it,” Yarus said. “Whatever the point is, we leave it up to you — whether it’s friendship, love or anything in between. That being said, we want it efficiently.”

He went on to say that efficiency is one of the “main values of our generation,” as millennials are notorious hyper multitaskers. “We’re always over-extended. We don’t have time or, frankly, the attention span that our parents’ generation had.”

He hopes to expand JSwipe’s reach offline. It just hosted its first event earlier this month, which took place in three different cities (New York, Miami and Washington, D.C.), kicking off the 2015 registration for Taglit-Birthright Israel.

“What we’ve been able to accomplish and the numbers we see every day, it’s super powerful. I don’t know how to explain it, but you feel it — very, very meaningful work that we’re doing,” he said.

You don’t have to tell that to Brand and Rudnick. Just six months after their first conversation, he popped the question. It was their first conversation after connecting on JSwipe that sealed the deal for the both of them.

“It was like we’d been friends for years. We were so comfortable, we spoke right off the bat, we really hit it off, our personalities really meshed right away,” Rudnick said. 

That’s not to say everything was perfect. As they were texting and exchanging information, the 13-year age gap and the fact that Brand was divorced with two children caused Rudnick to put down her phone — and pick it back up — more than once.

And Rudnick herself was coming to the relationship after being engaged to someone else only two months earlier. 

“Three weeks before [walking down the aisle], we realized we weren’t in the relationship for the right reasons,” she said of her previous engagement. The wedding was called off, and, not looking for anything serious, she was on JSwipe only because of a friend’s persistence.

“It’s the last thing you’d expect two months after calling off your wedding — to meet the man of your dreams,” she said.

Despite the distance between them, technology has kept them close.

“We don’t go for a few minutes without a text. We talk several times a day. We’ll always talk when I drive to work and she drives to work, on the way back when I drive home and she drives home. … We’ll talk at night and fall asleep on the phone together,” Brand said.

Still, when their wedding date arrives March 15, Rudnick knows exactly what she’s looking forward to most: “Putting my phone away.”

Meet Joel Simkhai, the Israeli foundr of Grindr


“Everybody knows Grindr. If you’re a gay man and you don’t know what Grindr is, then you’re lying.”

Steve Levin may be head of sales at — you guessed it — Grindr, but he isn’t speaking hyperbole. 

Late at night at a drag bar in West Hollywood, a table of seven gay men in their 20s all discussed the social app, which has revolutionized how gay men meet each other since it launched in 2009. All but one of them had the app downloaded on their phone. When the odd man out was asked why, he said that he used to be on the app, but a year ago he opted for Scruff (a Grindr spinoff designed specifically for men with facial hair). Regardless of the app, though, he continued, “Being gay, there’s no way around it — apps are the best way to meet guys.”

Grindr was started as the first social app exclusively for, as it advertises, “gay, bi and curious guys.” Now embarking on its sixth year, it boasts staggering stats with nearly 14 million downloads in more than 192 countries. 

Founder and CEO of the social phenomenon, Joel Simkhai, never expected Grindr to be such a success. Born in Israel, raised in New York and now living in Los Angeles, Simkhai first got the idea for Grindr as a way for him to meet guys — simple as that. 

“As a gay man, you’re always wondering who else is gay,” Simkhai, 38, told the Journal. “The problem is pretty inherent and [there] has never been a good solution. For years I’ve been thinking about this problem.” 

Finally, when the second-generation iPhone came out in June 2008, he came across an answer. The technology is fairly straightforward: The app uses a geolocation device that allows users to view a selection of profiles categorized by location (the nearest Grindr user is pictured first). Tapping on a profile picture allows the user to read a brief profile and, if he so chooses, send a pic, message or share his own location. The next step, if both parties agree, is an official meet-up.

So what separates this social network from all other social networks? 

“It can help you get out of the house,” Simkhai said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the social networks don’t do that. They’re asocial in a lot of different ways. With Grindr, you interact with the goal to meet, and that’s something that I’m very proud of.”


“[W]e’ve been fighting for our equality and against persecution for a long, long time. Gay men and women are still fighting back now.”
— Joel Simkhai

Simkhai called the app “magic vision” for guys, referring to how it’s changed the dynamic of how gay men meet each other. 

“You sit in your office, you sit in your house, you sit on the bus or wherever, and there’s all these people around us, but it’s pretty hard to figure out who else is gay,” he said. “It really gives you a way to see everyone who is gay around you.”

Sure, the app originated as a hook-up app, but it’s become much more than that, especially in smaller communities, according to Levin. He said that in major cities, “There’s a million ways for gay guys to meet each other, but in other countries and Middle America or rural areas, it doesn’t exist, and it’s terrifying to come out.” 

It’s in cases like those, where gay men are virtually isolated from a larger gay community, that Grindr makes its biggest impact, Levin said.

There are pages and pages of testimonies on grindr.com where users share their success stories. There’s Mario from Sulzberg, Germany, a place he described as “very conservative”; Min and Paopao found each other in Suzhou, China; and Skip, who’s currently serving in Iraq, met fellow Grindr users in Baghdad. The stories are endless. 

Simkhai said Grindr adopts a bigger role in the lives of secluded gay men throughout the world, especially in countries where homosexuality is criminalized. 

“From our perspective, in a lot of these countries, there are no gay bars or gay communities, no real gay life, and so for our users, that’s really gay life for them,” he said. “This is their main media to meet other gay men, to interact and to not feel alone, to not feel like they’re a weird creature, that they’re very normal and very human.”

In 2013, Grindr was officially banned in Turkey. Simkhai immediately responded by issuing a public statement: “We are very upset to hear that the Istanbul Anatolia 14th Criminal Court of Peace blocked Grindr as a ‘protection measure.’ Grindr was created to help facilitate the connection between gay men — especially in countries where the LGBT community is oppressed.”

Instances like these are why the company founded Grindr for Equality in 2011, an outreach initiative that mobilizes Grindr users across the globe to bring LGBT equality issues to the forefront. In 2014, its “Get Out Safely” campaign partnered with Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration International, the only international organization devoted to advocating for LGBT individuals seeking refuge from persecution based on their gender and sexual preference. Grindr distributed a message to app users living in countries such as Egypt, Russia and Uganda, providing step-by-step information that would ultimately help them leave their countries and escape persecution. More than 7,000 users clicked on the link to seek help.

“We’ve done a bunch of things around the world to push governments into new things and to warn users of the dangers that they’re facing. We try to figure out what can be done,” Simkhai said. 

Simkhai said that as a Jew he’s a minority already, and “we’ve been fighting for our equality and against persecution for a long, long time. Gay men and women are still fighting back now. I’d love to see that greater equality and greater love for different people and different sexual orientations.”

Coming to this country as an immigrant — not to mention being diagnosed with dyslexia as a child — he is proud to have overcome significant challenges.

“To think that you could build something from scratch that becomes international and is used by millions of men all the time, to have such an impact, is really exciting,” he said. “Hopefully I serve as a role model,” he said.

After a few quiet moments, Simkhai continued, “The word ‘role model’ comes off a little strong. Hopefully, somebody could look at me and say, ‘If he could do it, then I could do it.’ ”

Now there’s an app for atonement – meet eScapegoat


The confessions come flooding in at this time of year to the Twitter feed of the atonement app

60,000 Israelis download app to notify of abduction


Some 60,000 Israelis have downloaded a free app designed to assist in the event of an abduction.

Using the free United Hatzalah SOS smartphone app, subscribers can inform the emergency organization that they need assistance and provide their exact location via GPS technology. The app, developed by the Israeli start-up NowForce, requires one swipe of the finger.

The system contacts any family or friends that are programmed into the system during registration.

The app responds to problems that arise from placing an emergency call to the police in the event of a kidnapping situation. Security forces have to undergo lengthy legal processes to obtain permission to track an individual’s cell phone signal, prolonging emergency response times and the chance of rescue.

Police received a distress call from one of three kidnapped Israeli teenagers minutes after they were taken, but security forces were unable to ascertain their exact location. They then waited nearly seven hours before responding to the teens’ call for help, believing it was a prank.

Israeli media have reported that the teens were shot by their abductors in panic after they realized a call had been placed to police. The app allows for a discrete method to call for help, its creators say.

Boys’ kidnapping inspires ‘SOS Israel’ app


In response to the kidnapping of three boys last week, some Israelis have prayed. Some have voiced support on social media. And some have done what they do best: they made an app.

Prompted by the kidnapping and set to launch in the near future, the SOS Israel app will allow anyone in Israel facing an emergency to trigger an SOS call to emergency services, which will be notified of the person’s location via their smartphone. The app will also alert the person’s emergency contacts that he or she is in trouble.

The app comes from NowForce, an Israeli startup that creates apps for emergency response teams that can locate the closest responder to an incident, connect them with the command center and allow them to analyze incidents after they occur.

The app might have prevented a blunder that occurred when Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel and Eyal Yifrach were abducted from the West Bank settlement of Kfar Etzion last Thursday: police waited nearly seven hours before responding to the teens’ call for help, believing it was a prank.

The app is not the first to be inspired by an Israeli security crisis. During Israel’s 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, a 13-year-old from the embattled southern city of Beersheva created an app that notified users whenever a siren sounded in an Israeli city ahead of an incoming rocket from Gaza.

NowForce from NowForce Channel on Vimeo.

New Israeli cooking app takes off


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

When Cindy Flash wanted to make eggs benedict a few days ago, she turned to a new cooking app developed in Israel, called Look & Cook.

“It’s a great idea – you set up your tablet in the kitchen and you can see all the ingredients laid out and get step by step instructions,” Flash, who lives in a kibbutz just a few miles from Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip told The Media Line. “I read about the app, downloaded it, and the eggs benedict turned out wonderfully.”

Flash says she appreciates the short instructional videos that accompany the recipes. For example, she watched the video on how to poach eggs before tackling the eggs benedict.

Look & Cook is the latest project of Kinetic Art, an Israeli company founded by Oran Huberman, a former journalist, and Dudu Nimran. The cooking app, which is free to download, offers detailed explanations for preparing dozens of dishes, most of them from well-known Israeli chef Meir Adoni.

For a casual cook, some of the dishes seem somewhat complicated. Chicken satay with peanut butter and curry marinade, for example, starts off with “using a mortar and pestle, crush one teaspoon coriander seeds and two cardamon pods and set aside.” The recipe also calls for date syrup, sherry vinegar, and fresh pineapple and cilantro – not everyday ingredients on hand.

The site also has a tab called “Shop” where a user can buy many of the gadgets or utensils used in the recipe. The satay offers a mortar and pestle ($65), a pineapple slicer and de-corer ($19.99), a nonstick oval grill pan ($39.99), a cookbook of Thai Street Food by David Thompson ($41.12), a cookbook called Pok Pok ($22.14), a rainbow knife set ($36.89), a rice cooker ($14.38) and an auto measure jars carousel ($24.52).

Co-founder Huberman says the app has been downloaded more than 500,000 times, mostly by users in the United States. His 12-person-company has already raised “hundreds of thousands of dollars” and is in the midst of a second round of financing. They have just signed a deal with the James Beard Foundation, a national professional organization that aims to promote the culinary arts. It will enable them to include recipes from some of the most famous chefs in America, such as Mario Battali and Thomas Keller. As the site is only in English, most users so far are in the US.

“Most people see a recipe on TV as a passive viewer and it ends there,” Huberman told The Media Line. “We want all recipes to be multi-platform, meaning you can see it on TV, and get it on your iPad or Tablet in a step-by-step format that allows you to clearly follow it.”

Amazon Fire TV, a new streaming media player, has included Look & Cook as one of its built-in apps, along with Netflix, Bloomberg, and other content providers.

“We will be built-in on 12 million sets and it will dramatically increase our customer base,” Huberman said.

The app was already featured in a billboard campaign by Apple. Downloads went from several dozen a day to 33,000 daily. While the recipes are free for now, they are introducing premium content as well. Another new feature will be a link to Amazon Fresh, a food delivery service, in which a user will be able to push a button at the end of a recipe and have all of the ingredients needed for the recipe delivered overnight.

Huberman says that as a former journalist he is interested in using different platforms to present content.

“Food touches all of us,” he said. “I think Look & Cook is like a digital Food Network.”

For user Cindy Flash, she’s thinking about what to make this weekend and said the recipe for pancakes “looks quite tempting.”

New apps help people avoid unwanted encounters


Trying to avoid an awkward encounter with an ex? Fearful of an embarrassing meeting after an argument? New apps can help people avoid bumping into others and provide escape routes if they do.

By logging on to Facebook and other social networking sites, users can choose people they do not want to see.

“Everybody has somebody they want to avoid,” said Udi Dagan, chief executive officer of Israel-based technology company Split. “For some people, it's their exes; for others, it's their bosses or even relatives that they don't feel like bumping into during their free time.”

With Split, a free app for iOS and Android devices, users log on to Facebook and select people from their social network they do not want to meet. The app sends an alert when they are nearby and shows a route on a map to avoid them.

The Cloak app for iOS works in a similar way through Foursquare or Instagram, sending a notification if the person comes from within half a block to 2 miles away.

“You can tap on someone and flag them,” said Brian Moore, co-founder of Cloak, a New York-based company. “That means you'll get background notifications whenever they come close to you.”

The creators of the apps, which are available worldwide, said all the information was already publicly available and that they were simply aggregating it into one place.

Split and Cloak gather location data from social network updates and check-ins. Photo-sharing network Instagram includes location data whenever a photo is uploaded. Both apps gather data from Foursquare and Instagram, and Split gets additional data from Facebook and Twitter.

The information is as accurate as a person's last update or check-in that contained his or her location.

Split also collects data from people using their app, and allows them to hide their location so others cannot see where they are.

Some people may consider the apps anti-social, but Moore does not.

“Anti-social is when you never want to see anybody,” he said. “In reality, everyone has a side where they just want to be alone.”

Craig Palli, chief strategy office at Boston-based mobile marketing company Fiksu, said the apps were an inevitable progression in the industry.

“So much of our lives have become open and public,” he said.” It's the first sign of a trend that people want to break from that.”

Editing by Patricia Reaney and Lisa Von Ahn

High Holy Days: Atoning in the digital age


The digital age is changing the way we approach all aspects of life — including repentance. 

There is a catharsis in release, especially public release, and that’s what the founders of a slew of new digital programs and apps have tapped into during the High Holy Days. From scandalous sins to high hopes, the Internet is teeming with people looking for a platform to atone and reflect this coming New Year.

One program, 10Q (doyou10q.com), is a free online service from Reboot that allows users to answer 10 questions for the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. They can choose to post their answers online, anonymously or not, or keep their responses private. After the 10 days are over, the answers are kept in an online “vault” and e-mailed back to the participants — more than 18,000 so far — exactly one year later as a way to help them reflect on the past 12 months. 

According to Nicola Behrman, a Los Angeles resident and one of the creators of 10Q, “The program allows people to be completely free and honest and vulnerable and share thoughts and emotions uncensored with the world. And unlike Internet chat rooms and comment boxes below articles, there is never any vitriol or inappropriate behavior. It is a beautiful expression of people being themselves and telling truths that they might not have ever said to anyone in the world before.”

Another High Holy Days program was created by Sarah Lefton, the woman behind G-dcast, an online media production company intended to increase Jewish literacy for adults and children. Lefton of San Francisco most recently launched eScapegoat (escgoat.com), based on the biblical story of the scapegoat.

The basic concept revolves around a cartoon goat that acts as a digital archive of sins. The user, in 120 characters or less, can confess anything, publicly or anonymously, and then can choose to pass the goat to family and friends via e-mail. This option allows the sender and the viewer to see each other’s sins — a semi-public confession that can be a catalyst for more people to use the eScapegoat.

“If you asked most Jews on the street if they knew the story behind the phrase ‘scapegoat,’ most wouldn’t know, even if they had a vague idea. But it’s one of the most colorful stories from the Bible,” Lefton said.

The episode can be found in Leviticus 16. According to the story, all of the sins of the Israelites were placed upon a goat for the Day of Atonement. The goat was then sent into the wilderness, taking the sins of the Israelites with it. 

“The idea of creating a project based on this story was happening in the back of my brain for a while. Last year, I was a speaker at TribeFest and they had a program called ‘NextGen in the Shark Tank,’ based on the TV show [about aspiring entrepreneurs], except the ideas we pitched were supposed to engage young Jewish adults. This goat thing came to mind, so I pitched it,” Lefton said. 

“I thought, what if there was a virtual scapegoat that wandered around the Internet gathering sins from person to person? Well, people loved the idea and I won this contest, so I’ve spent the last year putting it together with G-dcast.”

Lefton said she thinks the most appealing aspect of eScapegoat for young adults is that it’s a “natural extension of the social media zeitgeist of sharing everything.”

“So you pass the goat to your friends, and then they pass it along. It really taps into that voyeurism and then trying to outdo them. And knowing it’s rooted in a real Jewish story only adds to it.”

If all this is too voyeuristic, the Send a Prayer iPhone app (available at apple.com) offers a well-balanced marriage between the digital and analog worlds. It allows any prayer you write on your iPhone or iPad to be shared via Twitter, stored in your device and sent to Jerusalem, where it will be printed out and placed in the Kotel. There’s also the option of sharing your prayer with any contacts on your Twitter or e-mail contact list.

In the end, this trend of digital atonement, prayer and reflection is simply another way of connecting with faith during the most important time of the year in an ever-evolving world. 

“I’m a great believer in going to the heart of what a [Jewish] festival is about,” Behrman said. “In this case, self-reflection and harnessing modern tools to bring it to a wide audience. I believe this is what people are yearning for today, and it’s our duty to explore how we can create these kinds of experiences that truly marry the ancient with the modern.” 

There’s no app for humanity


Every time I turn around, I hear about a new app that promises to make my life easier, get somewhere faster, find things quicker. This is the golden calf of the digital era: speed. We’re desperate for any clever gizmo that will make things go quicker — including our brains.

But where is the app that will help me slow down and go deeper — the app that will help me appreciate complex ideas and encourage critical and creative thinking? 

Apparently, that app will have to wait, because we have entered the post-thinking world.

In this blurry new world, the majority of people don’t read, so much as scan and skip; they don’t write, so much as tweet and text; they look down at their devices more than up at people’s faces; and yes, they think, but they think very, very quickly.

“We live in a society inebriated by technology, and happily — even giddily — governed by the values of utility, speed, efficiency and convenience,” author and literary editor Leon Wieseltier said in a speech to the graduating class of Brandeis University last month. “The technological mentality that has become the American worldview instructs us to prefer practical questions to questions of meaning — to ask of things not if they are true or false, or good or evil, but how they work.”

These “astonishing” new machines, he said, “represent the greatest assault on human attention ever devised: They are engines of mental and spiritual dispersal, which make us wider only by making us less deep.”

“In the digital universe,” Wieseltier added, “knowledge is reduced to the status of information. Who will any longer remember that knowledge is to information as art is to kitsch —– that information is the most inferior kind of knowledge, because it is the most external?”

Our smartphones may well be dumbing us down. It’s little wonder that one of the more popular subjects of conversation these days is … technology. We’re spending much of the time we save from time-saving apps kvelling over time-saving apps.

In defending that endangered species of academia called the humanities, Wieseltier asked: “Has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were needed more?” He urged the graduates to “uphold the honor of a civilization that was founded upon the quest for the true and the good and the beautiful.”

Wieseltier’s address championed the deep intellectual pursuit that makes the humanities so crucial to society, but there is another, quieter pursuit that also suffers from our enslavement to technology.

It is the daily, personal pursuit of humanity in our own lives.

How often in this techno-crazy world do we truly pay attention when we converse with someone? How often do we listen carefully to their words, feel their body language, respond thoughtfully, all with the expectation that our undivided attention is being reciprocated?

How many of these human moments can we really hope for when we all have grafted onto our hands these little weapons of mass distraction? When we’re always on edge knowing that these weapons can detonate, at any moment, something more interesting or “urgent” than our real-life conversation — a news item about a tornado, a Facebook message from a prospective lover, an urgent text about dinner plans, an update on our Apple stock or simply a reminder from your daughter not to forget her ballet slippers.

It’s easy, I know, to criticize excess. It’s a given that we derive enormous value and pleasure from today’s technology, and that pleasure, like any good drug, can easily lead vulnerable people into excess. 

The problem arises when that excess, that abuse, becomes the norm. When the excess, and not just the technology, becomes ubiquitous. 

Here’s a simple test: Next time you’re in a restaurant, if you notice that more than half of the customers are looking at their smartphones instead of at the people they’re dining with, well, that’s as good a sign as any of excess becoming the norm.

The golden calf that sucked in our gullible ancestors 3,300 years ago at Sinai glittered like a precious metal. All that glitter evidently blinded the Israelites to God and to what really matters.

Our modern-day gizmos and apps glitter, too, and they can blind us and dehumanize us if they become objects of worship. Don’t kid yourself. Every generation has its glittering golden calves — it’s just that in our generation, the fool’s gold seems to invade every inch of our living space.

Maybe what we need, then, is an anti-app that will encourage us to look up at the faces of God’s children rather than down at our tiny screens; to look for ideas rather than icons; to roam in nature’s space rather than cyberspace; to seek knowledge and not just information.

You can call it the humanity app.

It’s an app that couldn’t care less about speed or convenience. An app we can download from our own brains any time we want to liberate ourselves from machines. 

An app that reminds those very machines that being an astonishing tool is not the same things as having a human heart.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Practical app-lications for dog owners and Los Angeles drivers


Apps entertain, make life easier, provide a way for us to stay up to date on current events and much more. Some are vital, others less so, but the best are the ones that strike that balance between simplicity and innovation and leave us asking, “How did I ever get by without this?”

Given that there have always been Jews on the forefront of intellectual activity (just look at the list of Jewish Nobel Prize winners), it wasn’t too difficult to find apps for smartphones and tablets that were created by Jews. Here are a pair with local ties. 

Yelp for Dog People

Jon Kolker, a University of Southern California (USC) graduate and co-creator of Where My Dogs At (wheremydogsat.com), describes his app simply as “a community for dog owners.”

Whether you’re looking for the perfect park for you and your canine companion or a brewery where your pooch can chill with you on the patio, this free app aims to be your reference guide. And if everything goes right, you might meet some like-minded folks along the way.

Where My Dogs At provides listings for nearby dog parks, pet stores, veterinarians and local dog-friendly businesses — including restaurants, coffee shops and hotels. But more than that, the app offers a Facebook-like social platform for dog owners and -lovers in which users create personal profiles, post photos and instant message each other.

It’s like “Yelp for dog lovers,” Kolker said.

Animal lingo abounds. Instead of “checking in” at locations, users “mark their territory.” And rather than receiving reviews based on a star-rating system, businesses and sites receive “paws.” Where My Dogs At users rated Melrose Avenue’s Urth Caffé an average five-out-of-five paws, for example, because dogs are allowed on the eatery’s patio.

The app has approximately 15,000 users, according to Kolker, and currently is in its beta version. A full version is set to be released this fall.

The app’s origin dates back a few years. Curious about places in the city that he and Eddie, his black cocker spaniel, could enjoy together, Kolker, 28, began researching. After he created a list of places, his friend Gareth Wilson suggested that they input the data into an app, which launched last December. 

“We’ve since expanded and have data for places across the country at this point,” said Kolker, CEO of BetterPet Inc. Wilson is president and creative director.

Kolker and Wilson, both of whom attend Sinai Temple, among other synagogues, attended USC’s Annenberg Program on Online Communities, where they received $10,000 to begin work on the app. The Baltimore natives graduated from the USC graduate program in 2012.

Because a significant part of the app is the experience of shmoozing, its creators insist it’s for everyone, not just pet owners.

“Not all of our users are dog owners; there are a lot of people who just love animals,” Kolker said. “They’re welcome as well, of course.”

— Ryan Torok, Staff Writer

Parking, the Final Frontier

After several hours of driving, sitting and patiently listening to your GPS, you’ve finally arrived at your desired location. 

But where to park?

That’s where ParkMe comes in.

Founded by Sam Friedman and Alex Israel, both graduates of Crossroads School in Santa Monica, ParkMe (parkme.com) is a free app that helps drivers find the nearest and least expensive parking spot.  

“We help our users find the closest, cheapest parking available by displaying real-time data, including rates, hours of operation, payment types and more,” said Israel of West Los Angeles.

ParkMe displays its information on a GPS map and enables users to control whether they want a cheaper or closer parking spot. Additional features included a rate calculator, in-app route guidance and a timer.

According to Friedman, a Santa Monica native, parking causes 30 to 50 percent of traffic congestion in L.A.’s urban centers. ParkMe’s aim is to reduce this congestion.

When a driver takes a ticket at a parking garage or pays a city meter with a credit card (in participating cities), that information is sent directly to ParkMe’s database, which consists of more than 25,000 worldwide locations in more than 500 cities — Los Angeles among them — 19 countries and three continents.

In order to increase accuracy, ParkMe also deploys a field team of researchers to scour U.S. cities for updates or changes regarding rates, hours of operation and total capacity.  

On top of the existing app, the company licenses its database to third-party GPS devices and has plans to work directly with car manufacturers, Friedman said.

“Parking is actually the last piece, as we call it, to the navigation puzzle,” he said. 

And, for Israel, “[ParkMe] solves the everyday hassle and frustration of parking.”

Only, as the app warns you in its terms of service, be sure you’re pulled over when you use it.

— Jay Firestone, Web and Multimedia Editor

Google buys Israel’s Waze to protect mobile maps lead


Google Inc bought Israeli mapping startup Waze on Tuesday for an undisclosed sum, acquiring an online real-time mapping service to safeguard its own lead in one of the most crucial aspects of smartphone usage.

A source close to the matter told Reuters on Monday that the Internet search leader was putting the finishing touches on a deal to take over the company for $1.3 billion. Google said in a Tuesday blog post that it had closed the deal and now planned on using Waze's service to enhance its own Maps product, but did not say how much it paid.

Maps and navigation services have become vital for technology companies as consumers adopt smartphones and other mobile devices. Waze uses satellite signals from members' smartphones to generate maps and traffic data, which it then shares with other users, offering real-time traffic info.

Waze's product development team will remain in Israel and operate separately for now, Google said. Eventually, its service will enhance the U.S. company's Maps app, while the core Waze product itself will benefit from integrating Google-search capabilities.

“Imagine if you could see real-time traffic updates from friends and fellow travelers ahead of you, calling out 'fender bender…totally stuck in left lane! and showing faster routes that others are taking,” Google Geo Vice President Brian McClendon wrote in his blogpost.

Four-year-old Waze, which has 47 million users, has raised $67 million in funding to date from firms including: Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Blue Run Ventures and semiconductor company Qualcomm Inc. Facebook Inc was, at one point, an interested buyer, according to media reports.

Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick and Leslie Gevirtz

With an eye on Twitter, StandWithUs releases app for pre-fab pro-Israel messages


To celebrate the 64th anniversary of Israel’s founding, StandWithUs released a new social media application that the pro-Israel educational nonprofit hopes will help expand its impact on Twitter and Facebook.

ShareIsrael, an app designed for iPhones, iPads and devices running the Android operating system, is intended to promote pro-Israel messages in the social media landscape. Using the new app, people can take readymade messages and like them on Facebook or post them to Twitter.

Critics of Israel often use social networking outlets to spread their messages, StandWithUs Israel Director Michael Dickson said, and the group hoped its new app would help counterbalance those critical messages with supportive ones.

“They are able to get their tags to trend,” Dickson said of Israel’s online critics. “That’s something that we certainly want to counterbalance.”

The ShareIsrael app, which was developed by StandWithUs with two Israeli web developers, Omri Ariav and Alon Carmel, allows users to distribute prefabricated messages through email as well as Facebook and Twitter. Of the three portals, Dickson said, Twitter is the preferred one because that’s where the conversation about political matters and current events takes place today.

In 2010, when Israel Defense Forces soldiers raided the Turkish flotilla bound for Gaza and killed a number of those on board, Twitter guided the conversation, but only somewhat. Today, Dickson said, its influence has grown.

“Journalists are as in tune with what’s going on in their Twitter feeds as they are in tune with what’s coming out of the central news agencies,” he said.

With that in mind, the new app’s prefabricated tweets are presented complete with accompanying web links, never exceeding 140 characters and, perhaps most important, equipped with pro-Israel hashtags.

Hashtags—a word or string ofwords preceded by the # symbol—have been used in the conversation about Israel before. In December 2011, when messages with the hashtag “#IsraelHates,” began to emerge as a trend on Twitter, a senior Israeli official promoted a messaging campaign with the hashtag “#IsarelLoves” in response.

The messages promoted by StandWithUs through its app in its first week included, “Warren Buffet’s first purchase outside the USA ever was an Israeli company. #israelat64” and “#Israel: 3,000 years old, 64 years young”.

“We realize that people don’t have a lot of time and are on the go,” Dickson said. “They want to do something good for Israel, and we’re just making it easier and quicker and more effective.”

According to StandWithUs, the app was accessed by more than 2,000 people in its first week via the group’s website. It is expected to be available for download in the App Store and Android Marketplace within a few weeks.
—by Jonah Lowenfeld, Staff Writer

Coming to a seder near you: A haggadah on your iPad


This Passover, Jews can still reliably be called “the people of the book.”

If sales of newly published versions of the haggadah are any indication, on the first night of Passover, when it comes time to tell the story of the Exodus, most people sitting at seder tables will be holding in their hands a text that consists of printed words and images on paper.

Next year, though, it’s anyone’s guess, and it seems inevitable that electronic readers and tablet computers will become a big part of at least some future seders, and anyone with an iPad can experience that future today.

A purpose-built iPad app, titled, simply, “The Haggadah” (Melcher Media) was released on March 28, and another iPad-friendly haggadah, an e-book version of the new ink-on-paper title “Sharing the Journey: The Haggadah for the Contemporary Family” (CCAR Press), has been submitted to Apple’s iBookstore for approval, for a release, the makers hope, before seder time.

The creators of “The Haggadah” app anticipate that people won’t only use the new application to follow their own seder, but also that the app itself could become a site for actual sharing — of recipes, photos, stories and, of course, questions.

[Related: Download the Jewish Journal on your mobile device]

“As far as I know, this is the first haggadah app with this kind of interactivity,” said David Kraemer, a professor of Talmud and Rabbinics at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS), who translated the haggadah’s text into English and wrote most of the app’s additional text. There are features familiar to any reader of Passover books — an introduction to Passover and a history of the haggadah — and Kraemer also wrote dozens of comments sprinkled throughout the text, each one accessible with the tap of a finger.

Search any online marketplace for e-books and you’ll find a few haggadot (the plural of haggadah), each with its own tone, quality and price. Craig Buck, a TV writer who created the 15-page “Ina Gada Haggadah” for his family’s 20-minute seder back in the 1990s, doesn’t think anyone has purchased the Kindle version yet, although hundreds have downloaded versions available each year (in PDF format) on his Web site.

PDFs can be read on many tablet readers, and DIYSeder, an online resource that allows users to customize a haggadah’s text (What word would you prefer to substitute for “God”?) and commentary (Is your seder table full of politicos? Children? Non-Jews?) has apps for iPad- and Android-equipped devices that will allow their haggadot to be read there.

Another haggadah in the Kindle store — “The Union Haggadah,” first published in 1923 by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) — displays both a menorah and a dreidel on the cover, a clear indication that the seller mixed up Chanukah, probably the best-known Jewish holiday, with the most widely celebrated one, Passover.

“The copyright expired, so it’s technically in the public domain,” Rabbi Dan Medwin, publishing technology manager for the CCAR, said. “We don’t know who took that text and made it an e-book. There’s even an iPhone app.”

That shoddy repackaging of a 90-year-old text (retail price $3.99) is nothing like the e-book version of “Sharing the Journey” that Medwin created for the CCAR Press.

E-books, Medwin said, are becoming more flexible. Thanks to the advent of iBooks Author, software released by Apple in January of this year that allows publishers to incorporate various kinds of media into their e-books, Medwin was able to include a number of special features; for example, he embedded more than a dozen recordings of Passover songs directly into the text of “Sharing the Journey.”

All of the text from the paper version of the book is in the e-book version as well. The illustrations by Mark Podwal are included in the e-book, too; Medwin added tap-activated captions to one illustration of a seder plate.

But if “Sharing the Journey” feels like a powered-up book with a soundtrack included, “The Haggadah” app — which was paid for in large part through more than $25,000 of donations solicited through the crowd-funding Web site Kickstarter — is something else entirely.

“The way people use apps is much more tactile and exploratory than the way they use a book,” said David Brown, one of the developers who worked on the app at Melcher Media, a New York-based book producer that has been creating apps since 2011, including the award-winning app version of Al Gore’s book, “Our Choice.”

“What people want is interactivity and surprise and layers of information in a way that a static page can’t deliver,” Brown said.

Just how layered is the app? Look past the fancy spinning seder plate in the “Preparing for the Seder” section, and consider the other illustrations, all of which come from haggadot that are centuries old.

While the main haggadah text in the app might use only a detail from a particular page — say, a single, ornately inscribed word from the Washington Haggadah, which dates back to 1478 and is held in the Library of Congress — a finger-tap on a magnifying glass icon nearby takes the reader to a new screen. There, the full page where the detail is from is displayed, and with a few pinches and swipes, any part of the reproduced page — crinkles, faded sections, even what look like wine stains — can be viewed.

Most of the illustrations come from the holdings of JTS’ library, where Kraemer is director; some illustrations are accompanied by audio commentary from Sharon Liberman Mintz, the library’s curator of Jewish art.

If the illuminated manuscripts reproduced in “The Haggadah” look as though they might have taken years to create, the app itself was put together far more quickly. Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of Clal, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, contributed his own audio commentary, which he recorded in a single one-hour session, a little more than a month before the app’s release.

And the running time of his observations was even shorter.

“The challenge was, OK, say something in one minute about ‘Dayenu,’ or say something in one minute about the Four Questions or the four sons,” Kula said, naming a few of the better-known parts of the haggadah. “Say something in one minute that is accessible and usable and relevant — that gets the job done, which is to help create meaning in people’s lives.”

Kraemer said he won’t use the app at his seder — he doesn’t use electricity on the holiday, and prefers to use a “basic traditional haggadah” anyway, to allow for more interaction between the people around the table.

Kula, who hadn’t yet seen the full app but had heard the edited versions of his commentaries, was very happy with the result and is looking forward to using it at his family’s second seder, which has always been more free in its format. In previous years, Kula said, the young adults at the table have incorporated media of all types, everything from recorded songs to YouTube videos.

In 2012, it seems, flexibility and interactivity are the words to live by when creating seders, and in that spirit, Amichai Lau-Lavie, the founding director of Storahtelling, contributed to “The Haggadah” app an alternative order of events of his own design.

Lau-Lavie began creating “The Sayder” six years ago, and the basic model — four rounds, each one focusing on one question and accompanied by one glass of wine — was established early. Since then, the format has changed; what was an “on-the-fly” innovation morphed first into a one-page paper handout, then a Web site (TheSayder.com) and now, an app.

“I don’t think the haggadah was ever meant to be read cover-to-cover, as is,” said Lau-Lavie, who is now studying to become a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “The Sayder,” he said, has a uniquely spelled name for a reason: “We really wanted people to read less and say more,” Lau-Lavie said.

This year — in light of the harsh conditions under which the workers who make Apple electronics are known to endure, and particularly since there’ll be at least one iPad at his seder table — Lau-Lavie is hoping to get people to talk about consumption and the conditions of workers.

To that end, Lau-Lavie is asking people to put an apple on their seder plates this year.

“Are we the Pharaoh or are we the Moses?” Lau-Lavie asked, modeling the kind of inquiry he hopes to inspire. “How can we do more to spread freedom around the world?”

The Jewish Journal announces iPhone/Android apps


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Lawsuits dropped after Apple drops ‘Jew or Not Jew’ app


French anti-racism groups dropped lawsuits against Apple, Inc. after it removed an iPhone app called “Jew or Not Jew?” from online stores around the world.

The made-in-France app had been removed from Apple’s on-line store in France in September following an outcry in that country.  At the time, French Jewish and human rights groups argued that the application, which came out in early August and allows users to guess whether public personalities are Jewish or not, violates French law forbidding the collection of personal data such as a person’s religion or ethnicity without permission from the individual.

The app was removed from all European on-line Apple stores last month, but it was still available through the United States store.

Groups including the French Jewish Students Union, SOS Racisme and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People filed suit against Apple in Paris demanding it withdraw the app worldwide.

The app was created by Frenchman Johann Levy, who said his intentions were to show “pride” in being Jewish.

“I did it out of healthy intentions. I am Jewish myself,” Levy said in September on French radio Europe 1. “The goal was just to bring a feeling of pride to Jews when they see that such-and-such a businessman or celebrity is also Jewish.”

New app teaches about Zionism


A new mobile app provides a database of information about Zionism and Israel.

The free “Zionation” app for iPhone and Android devices, developed by the World Zionist Organization’s Department for Diaspora Activities, includes a Zionist calendar that marks and provides background information on significant dates in the history of Zionism and the State of Israel.

The app, which supports Hebrew, English and Spanish, also notifies users about conferences and events occurring in their communities or around the world.

Gusti Yehoshua-Braverman, the co-chair of the Department for Diaspora Activities, said the app is designed to resonate with a younger Jewish generation.

“We believe that now more than ever, given the alienation among large segments of the Jewish community from the State of Israel, that it is our duty to encourage the younger generation to create their own Zionist Jewish identity based on knowledge and familiarity with major figures and historical events, values and achievements,” he said in a statement.

The Jewish World: there’s an app for that


TRIBE Media Corp., parent company of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, has launched the first Jewish news app designed specifically for the iPad.

The Jewish Journal app, which became available for download from Apple’s app store on Oct. 2, offers readers a new way of accessing the Jewish world’s up-to-date news articles and unique blogs, as well as video and photographic content.

“The first Jewish news came down from Mount Sinai on stone tablets,” said Rob Eshman, publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp. “We believe the digital tablet will be the most important news delivery system of the future, so we committed to developing the best and first Jewish news app for it.”

The app is available as a free download and includes content from The Jewish Journal, JTA and Reuters. TRIBE Media Corp. had also recently finalized a deal with The Jewish Daily Forward, the United States’ oldest Jewish news outlet, and will include some of its content on The Jewish Journal app.

“The Jewish Daily Forward is renowned for its rigorous, independent reporting and thoughtful commentary on politics, arts and culture,” Eshman said. “We’re thrilled to have them as a partner.”

Even in tight budgetary times, Eshman said, investing in a new app was a risk that made sense.

“Certainly it’s a big expense,” Eshman said, “but the news is mobile, and we want to be where people are getting their news from.”

A handful of other Jewish news outlets have apps in Apple’s app store, but all of them simply provide direct electronic versions of print publications.

“This is the first Jewish news app that makes use of the iPad’s unique touch-screen features and multi-column features,” said Jay Firestone, the Jewish Journal’s Web director, who oversaw the app’s design and development.

Working with Seattle-based developer Pinch/Zoom Media, the app took just over one year to develop. In the first day and a half of its initial release, The Jewish Journal iPad app was downloaded 328 times onto iPads from the United States to Australia to Brazil. It has just one featured advertiser — the group-discount Web site LivingSocial.

Lately, tech writers have begun wondering whether applications written for a particular device or operating system, known as native apps, are worth the cost of their development.

Jewishjournal.com, for instance, loads perfectly adequately on both mobile devices and on tablets like the iPad. All of The Jewish Journal’s news content and blogs are easily accessible there.

Even so, native apps have advantages.

“It comes down to having a better engaging experience,” said Aaron Maxwell, the founder of the mobile Web design firm Mobile Web Up.

Maxwell describes himself as “very much a Web person,” and his company helps optimize companies’ Web sites for mobile phones. In February he wrote an article asking whether mobile apps were worth their cost — but he’s not anti-app.

Indeed, with the dominance of the iPad in the tablet market, Maxwell said, launching an app for Apple’s tablet might make good sense, even if an app for the company’s iPhone did not.

“Interestingly, this dominance can certainly lead to situations which justify creating an iPad app in late 2011, but not an iPhone app (with its much smaller relative market share/use among smartphones),” Maxwell wrote in an e-mail.

The Jewish Journal iPad app, Firestone said, will soon move beyond Jewish news.

“The goal of the app is to be the ultimate Jewish source, not just for Jewish news, but for Jewish life as well,” Firestone said. Among future plans for the app, he said, are increased social networking capacities, user-uploaded photo galleries and, eventually, an integration of the app with TRIBE Media Corp.’s directory of local Jewish resources.

“You’ll be able to find the nearest Kosher restaurant, synagogue or school in your area, and comment on them,” Firestone said.

For now, The Jewish Journal app features a constantly updating homepage; news stories are categorized by theme, and readers can navigate from one page to another with the swipe of a finger.

“This is a great way for Jews to stay informed and connected,” TRIBE Media Corp. President David Suissa said. “Now, they can just download the Jewish world.”

Apple removes free ‘Thirdintifada’ from App Store


Apple Inc. removed the Arabic-language “Thirdintifada” application from its App Store following a request from the Israeli government.

The application was removed June 22, a day after Israel’s minister of public diplomacy and diaspora affairs, Yuli Edelstein, wrote to Apple founder and CEO Steve Jobs making the request.

“We removed this app from the App Store because it violates the developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people,” an Apple spokesman said Wednesday evening.

The Thirdintifada application, which had been available for free download from the App Store, updates users on anti-Israel protests or allows them to organize their own. It also features anti-Israel articles and photos of terrorists who have attacked Israel or Israelis.

Edelstein, who in his letter to Jobs had called the application “anti-Israel and anti-Zionist,” commended the decision in a statement issued June 23.

“This is an additional step in preventing hostile elements, which are frequently tainted by anti-Semitism, from spreading incitement via the ‘new media,’ ” his statement said. “By its action, Apple has proven, as Facebook did, that it shares the values that oppose violence, incitement and terrorism.”

In March, Edelman appealed to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to remove a page called “Third Intifada” that called for a new uprising against Israel. The page subsequently was removed, though copycat pages arose in its place.

Edelstein in his letter to Jobs wrote, “I believe Apple, as a pioneering and progressive company, places the values of liberty, freedom of expression and creativity as a guiding light. Also, as a leader in its area, I am convinced that you are aware of this type of application’s ability to unite many toward an objective that could be disastrous.”

Israel asks Apple Inc. to remove ‘third intifada’ app


Israel’s government has asked Apple Inc. to remove an application called “ThirdIntifada,” which encourages uprising against Israel, from its App Store.

Israel’s Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein, made the request Tuesday in a letter sent to Apple founder and chief executive officer Steve Jobs.

The Thirdintifada application, available for free download from the Apple App Store, updates users on anti-Israel protests or allows them to organize their own, and features anti-Israel articles, as well as photos of terrorists who have attacked Israel or Israelis.

In his letter, Edelstein called the application “anti-Israel and anti-Zionist.”

“I believe APPLE, as a pioneering and progressive company, places the values of liberty, freedom of expression and creativity as a guiding light. Also, as a leader in its area, I am convinced that you are aware of this type of application’s ability to unite many toward an objective that could be disastrous,” Edelstein wrote.

“I therefore turn to you with the request to instruct the immediate removal of the application in question and thus continue the tradition of Apple applications dedicated to purely entertainment and informative purposes and not serve as an instrument for incitement to violence.”

In March, Edelman appealed to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to remove a page named “Third Intifada,” which called for a new uprising against Israel. The page was subsequently removed, though copycat pages arose in its place.

iPhone app brings Western Wall closer


Using a new iPhone application, the Western Wall is only a touch away.

The new application, the Kotel Application, which was released this week in Hebrew, English and Russian by the Western Wall Heritage Center, permits users to see a live video feed of the Western Wall Plaza. They can also send a note to the wall and use the application’s compass to pray in the direction of the wall.

The application is free at Apple’s iTunes store.