Smartphone apps can help with everything from putting on tefillin correctly to finding a minyan to locating a kosher restaurant. Illustration by Lior Zaltzman

These 7 smartphone apps make life easier for religious Jews

These days there are smartphone applications for pretty much anything, from ordering food to finding a date to reporting anti-Semitic incidents.

But what about tools for living a religious Jewish life? Well, there are apps for that, too.

Whereas in the time before smartphones, observant Jews may have had to ask their rabbis certain questions or — gasp! — read a book, now there are apps available that can help with everything from putting on tefillin correctly to finding the nearest kosher eatery.

Here are seven useful downloads for those who lead — or wish to lead — a more observant Jewish life.

Tefillin Mirror: The rules regarding how to put on tefillin can be confusing — for example, the head phylactery has to line up in the middle of the wearer’s forehead and it also has to stay above the hairline. This app functions as a mirror with three vertical lines that help the user properly align the tefillin.

Minyan Now: Time to pray but can’t find a synagogue? This app alerts Jews that someone nearby is looking for a minyan (the quorum of 10 people required to say certain prayers). Users can chat to coordinate a meeting place as they wait for 10 people — men in this case, as the app follows Orthodox customs — to respond.

Shabbat & Holiday Times: Need to know when to light the Shabbat or holiday candles? This app shows the start and end times of Shabbat and Jewish holidays. Users can enter any location in the world or allow the app to access their phone’s location for accurate times.

Kosher Near Me: This app is perfect for travelers or anyone looking to explore new kosher options closer to home. Users can peruse kosher food selections — restaurants, grocery stores and takeout — around the world, including in the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, France, Ecuador, Gibraltar and South Korea. Listings also include reviews written by users.

Smart Siddur: The days of schlepping around prayer books are long gone thanks to this app. This high-tech siddur features the three daily prayers and services for various Jewish holidays in a clean, easy-to-read interface. It syncs with the Jewish calendar, displaying holiday-specific prayers on the appropriate days so users need not worry about forgetting any special liturgy.

Sefaria: Now it’s easy to study Jewish texts on the go. Sefaria, which was created by the website of the same name, offers a library of works, including the Torah, Talmud and Midrash, as well as Kabbalah, philosophy and a multitude of commentaries. Texts are available in Hebrew and English, and users can search the entire library for specific words or phrases.

@TheKotel: Jews from around the world visit the Western Wall in Jerusalem to pray. With this app, users can leave a prayer at the holy site without having to leave their homes. Electronically sent prayers are printed out and placed in crevices at the holy site, as is the custom.

Managing money goes high-tech

Financial advisers and planners agree on at least one thing when it comes to retiring: Good money management is key to a comfortable retirement. That means keeping an eye on where your money is going and how your investments are doing. But if money management is not exactly your forte, don’t worry. There’s an app for that!

Arielle O’Shea, a staff writer for personal finance website NerdWallet, said it is worth doing the due diligence into these apps — shopping around and deciding what works best for each person. 

“You’re not tied to any of these apps for life,” she said. “Deleting your account information is pretty painless. But it’s definitely worth the time to use some of these services, which can help you save money or better manage it. Because every little bit helps, especially when you’re retiring and every penny counts.”

Here are some financial apps that can help as you hit retirement. (Unless otherwise mentioned, all apps are available for Android and Apple devices.)

” target=”_blank”>Mint (free) helps you consolidate all of your bank accounts, debit and credit card charges, your 401(k) account, and mortgage and loan accounts to track your income and spending. Using that data, the app creates personalized budgets to help maximize savings. Mint also will give you a free credit score if you provide your Social Security number. 

“This app is often called the best because it is so comprehensive,” said Lisa Gerstner, a contributing editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. “It gives a good snapshot of what’s going on [with your finances]. But on the flipside, there’s a lot going on there, so if you want something simpler, this may not be the app for you.”

A related app, ” target=”_blank”>Mvelopes is less comprehensive compared with Mint. After connecting with your bank accounts (you also can add offline accounts, like for cash), it takes your monthly income and creates a customizable budget based on national averages. Users then put money in virtual envelopes for allocated spending. With the free version, you can connect four bank accounts and have 25 envelopes for your budgets. The premier version ($95 annually) permits an unlimited number of bank accounts and envelopes.

” target=”_blank”>FileThis (free) enables you to keep all of the documents from each of your bank, insurance, mortgage, retirement and investment accounts in one location — a cloud drive of your choice. It also will track your bills and help manage your expenses. 

” target=”_blank”>Spending Tracker (free), which also is available on the iPhone. 


” target=”_blank”>EyeReader ($1.99 on iPhone) uses your camera lens to magnify small text. Similar apps on Android devices include ” target=”_blank”>Screen Magnifier HD (free).

” target=”_blank”>Lifesum (free; premium version $9.99 per month or $46.99 per year) helps you meet your health goals, track your water and calorie intakes, and even share your progress on your social media accounts. 

App launched to commemorate lost Jewish community of Crete

A mobile phone application that enables visitors to learn about the Jewish heritage of the Greek island of Crete and the Etz Hayyim Synagogue has been launched.

The app, a joint initiative between the Canadian and Israeli embassies in Greece, was launched Tuesday, the same day that a ceremony was held to mark the destruction of Crete’s Jewish community in the Holocaust.

“This free tourist application constitutes an important tool, allowing users immediate access to the rich history of the Jewish community of Chania and Crete,” said Julie Crôteau the Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of Canada in Greece.

Jewish history on Crete dates back more than 2,300 years, but the community was destroyed during the Holocaust.

In June 1944, the Nazis put the 265 Jews of Crete, along with several hundred Greek and Italian prisoners of war on the ship Tanais.  The Jews were intended to be transported to Athens and then on to the Auschwitz Nazi death camp along with the rest of Greek Jewry.

However, the ship was sunk by a British submarine and all on board were killed.

The app details the rich history of the Jewish community, which in modern times was centered around the city of Chania, and also the Etz Hayyim Synagogue.

At the end of the war all of the island’s five synagogues were destroyed. The Etz Hayyim synagogue also remained in ruin until renovations began in 1996. It was rededicated in 1999.

Today, the synagogue is a central attraction for Jews and other visitors from around the world while visiting Crete.

The app, which is available in the Apple store and will soon be released for Android, was developed by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Centre of Hellenic Studies at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada. It is the third in a series on Greek Jewish heritage, following apps for the cities of Thessaloniki and Ioannina.

Tel Aviv now the global leader in app startups

Silicon Valley may be known as the hotspot for tech, but halfway across the globe, Tel Aviv is making its mark. According to Forbes, Tel Aviv has more startups per capita than anywhere else in the world. 

App startups make up a large portion of this growing tech community. One in particular made recent headlines when United Hatzalah, a volunteer rescue service, commissioned an SOS app in the wake of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens. The free app by Israeli startup NowForce allows users to request help with the swipe of a finger. About 60,000 Israelis downloaded it in June following its release.

Other apps are more lighthearted, as developers work to allow users to form new kinds of communities, share videos and more. Here are a few great apps to make their way out of Tel Aviv this year. 


Forget about Facebook. According to Moish Levin, CEO and co-founder of the Clubz app, social networking as we know it needed a facelift. 

“Before Clubz came around, the market that existed in social media was based on profile-building and connecting with others because of their profile’s content,” he said. “We felt this was not only boring and limiting but that users deserved a better way to meet those with common interests.”

Clubz is a platform on which “clubz,” or groups, can be created and joined by users. The app, which was released in January, features fans of cat videos, sports teams and alternative music, to name a few. Within these “clubz,” users can produce and post videos, comment on and “like” content, and share their activity on Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

“Nobody likes having to read through cluttered news feeds and sifting for the information that actually interests them, so we took these thoughts and did something about it,” Levin said.

There are several thousand people using the app and its 300-plus clubz, he said, adding that it’s catching on mostly among sports enthusiasts. 

“Fans at Maccabi Tel Aviv games really grabbed Clubz and found it easy to post their content from games or elsewhere. The whole team noticed how cool the club was and how much better this way of sharing made a fan’s personal experience.”

The company is working on expanding the app so it can be adopted by American sports franchises as well, Levin said. 


You take a video on your phone. Then you have to upload it to YouTube. Along the way, you might run into problems if the file is too big, and even if that isn’t a problem, you might waste time trying to share manually on Facebook and Twitter. 

Max Bluvband noticed that video uploading and sharing was a hassle, so he decided to do something about it.

“When I took videos of my kids or my skiing, I have noticed that no one can see it. Yes, I can upload it to YouTube, prepare an email and send it to everyone, but do we really have the time [to do that] for every video?” he said. 

Bluvband decided to streamline the video-sharing process and created LiveLens. The app, which came out in the spring, allows users to share videos live. They simply hit “go live” and their friends and followers receive a notification that they are streaming or have posted new content. The users can see who is watching them, the comments and the “likes” on the video. 

LiveLens, which is available in the iTunes store, Google Play and on Google Glass, has a target demographic of teenagers and adults up to age 35. In order to monetize the app, the company plans to charge for videos of celebrities. Although Bluvband, LiveLens’ CEO, would not reveal download numbers, there are other signs of success: In May, online newsmagazine VentureBeat reported that LiveLens raised $2 million in funding from investors. 


In February, Samba — which allows users to send videos and record a viewer’s reaction — made its debut in the Apple Store. Less than three weeks later, it was named the best social app at the South by Southwest festival in Austin. 

The app represents the next logical stop in exchanging videos, according to company founder Barak Hachamov.

“In the real world, when we listen to someone or see something, we react,” he said. “We react with our face, with our eyes, with our smile. In other messaging services, these reactions still exist, but no one can see them. Samba mimics a very basic human emotion and need. We are doing that by gratifying the sender with the most authentic reactions. Samba makes sure that every message gets the response that it deserves.”

The app hasn’t made money yet. However, Hachamov said that Samba is already being integrated into a reality TV show. The founder also plans to approach brands to see if they would be interested in this new way of communicating with their customers. 

In three years, the company hopes to have more than 100 million users. The overall goal, though, is to change how people utilize technology to talk with one another. 

“Our vision is to humanize and bring emotion to the way that people communicate in the digital world today,” Hachamov said.

The Jewish Journal announces iPhone/Android apps

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Religious schools add family programs, new apps

Hebrew schools across Los Angeles are starting to look less and less like, well, Hebrew school.

A growing number of programs now invite parents to learn alongside their children. Computer software is becoming just as crucial in class as teacher instruction. And often, lessons don’t take place in a classroom at all.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes of Congregation Or Ami remembers taking 112 kids and parents to the Los Angeles Zoo two years ago as part of the Calabasas synagogue’s Mishpacha family learning program. For a creative lesson in navigating the Tanakh, he handed families a list of 20 biblical quotes and had them find the animals referenced in each text. The activity, Kipnes found, proved to be the kind of hands-on learning experience children remember.

“They learned more about how to use the Bible than if I’d spent a whole afternoon teaching it,” Kipnes said.

Congregations have long been experimenting with alternative models of religious education that impart Jewish values to children in innovative ways. This fall, many of the latest offerings spotlight two key aspects educators believe are central to how children learn: family and technology.

Or Ami’s Mishpacha program is a variation on the Shabbat Community religious school model, in which whole families take part in Shabbat-related programming together. Instead of dropping their kids off at synagogue for a few hours each week, as they would in a traditional religious school, parents stay and become students themselves.

This model favors family activities and communal prayer over student classroom time — a tradeoff that distills the most important mission of religious education: creating kids who love to be Jewish — said Isa Aron, professor of Jewish education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR).

“The purpose of supplementary Jewish education is enculturation — to bring people into the Jewish culture,” said Aron, senior adviser of the Experiment in Congregational Education (ECE), a national program founded in 1992 at HUC-JIR’s Rhea Hirsch School of Education. “It’s not really about subject matter but how to be part of the community. It’s not about prayer, for example; it’s about how to pray. The more experiential you can make it, the better.”

Shabbat Communities have been around for more than a decade, but the model started gaining momentum in Los Angeles only recently. Much of the current interest sprang from the ECE’s RE-IMAGINE Project, a 2007 initiative aimed at transforming synagogue-based education in the Southland. Increasingly, Aron said, educators are now embracing the notion that learning to be a member of the Jewish community shouldn’t be confined to classroom walls.

At the Shabbaton program of Temple Israel of Hollywood (TIOH), for instance, families learn in informal chavurot, at each other’s homes and gathered around a Havdalah candle.

The experimental program, founded in 2010 as an alternative to TIOH’s traditional religious school, brings families with children in third to sixth grade together for Saturday afternoon study sessions at the synagogue. Beginning at 3:30 p.m., families gathered for songs and blessings and then broke into age groups — children by grade, parents all together — to discuss a daily topic. Later, families formed small chavurot for further study in a mixed-age environment. Participants ended each session with a Havdalah ceremony. Once a week, kids met in small groups for a separate Hebrew-language lesson, usually at a family’s home.

“The overall mission was to build community among families,” said Rabbi Jocee Hudson, director of the religious school and youth programming. “So many parents have told me they did it for their children yet were surprised how much they got out of it for themselves.”

When families learn together, lessons are more likely to translate into their home lives, said Kipnes, who sends Mishpacha families home each session with a discussion topic he calls the “Carpool Convo.”

Founded eight years ago, Mishpacha is the longest-running intergenerational religious school in the L.A. area and has received the Union for Reform Judaism’s Nachshon Award for commitment to lifelong learning. The program features twice-monthly sessions that are similar to Shabbat Community-style learning, except they take place Sunday mornings. Two out of three sessions include some classroom time for kids, but rarely for more than 20 to 45 minutes. The rest of the time is spent in experiential activities and projects that immerse kindergarten to seventh-grade students in active learning, Kipnes said.

“How do kids learn best? It’s not sitting in chairs — it’s by doing,” he said. “If you want to teach about David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir, let’s get kids into a round-robin where they can meet members of our faculty dressed up like them, face to face.”

Joshua Mason-Barkin takes a similar approach at Shabbat B’yachad, the Shabbat Community religious school founded by West Los Angeles’ Temple Isaiah in 2008. Here, learning sessions for families with children in kindergarten through seventh grade occur alternately on Friday evenings, Saturday mornings and Saturday afternoons. In class, educators are more likely to throw kids into a political role play than teach Israeli history by rote.

“It’s hard for us to have much control over what facts kids remember,” said Mason-Barkin, director of congregational learning at Temple Isaiah. “We’re focusing more on ‘who does the learner become,’ rather than ‘what does the learner know.’ The reason parents schlep their kids to religious school is because they care about things like heritage, community, giving kids a values-based worldview and a Jewish identity.”

Most families still opt for Temple Isaiah’s traditional-model religious school, but Mason-Barkin believes family learning offers lasting benefits. Children become more invested in their education, he said, because “kids are getting an explicit message all the time that this matters to their parents.”

But alternative religious schools don’t work for every congregation, said Aron, the HUC-JIR professor. These programs are costly — in terms of time and funds — and require support from the entire congregation, she said. Families must be convinced the concept is worthwhile and often must recruit their peers to commit financially to an untested idea.

Leo Baeck Temple’s alternative track, Family Shabbat Experience, disbanded this year because not enough families enrolled to sustain it, director of education Avram Mandell said. Compared to the Bel Air synagogue’s traditional Sunday morning religious school, most parents felt there was no contest, he said: Sunday sessions typically include art, drama, Israeli dance and even gardening as an elective, or kids can spin Jewish tunes as a DJ on the religious school’s own radio station.

“Since we create that energy on Sunday mornings, it was hard to get people to try the Saturday program,” Mandell said.

But Leo Baeck is making strides in another rapidly growing learning frontier — using digital technology for religious school instruction. Last year, Mandell began offering Hebrew tutoring via Skype. He is also making a series of Hebrew instructional videos that he uploads to YouTube. And for those with iPhones, he has created two Hebrew learning apps, Alef-Bet Bullseye and Alef-Bet Pile Up.

Technology makes religious school more convenient for families who find it difficult, logistically, to get to synagogue on a weekday afternoon, said Jane Slotin, executive director of New York-based PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education). Besides, she said, computers and smart phones are becoming ever more popular routes for kids to engage with each other, so why can’t they help kids engage with Judaism?

Bel Air’s Stephen S. Wise Temple Religious School built on that philosophy when educators introduced the school’s iLearn program last year, now available to fourth- and fifth-graders. Kids enrolled in iLearn meet for traditional, in-person instruction on Sunday mornings but also convene digitally on Wednesday afternoons at a “virtual classroom” accessed through their laptops, wherever they happen to be.

Children might relate better to lessons conducted in an interactive computer format that resembles Internet games and chat features they use regularly, said Stephen S. Wise religious school director Andrea Gardenhour. And although iLearn uses new tools that may seem unfamiliar to parents, at its core, the program offers the same instruction kids would get in a traditional classroom.

“Instead of pages in a book, it’s Web frames,” Gardenhour said. “This is about moving into a new age of learning experiences.”

Google removes Nazi-themed Android apps

Google removed Nazi-related applications from its Android downloads following protests from Jewish users.

Google removed the apps from search results last Friday, according to PC Magazine. Google said in a statement that the apps were “upsetting” and violated the terms of service.

The apps came up in a search for the word “Jewish” in the Android App Marketplace.

Anyone can post an application in the Google marketplace for download. Google receives a 30 percent cut of any application bought on the marketplace, according to Rachel Liebold writing in JWeekly. The Adolph Hitler theme app was selling for $2.99 a download.

Elan Steinberg, vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, praised Google for its quick action.

“The intent here was clearly malicious and vile,” Steinberg said in a statement, adding that “We must be ever vigilant against those who would promote hate and even seek to profit from it.”