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 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.”