Photo from Pexels

My iPhone is my Egypt

What is your Egypt?

The people, the food and the storytelling are what I love most about the Passover seder I go to, but I also really like the updates to the ritual. We spill drops of wine as we name the ten Biblical plagues, but we count off ten modern plagues as well, like hunger and terrorism. Traditional symbols are on the table, like horseradish for the bitterness of slavery and salt water for tears, but there’s also an orange, an innovation from the 1970s, standing for feminism and against homophobia. (An orange? Seriously? There’s a story.)

I’m especially partial to this twist: We sing Avadim Hayinu, “Once were slaves in Egypt,” but we also ask the question I began with, as a metaphor, and in the present tense. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, is derived from m’tzarim, meaning “narrow straits,” a tight place. In the story the Book of Exodus tells, the enslaved Jews are liberated from Egypt. Our seder asks us, What pharaoh owns you? What tightness binds you? What constriction do you need to free yourself from?

I’m writing this before the first night of Passover, so this is a prediction, but a safe one: I’ll be amazed if there’s anyone at our seder who won’t have a little Egypt in their pocket or purse. Everyone will of course silence their ringers, but I’d be surprised if a few of us don’t manage to sneak a peek at our screens; if many of us won’t be fighting a compulsion to do that several times an hour; and if most of us, in the moments between seder and meal, don’t check out what came in while we were asking why this night is different from all other nights.

On all other nights, there are smartphones on the table.

I’ll admit it: I’m rarely without my iPhone, even for a few minutes (you know: in case of an emergency, or my kids are trying to reach me, or I don’t want the plumber to go to voicemail). Some studies say that on average, people check their phones every six-and-a-half minutes, 150 times a day; some say – yikes – as many as 2,617 times a day. Whatever my own number is, it’s bound to be embarrassing. Like most people, I can rattle off one reason after another to excuse that frequency. It’s for work. It’s for news. It’s for stoking my civic outrage at you know who. It’s for Yelp or Uber or Google or Netflix. It’s for weather, scores, maps, directions, texting, posting, liking, Skyping, tweeting, eating, friending, mating. It’s for playing games, taking pictures, getting a jump on my email, working out to my playlists, killing time while I’m riding an elevator, standing in line, waiting for the water to boil.

This is madness.

We’re as adept at justifying being phone junkies as addicts are at rationalizing their habit. We’re hooked on stimulation, on that spike of happy that hits our neurons when a NEW! NOW! NEXT! attracts our attention. Boredom terrifies us; to endure it without our iBlow would be like going cold turkey ten times as hour. But as MIT professor Sherry Turkle says, there’s a downside to calling our dependence on digital devices an addiction. It implies that our behavior is personal weakness, that it’s futile to resist. What needs our attention isn’t the cause of what ails us, but its toll on our wellness. What wants therapy is how our gizmos narrow the rest of our lives – how, as Turkle writes in “Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age,” they constrict “our capacity to be alone and together,” how they contract “our ability to understand others and be heard.”

Turkle identifies a crisis of solitude and a crisis of empathy in our lives. “As we struggle to truly pay attention to ourselves,” to experience boredom and anxiety and the “rich, messy and demanding” feelings inherent in human relationships, “we struggle to pay attention to each other.” The more time we spend online, or itching to be online, the less time for “the risks of face-to-face conversation. But it’s there that empathy is born and intimacy thrives…. It’s often when we stumble, or struggle for our words, or are silent, that we reveal ourselves most to each other and to ourselves.”

Turkle is no Luddite. She describes the moment when, very nervous, about to give the first talk of a book tour, setting her iPhone on the podium to start a timer, she got a text from her daughter: “Mom, you will rock this.” Yes, the message was digitally delivered. But that didn’t undo its affect or its effect. “It was like a kiss.”

We need an intervention. We need to practice undivided attention – to each other, in conversation, and to ourselves, in solitude. “We don’t have to give up our phones,” she says, “but we have to use them more deliberately, …by working to protect sacred places, spaces without technology, in our everyday lives.”

Our madness is recent. The iPhone is just 10 years old. Still, that’s long enough for me to want a new ringtone: “Let my people go.”

Marty Kaplan holds the Norman Lear chair at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Reach him at

U.S. drops legal action against Apple over encrypted iPhone

The Justice Department said it successfully accessed data stored on an encrypted iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters and asked a court to withdraw an order compelling Apple to assist, according to a court filing on Monday.

The technology company fought a court order obtained by the FBI last month that required it to write new software to disable passcode protection and allow access to the phone used by one of the shooters, Rizwan Farook.

Apple declined immediate comment on Monday.

U.S. officials said last week that they were hopeful they would be able to unlock the iPhone without help from Apple.

In a two-page court filing on Monday, the Justice Department said the government “no longer requires” Apple's assistance.

At issue was a county-owned iPhone used by Farook, one of the husband-and-wife shooters in the San Bernardino, California, shooting in December in which 14 people were killed and 22 wounded. The couple died in a shootout with police after the rampage.

U.S. asks to cancel Apple encryption hearing, may be able to access device

Prosecutors on Monday asked a federal judge to cancel a Tuesday hearing in their legal battle to force Apple Inc to break into an encrypted iPhone, stating that they may have found another way to access the device, according to a court filing.

The judge in the case, being handled in federal court in Riverside, California, scheduled a hearing for late afternoon on Monday to consider the request.

The unexpected development in the high-profile case raised questions as to whether the Justice Department might be backing off from its confrontation with Apple. 

In a court filing, the Justice Department said the new technique came to light on Sunday, but it provided no further details. 

The government has obtained a court order requiring Apple to write new software to disable passcode protections on a phone used by one of the shooters in the December attack in San Bernardino, California. 

Apple, with the backing of much of the tech industry, is fighting the order, contending that it will undermine computer security and privacy for all consumers.

U.S. tech companies unite behind Apple ahead of iPhone encryption ruling

Alphabet Inc's Google, Facebook Inc, Microsoft Corp and about a dozen other Internet companies will file a joint legal brief on Thursday asking a judge to support Apple Inc in its encryption battle with the U.S. government, sources familiar with the companies' plans said.

The effort is a rare display of unity and support for the iPhone maker from companies which are competitors in many areas, and shows the breadth of Silicon Valley's opposition to the government's anti-encryption effort.

The group plans to file what is known as an amicus brief – a form of comment from outside groups common in complex cases – to the Riverside, California, federal judge Sheri Pym. She will rule on Apple's appeal of a court order that would force it to create software to unlock an iPhone associated with last December's shootings in San Bernardino.

Mozilla, maker of the Firefox web browser, said it was joining in the effort along with online planning tool maker Evernote and messaging app firms Snapchat and WhatsApp. Photo sharing service Pinterest and online storage firm Dropbox are also participating.

“We stand against the use of broad authorities to undermine the security of a company’s products,” Dropbox General Counsel Ramsey Homsany said in a statement.

Networking leader Cisco Systems Inc said it expected to address the court on Apple's behalf, but did not say whether it was joining with the large group of companies.

Semiconductor maker Intel Corp plans to file a brief of its own in support of Apple, said Chris Young, senior vice president and general manager for Intel Security Group.

“We believe that tech companies need to have the ability to build and design their products as needed, and that means that we can’t have the government mandating how we build and design our products,” Young said in an interview.

The Stanford Law School for Internet and Society filed a separate brief on Thursday morning on behalf of a group of well-known experts on iPhone security and encryption, including Charlie Miller, Dino Dai Zovi, Bruce Schneier and Jonathan Zdziarski.

“The dangers of forcing companies to denigrate the security of their products and of allowing law enforcement to commandeer consumer devices for surveillance purposes are too great,” the brief said.

Privacy advocacy groups the American Civil Liberties Union, Access Now and the Wickr Foundation filed briefs on Wednesday in support of Apple before Thursday's deadline set by Pym.

Salihin Kondoker, whose wife Anies Kondoker was injured in the San Bernardino attack, also wrote on Apple's behalf, saying he shared the company's fear that the software the government wants Apple to create to unlock the phone could be used to break into millions of other phones.

“I believe privacy is important and Apple should stay firm in their decision,” the letter said. “Neither I, nor my wife, want to raise our children in a world where privacy is the tradeoff for security.”

Briefs are also expected in support of the government.

Stephen Larson, a former federal judge, told Reuters last week that he is working on a brief with victims of the San Bernardino shooting who want the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation to be able to access the data on the phone used by Rizwan Farook, one of the shooters. “They were targeted by terrorists, and they need to know why, how this could happen,” Larson said.

The fight between Apple and the government became public last month when the FBI obtained a court order requiring Apple to write new software and take other measures to disable passcode protection and allow access to Farook's iPhone.

Apple has pushed back, arguing that such a move would set a dangerous precedent and threaten customer security. The clash has intensified a long-running debate over how much law enforcement and intelligence officials should be able to monitor digital communications.

Law enforcement officials have said that Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, were inspired by Islamist militants when they shot and killed 14 people and wounded 22 others last Dec. 2 at a holiday party. Farook and Malik were later killed in a shootout with police and the FBI said it wants to read the data on Farook's phone to investigate any links with militant groups.

Earlier this week, a Brooklyn judge ruled that the government had overstepped its authority by seeking similar assistance from Apple in a drug case.

FBI versus Apple: The privacy threat is overblown

Fourteen killed; 22 seriously injured; the presumptive plot leader, Syed Rizwan Farook, dead; the remaining contents of Farook’s county-issued cellphone inaccessible to those investigating the details of the terrorist rampage that struck the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino on Dec. 2. These are the facts that should matter most to those assessing the reasonableness of U.S. Magistrate Judge Sheri Pym’s Feb. 16 “Order Compelling Apple, Inc. to Assist Agents in Search.”

[The FBI and Apple: It’s not just about one phone]

Unfortunately, much of the ensuing controversy has focused on extraneous issues and false assertions intended to scare the public into believing that their personal privacy is at stake — and, perhaps not incidentally, to preserve Apple’s pre-eminent position in the cellphone marketplace. Instead of arousing alarmist suspicions that Big Brother has arrived 32 years after George Orwell’s prediction, let’s look at some facts.

1. Apple Can Comply With the Court’s Order

In the final paragraph of its Feb. 17 editorial supporting Apple, the Los Angeles Times grudgingly conceded, “At least one security expert who’s worked on the iPhone says that it’s technically possible to do what the judge has ordered.” Yet, in October 2015, Apple told another judge in New York that it “would not have the ability to do what the government requests — take possession of a password-protected device from the government and extract unencrypted user data from that device for the government.” 

Apple CEO Tim Cook’s Feb. 16 “Message to Our Customers” strongly implies that the company’s earlier judicial representations were at least hyperbolic, if not duplicitous. Cook’s new party line is that “the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create.” Note carefully that Apple is no longer asserting any technical inability (a claim that may apply to models more recent than the iPhone 5C Farook was using), but rather that there are no guarantees against multiple future uses of a program which would disable the 5C’s feature that erases all phone data after 10 unsuccessful attempts to break the password.

2. The Floodgates Fallacy

The principal thrust of Cook’s message to Apple’s customers is that the barn door cannot be closed after the horse has escaped. “Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed,” Cook wrote, “the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.” Perhaps so. But what Cook conveniently ignores is that Apple itself controls the barn door.

Judge Pym’s order asks only for “Apple’s reasonable technical assistance” to defeat the phone’s 10-tries-and-erase feature. Her order suggests one technical means for accomplishing this goal, but clearly specifies that Apple is free to use “an alternate technological means from that recommended by the government” and can ask the court for relief if “Apple believes that compliance with this Order would be unduly burdensome.”

Moreover, nothing in Judge Pym’s order states, or even suggests, that Apple must relinquish control of the program it is being asked to create. Indeed, the order provides that such a program can be loaded on Farook’s phone “at either a government facility, or alternatively, at an Apple facility.” Thus, if the horse were to escape, it would be no one’s fault other than Apple. However, I am quite confident that Apple has all the knowledge, wherewithal and human/financial resources to prevent this from happening.

In addition, there is nothing inherently dangerous about the prospect that other crimes might be solved if the same decryption program were used on other iPhones. On Feb. 18, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. told a news conference that there are presently 175 Apple devices in his cybercrime lab that investigators cannot access. So long as judges are presented and act upon adequate and reliable evidence when asked to issue phone decryption warrants, prisoners will no longer be able to characterize iPhone encryption as “another gift from God,” as one New York city jail inmate reportedly did. And should Apple cater to the access demands of repressive foreign regimes, it would be because they chose to — not because they were forced to.

3. The Dead Have No Privacy Rights Over Phones They Don’t Own

Much of the discussion about “privacy rights” in the context of this high-profile dispute ignores two salient facts. First, as a matter of law, the dead have no privacy rights — whether they are criminals, criminal suspects or ordinary citizens. Just as one who is deceased can no longer bring a claim for defamation (libel or slander), so too do all personal privacy rights evaporate the instant one dies.

Second, even if Farook were able to assert a privacy interest from beyond the grave, the phone in question is the property of the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health, and the county long ago gave the Federal Bureau of Investigation permission to search it.

4. The All Writs Act Kerfuffle

Apple CEO Cook’s message castigates the federal government for “an unprecedented use” of the All Writs Act of 1789 to effect its goal of defeating the 10-tries-and-erase feature of Farook’s phone. Yet, this same law has been invoked to obtain warrants that yielded information in similar cases — including, in recent years, roughly 70 from Apple itself. The act merely provides that the government cannot require someone to undertake overly onerous actions to assist in executing a search warrant — hence, the “unreasonably burdensome” exception in Judge Pym’s order.

And if the concern is that a law dating back more than 200 years is unsuited for today’s technological age, will Apple refrain from invoking the First Amendment (ratified in 1791) whenever it claims, in this case or elsewhere, that its corporate free speech rights are imperiled?

5. An Unnecessary Public Spat

Perhaps the most unfortunate fact about this melodrama is that it took a court order based upon a judicial warrant to bring this issue to a head. Apple and the FBI could have, and should have, resolved this dispute quietly and privately, without need of any judicial intervention. 

At a Feb. 9 congressional hearing, FBI Director James Comey testified that such efforts had already been underway for “over two months.” And, on Feb. 18, The Wall Street Journal reported that “Justice Department officials had even considered filing court papers against Apple a month earlier, only to hold off in the hope of gaining more cooperation.”

At this point, it is too early to tell with certainty which party’s intransigence was the proximate cause of this impasse. However, now that Apple has engaged the services of Ted Olson, the former U.S. Solicitor General who successfully represented George W. Bush in the 2000 election litigation against Al Gore and challenged California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8, we can now rest assured that the public profile of this litigation will only continue to escalate.

Douglas Mirell is an attorney and a founding partner of Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP. His practice focuses on privacy rights, defamation, publicity rights, copyright, trademark and First Amendment litigation. He can be reached at

The FBI and Apple: It’s not just about one phone

The tragedy in San Bernardino has launched an increasingly intense public debate about where the line should be drawn to protect citizens’ digital data from government intrusion. Those horrific shootings left the nation stunned, and the U.S. government should thoroughly investigate this terrorist attack.

But in its search for more information, how far should the government be allowed to go in compelling a company to create something it does not possess?

At issue is an iPhone used by one of the shooters and the encrypted data it contains. The FBI has obtained a court order directing Apple to hack into its iPhones by designing and writing custom software to defeat the phone’s security features.

[The FBI versus Apple: analyzing the claims]

Apple has cooperated with the investigation for the most part, but it has refused the FBI’s demand that it design and write what amounts to malware designed to defeat the security systems it has spent years building. The company has decided to fight the court order, and it should be applauded for standing up for its right to offer secure devices to all of its customers.

So this debate then is not simply about one phone. It is about every phone. And it’s about every device manufactured by a U.S. company in the ever-growing “Internet of Things.”

If the government gets its way, then every device — your mobile phone, tablet or laptop — will carry with it an implicit warning from its manufacturer: “Sorry, but we might be forced to hack you.”

As Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a congressional leader on privacy and technology, has stated, “If upheld, this decision could force U.S. technology companies to actually build hacking tools for government against their will, while weakening cybersecurity for millions of Americans in the process.”

One concern is government overreach. The government isn’t just asking Apple to give them access to documents or programs that already exist. Instead, the government is using a 227-year-old law, the All Writs Act, to order Apple to spend time and resources coming up with a new technology that Apple doesn’t want to work on — code to hack its own phones.

However, the All Writs Act does not permit the government to obtain an order compelling assistance by a party that does not have possession or control of the information the government seeks.

The court order risks setting a dangerous precedent. If the FBI can force Apple to hack into its customers’ devices, then so too can every repressive regime in the rest of the world. If the government demonstrates that it can compel Apple to break its own security in this way, the next demands may well come from China, and the next targets will be dissidents, not criminal suspects.

Of course, historically, the government has sought and obtained assistance from tech companies and others in criminal investigations — but only in obtaining information or evidence the companies already have access to.

So much is at stake. And so much surrounding this case is misunderstood.

One argument is that Apple has unlocked 70 phones in investigations of other crimes. That is simply not true. Apple has extracted data from phones using earlier software without unlocking them. It has helped the government recover data in criminal investigations, but it has not created new code to defeat the security systems — code that would make all Apple customers less secure.

The company has not been able to extract data tied to a passcode since September, 2014, when its iOS 8 operating system was introduced. Apple no longer has a way of breaking into its customers’ mobile devices.

As Apple CEO Tim Cook has said, “We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.”

Another misconception is that Apple could develop a dedicated program that would work only on the phone the FBI has seized. That risk might appear acceptable to some if it were possible to limit access to legitimate governmental purposes overseen by a judge.

But Apple’s Cook notes that so-called backdoors are inherently dangerous. “Once the information is known,” he says, “or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.”

Once the code is bypassed, that knowledge becomes a genie that cannot be put back in the bottle.

For the government, every “Internet of Things” device will be more than just a novel convenience — it will be a new window into your home. The fridge that responds to your verbal commands might have a backdoor to allow for remote listening. The TV that enables you to video chat with your family might be commandeered into a ready-made spy camera.

The security of data and safety of users everywhere isn’t worth sacrificing to a possible lead in any one case, no matter how important.

Hector Villagra is executive director of the ACLU of Southern California.

After San Bernardino shooting, Apple opposes FBI demands to unlock phone

Apple Inc opposed a court ruling on Tuesday that ordered it to help the FBI break into an iPhone recovered from a San Bernardino shooter, heightening a dispute between tech companies and law enforcement over the limits of encryption.

Chief Executive Tim Cook said the court's demand threatened the security of Apple's customers and had “implications far beyond the legal case at hand.” 

Earlier on Tuesday, Judge Sheri Pym of U.S. District Court in Los Angeles said that Apple must provide “reasonable technical assistance” to investigators seeking to unlock the data on an iPhone 5C that had been owned by Syed Rizwan Farook.

That assistance includes disabling the phone's auto-erase function, which activates after 10 consecutive unsuccessful passcode attempts, and helping investigators to submit passcode guesses electronically.

Federal prosecutors requested the court order to compel Apple to assist the investigation into the Dec. 2 shooting rampage by Farook and his wife, killing 14 and injuring 22 others. The two were killed in a shootout with police.

The FBI has been investigating the couple's potential communications with Islamic State and other militant groups.

“Apple has the exclusive technical means which would assist the government in completing its search, but has declined to provide that assistance voluntarily,” prosecutors said.

U.S. government officials have warned that the expanded use of strong encryption is hindering national security and criminal investigations.

Technology experts and privacy advocates counter that forcing U.S. companies to weaken their encryption would make private data vulnerable to hackers, undermine the security of the Internet and give a competitive advantage to companies in other countries.

In a letter to customers posted on Apple's website, Cook said the FBI wanted the company “to build a backdoor to the iPhone” by making a new version of the iPhone operating system that would circumvent several security features.

“The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers – including tens of millions of American citizens – from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals,” Cook said.

He said Apple was “challenging the FBI's demands” and that it would be “in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.”

In a similar case last year, Apple told a federal judge in New York that it was “impossible” for the company to unlock its devices that run an operating system of iOS 8 or higher.

According to prosecutors, the phone belonging to Farook ran on iOS 9.

Prosecutors said Apple could still help investigators by disabling “non-encrypted barriers that Apple has coded into its operating system.”

Apple and Google both adopted strong default encryption in late 2014, amid growing digital privacy concerns spurred in part by the leaks from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Forensics expert Jonathan Zdziarski said on Tuesday that Apple might have to write custom code to comply with the order, presenting a novel question to the court about whether the government could order a private company to hack its own device.

Zdziarski said that, because the San Bernardino shooting was being investigated as a terrorism case, investigators would be able to work with the NSA and the CIA on cracking the phone.

Those U.S. intelligence agencies could likely break the iPhone's encryption without Apple's involvement, he said.

Google unveils latest Nexus phones, tablet

Google Inc unveiled its new Nexus phones on Tuesday in its latest attempt to take a bite out of Apple's dominant share of the smartphone market.

The launch of the phones, the Nexus 6P and the Nexus 5X, comes a day after Apple Inc reported record first-weekend sales of its new iPhones.

The Nexus 5X 16 GB model will be priced at $379, while the Nexus 6P 32 GB will cost $499, Google said at an event live-streamed on YouTube.

Apple's 6s and 6s Plus start at $199 and $299, respectively, with a two-year service-provider contract.

Nexus devices, which typically do not sell as much as iPhones or iPads, are a way for the tech giant to showcase its latest advancements in mobile hardware and software.

Google also unveiled a tablet built entirely by the company based on its Android operating system.

The latest version of Android, dubbed Marshmallow, will be available to existing Nexus customers from next week.

The Android mobile platform is a key element in Google's strategy to maintain revenue from online advertising as people switch from Web browser searches to smartphone apps.

The Nexus 5X is made by South Korea's LG Electronics Inc and the Nexus 6P by China's Huawei Technologies Co Ltd. Both phones feature Google's new fingerprint sensor, Nexus Imprint, which is located on the back.

The fingerprint sensors will help quickly authorize purchases made through Android Pay, the one-touch payment app on Android devices that competes with Apple Pay.

The phones are available for pre-order on the Google Store from a number of countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Japan.

The Pixel C tablet will cost $499 for the 32 GB model and can be bought with a detachable keyboard, which will cost $149.

The tablet will be available in time for the holiday season on the Google Store.

The Pixel tablet puts Google in the sights of its biggest competitors, Apple's iPad Pro and Microsoft Corp's Surface tablets, which also have optional keyboards.

Google also unveiled a redesigned version of its Chromecast device for streaming Web content to TVs and introduced Chromecast Audio, which plugs into speakers to stream audio over Wi-Fi. Chromecast Audio, priced at $35, works with apps including Spotify, Pandora and Google Play Music. Chromecast competes with the Apple TV set-top box.

Apple invites journalists to Sept. 9 event

Apple Inc on Thursday invited journalists to a Sept 9 event, where it is expected to unveil new iPhones and potentially a new version of its Apple TV set top box.

The email invitation includes a colorful Apple logo with the phrase “Hey Siri, give us a hint.” The company typically announces its new iPhones in September.

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 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.’ ”

Reporting anti-Semitism: There’s an app for that

Campus hate has a new enemy that fits in the pocket of your pants. 

CombatHateU, a new smartphone app for Apple iOS and Android developed by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, is intended to allow Jewish college students to immediately report and confront anti-Semitism. 

The app aims to make the reporting process as simple as possible, Los Angeles-based Wiesenthal Center researcher Rick Eaton told the Journal via email.

“To use the app to report you only need click the center shield from the home screen and it will give you the report form,” Eaton said. “We ask each user to give us a one-time profile with their name and email address and school, if they chose. All reports to us are confidential, but we need to be able to reach someone reporting in case we need to clarify information.”

CombatHateU also includes a news feature that aggregates reports of anti-Semitic incidents all over the world. 

The app is available for download through the iTunes store for Apple users and through Google Play for Android devices.

The Wiesenthal Center describes the app as the third in a series of special anti-hate apps. A previously released app, CombatHate, is available for junior high and high school students.

The Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) became involved with the promotion of the app following an anti-Israel incident at Ohio University last month. 

“Anti-Semitic rhetoric on campuses has to stop. [We are] thrilled to be partners with the [Wiesenthal Center],” AEPi executive director Andy Borans said in a press release. “Now … [AEPi] members have a place to report anti-Semitic hate speech, which has no place on campus.” 

The app’s release, announced during an Oct. 7 launch party in New York, came on the heels of a major anti-Semitic incident at Emory University in Atlanta, where swastikas were spray-painted on the AEPi fraternity house hours after the end of Yom Kippur. 

An L.A.-based launch party for the new app is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The Wiesenthal Center is a Los Angeles-based human rights organization. It oversees the Museum of Tolerance as part of its mission of confronting anti-Semitism, standing with Israel and educating about the Holocaust. 

Overheard at the DLD Tel Aviv Digital Conference

“Hey, Jackson! How’s your startup coming? Still living the dream?”

“We’re not really fancy yet. We still need to have that discussion.”

“Let me be Israeli for a minute and not be politically correct.”

“Let’s do it after Rosh Hashanah. Don’t let me forget, dude.”

“It’s good to laugh about Microsoft, just like it’s good to laugh about Yair Lapid.”

“They’re a pain in the ass, but you can’t get rid of investors. It’s very hard.”

“Really? People want to monitor their urine on their iPhone?”

“You’re kidding, how much?” “I don’t know — you’ll have to ask them. But an incredible amount.”

“My nephew was in this unit. They give them super hot projects like Iron Dome. Now, after that, everything looks easy.”

“The Chinese are hungry. The Thai are not so hot on Israel, but the Chinese are. So are the Taiwanese.”

“There’s so much money here on this small island.”

“I don’t care where you find them, just find me the startups.”

“I know someone who knows the woman who was almost kidnapped in Jerusalem.”

“If you get caught without a business card, you’re gonna get f—ed, man.”

“It’s not good for you, and it’s not good for him, because he has high blood pressure.”

“No, she couldn’t come. She’s doing a hackathon in Westfield over the weekend.”

“Look, if you want, you could have a presence for a couple thousand dollars.”

More from the conference: 

Meet the Jewish founders of Tinder

Finding dates used to require approaches such as hiring matchmakers, signing up for dancing and cooking classes, attending synagogue, asking friends for help, or, for the least energetic, merely creating a cursory profile on sites such as JDate.

But now, thanks to apps such as the uber-popular Tinder, it takes just one finger and a smartphone to maybe, just maybe, find your one-and-only. 

Launched in 2012, Tinder may now be millennials’ most popular source for matchmaking — possibly even more than friends introducing friends.

Two of the app’s three creators are Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, two Jewish 27-year-olds from Los Angeles who set up shop in West Hollywood with their other co-founder, Jonathan Badeen. (Despite their full work and social schedules, both Rad and Mateen said they make sure to be at their parents’ Shabbat dinner tables every Friday.) They declined to reveal how many millions of people have downloaded Tinder, but they are competing with the most successful matchmaking apps (see: Hinge) in “creating introductions,” Tinder’s raison d’etre.

Available for free on Apple and Android operating systems, Tinder works like this: If Ted, 22, wants to meet someone new, the app starts by pulling information from his Facebook account — first name, age, interests, friends and photos. Then Ted can write a brief description of himself, choose which photos to post and — voila! — time to Tinder.

One after another, pictures of young women — if that’s who he’s looking to meet — will appear on Ted’s screen, along with their first names and ages. Ted can also see whether they have friends or interests in common. 

Clicking on the profile photo of one — say, Victoria, 23 — Ted scrolls through a few more pictures, reads her bio (she describes herself as “compassionate and adventurous” and has an Instagram account) and sees that their mutual Facebook friend is someone he has never met in person. Not sufficiently intrigued, Ted swipes his finger to the left, sending Victoria into the Tinder netherworld. He will never see her again.

Next up is Beth, 21. Bad photo. Easy choice. Swipe left.

Then Jamie, 22. Cute face but strange smile. Swipe left.

It has been only seven seconds since Ted swiped left on Victoria, and he’s coming up on his fourth potential match: Sara, 21. She’s very pretty, has four mutual friends, loves Dave Matthews Band, and she last used the app five minutes ago (Tinder shows that), so she’s definitely actively looking. Swipe right.

Suddenly, a new screen pops up with a picture of Ted and Sara and the words “It’s a Match!” This means Sara must have seen Ted’s profile and swiped right, too. This allows them to send direct messages to each other, share some jokes, exchange phone numbers and then, who knows what?

New Israeli cooking app takes off

This story originally appeared on

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.”

Am I an e-slave?: The pressure of human interaction

I am not the right person to preach on electronic servitude, given my tons of incoming mail and messages and a touch of OCD. As I’m writing this, in between tweets and Facebook updates, I have stopped to answer e-mails. More than once. They pile up, you see, and I like a clean inbox even more than a clean desk. 

The essence of slavery is to be unable to make a choice, and so we use the word loosely when we say that we are “slaves” to our appetites or drives. But the expanse of our will is narrowed by powerful pushes in a given direction. People are not quite slaves to alcohol because they can quit, but it is much closer to slavery when you’re an alcoholic than it is when you have no impulse to overindulge. Addiction is not full-on slavery, but it can feel uncomfortably close.

I sit in meetings and, knowing it is not entirely graceful, sneak peeks at my e-mail and texts. Discreetly, I tap responses. All the while I succumb to the great Internet illusion that what exists on the screen is more compelling than what exists in the world. Yes, someone is talking, but that little red circle is showing on my iPhone, with all its faux urgency, pleading with me to check. (Hold for one second, if you will — I have a text …)

Where was I? Oh yes, texts. They ding, or ring, or honk, you see, or click, or thunk, and one can only imagine the urgency of the communication. Here is where the insidiousness creeps in: I know from experience that almost all e-mails and texts can wait. “Did you see GOT last night? OMG!!!!” is not a piercing observation requiring instant response. But add a ding to that message, and I’m full-on Pavlovian. “Dopamine” rightly begins with “dope.”

I recently completed a book, a biography of King David. While writing, I had to turn off my phone. So long as it was making insistent noises (or in silent mode making those disturbing “I might be making noises, but you don’t even know” noises) I could not possibly summon the sustained concentration necessary to write a book. 

In the olden days, that is, a decade ago, when you were having lunch with someone, it was unlikely that everyone you knew would walk into the restaurant to talk to you. But now, everyone you know is in your pocket. They are with you at all times. Your entire social circle, (along with a huge chunk of the totality of human knowledge) is waiting for a “hi” or “lol.” The pressure of human contact is unrelenting, and the result is avdut (slavery) of the Internet = e-slavery.

Shabbat is a break, but use of electronic devices is common among even the observant. I am blessedly free at shul, but I come home and find myself thinking that my phone might be trying to reach me to tell me of some crisis, or catastrophe, or family communication from the East Coast. The possibilities are endless of what that black, blank screen might be hiding, available at the seductive push of a button. The justifications fly thick and fast, all in service of impulse. 

Passover teaches the only genuine escape from slavery. It is not an act of will alone, but a change of place and circumstance. To hold your phone in your pocket and resist looking at it is a good start. Leaving your phone at home is even better. Liberation often means being able to renounce, and, by renouncing, to unshackle oneself. “No” is the word that gives you freedom. The Torah depicts the Israelites yearning for Egypt, but they could not turn back. You may sit at lunch, or in a meeting, and imagine the delights your phone would bring, but if you don’t carry it along with you, there is a momentary liberation.

Let us, therefore, declare phone-free sedarim. Observant or not, the people at the table should be the people you are there with, alongside our ancestors, who escaped slavery to liberate us to the very different slavery of abundance.  

We have too much — information, access, food, entertainment — everything. Don’t let Elijah catch you on your iPhone. He might not come back.

David Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple. You can follow his teachings at

Billion-dollar Waze

UPDATE [7/29/13]: Google bought Waze for $966 million.

Just a couple of years ago, the Israeli entrepreneurs behind the traffic-fighting smartphone app Waze were knocking down the door of every news outlet in Los Angeles. They were seeking publicity to help forge their way into the iPhones and Androids of L.A. drivers by promising some reprieve from “Carmageddon” weekend on the 405 freeway. Waze argued that its brave new method of crowdsourcing map and traffic data — via social media, with input from an active user base — would be the perfect tool to navigate drivers around the monster 405 freeway project and resulting traffic jams. The company needed press, and bad — because if enough people didn’t use the app, it wouldn’t work for anyone.

Well, they don’t need the press anymore. On June 11, Google Inc., the American tech giant at the forefront of online mapping, bought Waze Mobile for between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion, according to various media reports (neither company has disclosed the final sum). Google’s acquisition is one of the largest in the history of the Israeli tech industry and stands as a major vote of confidence for both Waze and Israel’s startup scene at large.

These days, the Waze guys, who once reached out to Los Angeles eager for attention from any reporter, are mum. They are happily cloaked under Google’s strict no-press policy. “We are Google employees” now, says one of the app’s three founders over Facebook chat, “and we cannot speak to the press.”

Even without Google, Waze picked up a fast and loyal following in its first five to six years on the market: The app already boasts almost 50 million users in 190 countries and counting.

But no one will ever love Waze quite as fiercely as Israel.

[Related: What is it with Israelis and high tech?]

The buzz of the billion-dollar sale could be felt last week through the summer heat in Tel Aviv and environs, where Waze has long been regarded a national treasure — the top of the class in a nation of 1,000 startups. “Congratulations, you have reached your destination,” cheered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a reported phone call to Waze’s founders on the night of the sale.

“The Israeli people feel that they have some part in this huge success story,” said Izhar Shay, head of Israel operations at venture capital firm Canaan Partners. “We were the test group. We were the first users of an international breakthrough project, and we were part of the reason why Waze was so successful.”

The local market may only be about 7 million strong — a shortcoming that some say has slowed the overall progress of consumer-oriented invention in Israel — but it’s famously hands-on.

“By nature, people here are happy to try out new technologies, new concepts, new ideas — especially if they’re introduced by Israelis,” said Shay. “When Waze started, everybody knew somebody at Waze. So if people had bugs or issues with something that didn’t work properly, they would pick up the phone and call to yell at somebody at Waze.”

There have been local concerns, over the years, that large foreign companies are harvesting many of the best Israeli business ideas at an unripe age. But industry analysts who spoke with the Jewish Journal argued that the Waze buyout, which reportedly includes an agreement to keep Waze’s headquarters in Israel for at least the next three years, is the best possible scenario for a local company looking to go global.

Gil Ben-Artzy, co-founder of UpWest Labs — a training program in Silicon Valley for Israeli startups — called the sale a natural and smart evolution for Waze, and a “beacon” for other Israeli entrepreneurs.

“I find it hard to accuse somebody who sold their company for over $1 billion of selling too early,” said Jonathan Medved, head of Israeli crowd-funding venture OurCrowd.

Waze “fought like a lion to keep its development in the country,” Medved said. “The fact that these guys showed that you can fight that battle and win, and still sell your company for a good price, means that everybody’s going to try to do it.”

Up until now, Google Maps has been a dirty word in Israel; everyone wants to support the home team, plus Waze appeals to the Israeli nature to jump into the conversation, so the app has become extremely accurate due to all the input. But the two companies’ new all-star collaboration has now set the tech blogs on fire with speculation on the future possibilities of online mapping.

One thing they all can agree on: Waze’s secret weapon in a world clamoring with startups — and undoubtedly one of Google’s top reasons for scooping it up — has always been its devoted army of Wazers, who together helped the app reach the critical “viral” stage by telling all their friends and helping chart new territory within Waze’s virtual map system.

In combining their strengths — manual and social-media mapping, respectively — Google and Waze have hit such a sweet spot in the online map market that Southern California-based interest group Consumer Watchdog has even expressed concern that the duo might become a monopoly.

Facebook and Apple, who were also rumored bidders in the race for Waze, can’t be too happy about the new superpower.

“When you are driving in your car and you’re using Waze … you’re stuck in traffic, and all you have is this small screen in front of you that delivers the most important news to you,” Israeli investor Shay explained. “Now Google has access to our hearts while we are at a very significant part of our day, and we have nowhere to go.”

Israeli techies and investors are also touting the Waze acquisition as a ribbon-cutting of sorts for the new and exciting “consumer-oriented” frontier of Israeli innovation.

In the past, the country has been known more for its security software, semiconductors and other business-to-business (read: boring) technology. 

Waze is the polar opposite — a people’s product to the core. With its cutesy icons and game-like elements — including swords and badges for those drivers who submit warnings about “objects in the road,” police stakeouts, etc. — the app has proven as addicting as any Farmville or Angry Birds, only loads more useful. For the Waze addict, a commute is no longer complete without the soothing voice of Waze’s token she-bot, coaxing her customer through each lurch and turn.

To be sure, the app has had its detractors. Some traffic-safety advocates have worried that Waze’s highly interactive, video-game-like experience can prevent drivers from paying attention to the real-life road in front of them. The company has responded by installing voice-command and motion-sensor functions, as well as a keyboard lock for when the vehicle is moving — although drivers can easily override the latter by telling Waze that they are in the passenger’s seat. Last week, New York Magazine blogger Kevin Roose wrote in a concerned post on the acquisition: “As Google considers adding revenue-generating features like local advertising to Waze’s already-packed interface, it may raise the question: How much information is too much for drivers to handle safely?”

Yet, for Waze’s defenders, the proof is in its adaptability — and with Google’s latest infusion of cash, the app will no doubt keep adapting to meet user demands. 

Consumer-oriented innovation “requires a certain aesthetic understanding, and a certain design excellence” that Israel hasn’t necessarily been known for in the past, said Mick Weinstein, a longtime tech writer based in Jerusalem. “And that’s part of what’s so wonderful about Waze, is the user experience.”

In the wake of Google’s winning bid, Oren Hod, co-founder of video creation marketplace VeedMe, which connects videographers with prospective clients, said startups like his are catching Waze fever.

“I think [the sale] gave hope to some entrepreneurs and Israeli startups that are not super technology-oriented … to make it big in the U.S. market,” said Hod.

Local and international investors, too, are apt to be inspired by Google’s big move, said Shay — and “we should expect to see additional votes of confidence in Israeli startups as a result.”

Medved added that he has “never seen a time when there have been more good-quality Israeli startups that are really attracting worldwide attention — I think it’s a golden age.”

Waze, for one, doesn’t need the press anymore, nor the hasbara. As Google’s gorgeous Tel Aviv campus buzzes with new life and Waze enjoys its hard-earned spot on top of the world in Ra’anana, it begins to sound superfluous — even old-fashioned — to rave about Israel’s “Silicon Wadi” as if it were a niche or an underdog.

App to track Obama’s Israel visit

Israel's Prime Minister's Office launched an app to follow President Obama's visit in real time.

The app, which is available though Israel's Apple store, will assist journalists covering the visit and allow Israelis to receive real-time updates, including video streaming. It will be available shortly for Android.

Now available in Hebrew and English, the app soon will be available in Arabic, Ynet reported.

The app was announced Sunday at a preparatory meeting ahead of Obama's visit to Israel later this month. Representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, the president's residence, the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the Israel Police, the Jerusalem Municipality, Ben-Gurion International Airport and other agencies attended the meeting.

National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said it was “very important” that the visit be marked by three points: “One, that it go smoothly from start to finish. It is important for us that the Prime Minister and the President have fruitful and productive talks — this is the basis for the continuation of work over the next four years. It is important to us that the President and all those who watch the visit see the beautiful Land of Israel as much as possible given the short schedule.

“Cooperation between all elements — among all the Israelis, and between us and the Americans — is also vital for the success of the visit.” 

Meanwhile, the U.S. Embassy in Israel announced a competition for 20 seats at Obama's speech in Israel. Hopefuls must like the embassy's Facebook page and in the comments section explain why they should be invited. The post had 400 likes on Sunday within six hours of the announcement.

The speech is scheduled to take place at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center.

New Apple operating system lists Israel without a capital, Jerusalem without a country

The map included in Apple’s new iOS6 operating system reportedly does not show Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Every other country on the map has its capital listed, The Algemeiner reported Tuesday.

In addition, the world clock included in the operating system lists Jerusalem without an affiliated country — the only city to be included that way, the paper said.

Apple did not respond to JTA requests for comment.

Haredi rabbi in Israel tells followers to burn iPhones

A prominent haredi Orthodox rabbi in Israel ordered his followers to burn their iPhones.

The call by Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, 84, appeared Sunday on the front page of the religious daily newspaper Yated Neeman, according to the Failed Messiah website.

Following the decree by Kanievsky, large posters appeared throughout Jerusalem’s haredi neighborhoods calling iPhones “an abomination 24 hours a day” and urging community members to kick iPhone owners out of religious seminaries, The Associated Press reported. Community members also are warned in the posters to keep their children away from the children of iPhone users.

The warnings come amid a recent push by the haredi Orthodox to keep their community away from the temptations of the outside world, notably the Internet.

Singles at Passover saying so long to cell phone, Facebook contacts

While Passover is the time to clean out chametz, single Jews apparently will be cleaning out their social lives.

Jewish singles will use the holiday as an excuse to clean out their cell phone and Facebook contacts, a poll conducted by the Jewish dating site Jewcier found.

In a poll of more than 1,120 Jewish singles, 68 percent of women and 65 percent of men said that cleaning out their cell phone and Facebook contact list was the most important thing to do before Passover.

“When it comes to Passover priorities, Jewish singles have traded the traditional priorities with modern, non-traditional ones,” said Shira Kallus, relationship adviser for Jewcier.

According to the poll, single men prioritize cleaning out their cell phone contacts, while single women prioritize cleaning out their Facebook friends list. Both said that ex-boyfriends and girlfriends should be the first to go.

Technology leading the way to lower-cost day school education

The nondenominational Pre-Collegiate Learning Center of New Jersey doesn’t have a math teacher. The East Brunswick school instead relies on experienced math tutors who help students work through an online math curriculum relying on outside sources.

At Baltimore’s Ohr Chadash, a Modern Orthodox primary school in its first year, students receive iPads beginning in the fourth grade to do more online and group work.

“The things the teachers ask us to do for work are fun,” said 9-year-old Nili Hefetz, a fourth-grader at the school. For example, using Adobe Ideas, Nili and other students draw pictures on the iPads inspired by the Chumash (Bible) lessons.

“The idea was to incorporate technology into the school in a seamless way,” said the school’s president, Saul Weinreb. “It became a way of doing things both in education and administration.”

It’s also a way to save money.

With tuition that can reach $30,000 or more per student, the day school tuition crisis has spurred a search for new options and given rise to a new breed of day schools where technology and blended learning—mixing traditional classroom learning with online education—are reducing costs.

“In the general world, online and blended learning is becoming a wave of the future,” said Rachel Mohl Abrahams, a program officer at the Avi Chai Foundation in New York.

PCLC opened in the fall with 20 students in grades 8 to 11. Its director, Lauren Ariev Gellman, predicts that in 10 to 15 years, all schools—public and private—will have an online component.

“Everybody is going to move in this direction,” Gellman said. “It would serve Jewish schools well to get ahead of the curve. And bring the costs way down.”

Tuition is just $5,000 at the PCLC. The blended learning style has allowed the school to save in a big area: faculty. It employs only two full-time administrators and only part-time teachers. Teachers assign lessons from online curricula, such as math and science lessons from Khan Academy or language lessons from Rosetta Stone, and then provide individual help while students work at their own pace.

The Judaic studies curriculum is more traditional—simply because the resources are not there yet. Two of the classes, however, are run over Skype with a teacher in Israel and students participating from four or five other yeshivas.

Volunteering is also helping to keep down costs at the new schools. At Ohr Chadash, where tuition is $8,400 this year, each family is required to volunteer 25 hours per year. Nili’s mother, Shayna, is co-president of the school’s PTA and volunteers as an art teacher. Other parents have volunteered with office work, on field trips and as lunchtime supervisors.

“We try to utilize parent volunteers as much as possible,” Shayna Hefetz said.

Going paperless also has meant major cost savings, which Weinreb estimates at a few hundred dollars per student. And a budget oversight committee comprised of people otherwise unaffiliated with the school first approves every expense and ensures that budgets are planned around only existing money, not future fundraising. The methods can frustrate administrators, Weinreb acknowledged, but keep the budget in check.

Volunteerism is the main model for keeping down costs at The Jewish Cooperative School in Hollywood, Fla., where 2011-12 tuition ran $7,500. Technology does not play as central a role in the Modern Orthodox school, but as at Ohr Chadash, the administration requires the parents of its 23 students in kindergarten through second grade to volunteer several hours a month.

“I’ve found parents really enjoy being involved in the education of their kids,” said Janessa Wasserman, one of the school’s founders and a parent of two students there. “And the kids really love it.”

Hannah Shapiro, whose 7-year-old daughter, Aliyah, attends second grade at the school, volunteers by putting out a weekly newsletter for each grade, as well as helping once a week in the classroom.

“I love to be involved with my kids’ education, so I try in any way possible to get involved,” she said.

Shapiro says that since Hannah started at The Jewish Cooperative School this year, she jumps out of bed in the morning excited about school.

“It’s like a home for them,” Shapiro said. “It’s something special.”

Avi Chai has provided grants to three of the blended learning schools, including PCLC and Ohr Chadash. The other school is Yeshivat He’Atid in Bergenfield, N.J. Overall, Avi Chai is aware of eight blended learning schools that either opened this year or plan to open next year, from California and Texas to Maryland and Massachusetts.

The concept has started drawing attention from other funders, too.

Determined to figure out new, sustainable ways to ensure that all Jewish parents have the ability to send their children to affordable, high-quality day schools, a group of philanthropists in the New York area formed the Affordable Jewish Education Project, or AJE, earlier this year. The group began with an open mind but honed in on the concept of low-cost day schools, said its executive director, Jeff Kiderman.

“There’s more to them than just their low cost,” he told JTA. “We saw this as a tremendous opportunity to innovate in the world of Jewish education by promoting educational improvements and affordability improvements at a time when our community really needs both.”

AJE discovered several low-cost schools throughout the United States that either recently opened or are in development, but Kiderman noted that there was little connecting them to each other. That’s the role AJE hopes to fill, he said, by creating a network for the schools to share best practices and resources.

Tuition savings at the lower-cost schools can range from 30 percent to 40 percent on the elementary level and 50 percent or more in high school, according to Kiderman. The schools focus on a mix of technology and volunteerism to keep costs down.

Kiderman calls PCLC a “classic example of a school trying to find available, innovative educational models that they can share with the rest of the country.”

The school is “constantly re-examining what they are doing and constantly trying to improve it. That’s what everybody should be doing,” he said.

“This is absolutely the future of education,” said Rebecca Coen, founder and head of Yeshiva High Tech, a Modern Orthodox Los Angeles high school scheduled to open in August with 40 students in ninth through 11th grade and tuition set at $8,500.

Distance learning has been around for years and Jewish schools are actually playing catch-up in online education, Coen said, noting that advances in non-Jewish education often take several years to filter down to the Jewish educational world.

While the students work on online lessons, teachers will rotate from group to group to provide support when needed.

“It’s possible in the same classroom to have ninth-grade students working on ninth-grade English, 10th-grade students working on 10th-grade English,” Coen said. “You can have AP in the classroom, and they can all be working simultaneously with the same teacher because the teacher is no longer the primary source for curriculum delivery.”

This may result in larger class sizes, Coen said, but teachers will “actually spend more time with each student than if they’re standing in front of the classroom.”

The Jewish Journal announces iPhone/Android apps

” title=”iPhone and Android” target=”_blank”>iPhone and Android.

These new smartphone apps build on the ” title=”JewishJournal” target=”_blank”>JewishJournal is the number one downloaded Jewish news app for the iPad. The new smartphone apps offer the same cutting-edge local, national and global news updates throughout the 24-hour news cycle, along with an easy-to-navigate interactive experience.

The release of the smartphone apps makes ” title=”” target=”_blank”>, including ” title=”Rosner’s Domain” target=”_blank”>Rosner’s Domain, ” title=”Nice Jewish Doctor” target=”_blank”>Nice Jewish Doctor and or call 213-368-1661 or visit

Hebrew support for Siri in development

Apple reportedly is developing add-ons for the Siri interface that will include support for Hebrew, among other languages.

Sources told the website that Nuance, a company working directly with Apple, has rented a studio where sound bites and sentences are being recorded in Hebrew. Nuance is using a special developer’s iPhone app to make the recordings.

The report does not guarantee that iOS 5.1, the forthcoming software update for iPhone, will support Hebrew.

Following Ted, not Steve

With the passing of Apple founder Steve Jobs, master creator of the iPod, iMac, iPhone and iPad, many people are now wondering: Which future brilliant gizmo will be buried with Jobs that we’ll never get to see?

As someone who adores Apple products, I appreciate the question, but it still disturbs me.

That’s because it reminds me that we live in a world that worships cool gadgets. I’ve noticed this is especially true with men. I can’t tell you how often I’ve seen a dinner conversation be overtaken by male friends debating megabytes, bandwidth and cellular connections.

Cool gadgets fascinate us because they give us an illusion of power — a sense that we’re always making progress, that we have the power to control an unpredictable world.

The problem, of course, is that machines, however mesmerizing, can’t teach us how to think.

In fact, they might do just the opposite. They train us to consume. The faster our digital gadget, the faster we consume. The more sophisticated the gadget, the less sophisticated we seem to become.

How do we consume our information? In little snippets, posts, Tweets and texts. If the snippet is juicy, like a graphic video of Gadhafi’s last minute, or one of monkeys that can paint, we spread it around so others can consume it, too.

We’re becoming a snippet society. We snorkel and catch newsy snippets and instant opinions that reinforce our thinking but rarely go scuba diving for deeper understanding. 

One of the sexiest snippets is news of The Upgrade. We eagerly await it, crave it, sleep outside the Apple store hoping to be among the first to get it.

Can you imagine Ernest Hemingway, while he was working on “The Old Man and the Sea,” lining up outside a pencil store for a “new and faster” pencil?

Instead of meaningful or creative thought, our new mobile gizmos make us value speed and ease. They spew out zillions of digital Doritos that our minds snack on all day — and once you start crunching, who can stop?

“Information is cheap,” Internet philosopher George Dyson wrote, but “meaning is expensive.”

Yes, but in truth, how can meaning compete with the serial pleasures of our alluring gadgets? We caress them, study them, marvel at their features, and, in no time, discard them so we can marvel at the upgraded version. This pattern of pleasure never stops. A better gadget is always around the corner, waiting to seduce us.

The maestro of this impulse was the great Steve Jobs. His sensual and intuitive machines, it must be said, have added an enormous amount of pleasure, convenience and human connection to the planet, and we owe him immeasurably for that.

But what his machines can’t do — what no machine can do — is encourage us to think more deeply and value the power of human ideas.

For that, you’ll need to go see Ted.

This is one of my favorite Web sites ( because it seduces with ideas — fascinating, challenging, eye-popping ideas on subjects like life, science, philosophy, beauty, ethics, art, astronomy, love — you name it.

The site offers videos of hundreds of the best and deepest thinkers in the world presenting their ideas in snappy talks that last anywhere from seven to 20 minutes. 

As I write this, here are some of the subjects featured on its home page: “How Beauty Feels,” “Art Made of Storms,” “Learning From a Barefoot Movement,” “How to Spot a Liar,” “Less Stuff, More Happiness,” “What Do Babies Think?” and “Finding Life We Can’t Imagine.”

The subjects are endless. The insights are riveting. But here’s the point: The site could be just as riveting in 100 years — even without improved technology — because its hero is content.

When I say content, I don’t mean disposable content that gives you a sugar rush. I mean deep and meaningful content that intrigues you, fires up your curiosity and provokes thought. This kind of content makes you think of new ideas, not new technology.

It reminds us that the ultimate gizmo is the human mind, and the ultimate app is human ideas.

I have no doubt the presenters on the TED site all have their own smartphones, iPads and Twitter accounts. But I also have no doubt that in order to come up with their ideas, at some point they had to slow down, unplug and just think.

The Jewish tradition seems to have a prophetic understanding of this need to reconnect with the essential. Maybe it’s no coincidence that 3,300 years before the invasion of Tweets and texts, God gave us a day for just that purpose. It’s Shabbat, our weekly holy day, when we liberate ourselves from all technology and reconnect with our inner humanity, our inner ability to think and go deep.

It took the extraordinary content of a Web site to remind me of this great Jewish value of elevating our minds over our machines.

This is surely a value that won’t soon die — not with Steve Jobs or any of us.

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

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.

How to dip your Apple in honey [VIDEO]

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.”

Open the doors for hungry Gen-Yers to serve

It comes as no surprise that in a world where many neglect the importance of community, iPhones, iPods and iPads are the trendiest gadgets. These devices represent a culture that desires to deconstruct the power and purpose of community, placing all importance on the needs of the individual.

Despite this societal disposition, I believe that many young people of this generation possess an ever increasing eagerness to live lives of meaning. With all the serious setbacks brought on by our new economic realities, the Gen-Y generation still had the opportunity to amass so much material stuff and travel with unprecedented frequency. But these fleeting objects and experiences do nothing to quench their thirst for a purposeful existence.

Just look at the new phenomenon in Israel in which “sheirut leumi”—alternative voluntary national service for those who cannot or do not serve in the military—once was the sole purview of the religious Zionist community. Recent years have seen a rise of new organizations such as Ma’ase, Shlomit and Sheirut Leumi Mamlachti empowering young adults of Israel’s secular community to volunteer for a year of service before their obligatory time in the army or enabling those exempt from army service who still wish to impact the destiny of the State of Israel. These organizations are collectively serving thousands.

One illustration of the same development appears at Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future, which sends nearly a thousand young adults on community initiatives, service learning trips and experiential learning missions across the globe. And the center cannot keep up with ever greater student demand.

Organizations throughout North America that work with young adults have seen a similar phenomenon and are working in partnership to create structures permitting all of us to better respond to this yearning. Recently a new organization, Repair the World, was established to help coordinate and fund successful models of this kind of engagement. It has even created a website allowing adults to find various short- and long-term volunteer opportunities around the world.

In contrast to this vitality, we increasingly hear of grayer board rooms, the passing of philanthropists who supported our organizations, the thinning of the ranks of dedicated volunteers and a dearth of professionals to service our many worthwhile organizations.

So how do we in the Jewish communal and educational world leverage the hunger of the Gen-Yers to insure the future health of our institutions? More importantly, how do we insure that this new generation brings its creativity, charisma and capacity to the leadership table with a commitment to Jewish ideals, guaranteeing the perpetuation of the soul of our sacred community?

We need look no further than these forms of experiential experiences as a start, for they transform young adults. I have often shared with students that their experiences on service missions should empower them to understand why the Hebrew word for giving, NaTaN, is a palindrome. For when one gives to another with the sole purpose of effectuating change, what one receives in return is as great or even greater than the efforts expended.

No more can we hear the old joke told among North American service providers that begins with a participant asking how does one say tikkun olam in Hebrew? Or why doesn’t Judaism have a concept similar to tikkun olam? Leadership experiences, whether in Israel, the former Soviet Union, Thailand or around the corner must be contextualized with the ideals of Jewish leadership. We must share the paradigms of leadership found in the Bible: that of the kohen (priest) and the navi (prophet).

Rooted in externals, the priest realized his holiness through the wearing of his special garb and his lineage. As the custodian of ritual for the Jewish community, he guaranteed that the form and the function of the Temple and the Jewish community passed on from generation to generation.

We must share with our young adults that participation in the identical rituals in which our great-grandparents engaged (and perhaps even using their candlesticks or kiddush cup for the Shabbat/holiday experience) creates a sense of continuity and immortality to the Jewish story. Like the kohen, our leadership experiences must serve as an incubator to engage our young adults in exploring and knowing the Jewish story.

Yet that is just half the job, for they must also embrace the role of the prophet. Dress and lineage possessed no consequence for the prophet. His/her concern rested in the substance of the religious experience in the effort to insure that the ritual not become robotic or devoid of meaning and purpose. Like the prophet, our young adults must experience a tradition imbued with passion and principle.

We must insure the placing of service learning initiatives and leadership opportunities within a rich Jewish context. This allows our experiential experiences to give voice to the immortal and contemporary traditions of our people.

The Gen-Yers wish to live lives that matter. They are hungry for community, and where they do not find ones that welcome them, they will create their own. They do not wish to escape but to engage; they do not want to judge or to be judged but to join. They do not desire indictment; they seek inspiration.

They also are not willing to accept the community silos of the past but are interested in models that perform. They are not interested in being silent partners in an organizational bureaucracy but want to matter and will accept process only if it leads to purpose. They are looking to change the spelling of their gaming console, the Wii, from two i’s to an “e.’’

If we create portals of entry, share with them our story undiluted or whitewashed, and find the courage to let them make it their own, they will do something that we cannot: guarantee our future.

(Rabbi Kenneth Brander is the David Mitzner dean of Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future. Its missions focus on helping impoverished individuals, Jews and non-Jews, around the world.)

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.