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 (TED.com) 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 davids@jewishjournal.com.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs dead at 56


Apple Inc co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs, counted among the greatest American CEOs of his generation, died on Wednesday at the age of 56, after a years-long and highly public battle with cancer and other health issues.

Jobs’ death was announced by Apple in a statement late on Wednesday.

The Silicon Valley icon who gave the world the iPod and the iPhone resigned as CEO of the world’s largest technology corporation in August, handing the reins to current chief executive Tim Cook.

Jobs, who fought a rare form of pancreatic cancer, was deemed the heart and soul of a company that rivals Exxon Mobil as the most valuable in America.

Jobs was a Buddhist.

Reporting by Edwin Chan; Editing by Gary Hill

iGragger


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.)

So you want to be a DJ . . .


You’ve danced your last on the bar or bat mitzvah circuit and moved on to high school. But that doesn’t mean the party has to end.

For those who have dreamed of going from an infinite iPod playlist to playing live on the ones and twos, the bar and bat mitzvah party scene is a great place to get your start. Setting up a DJ business takes practice, planning and professionalism, but it beats baby-sitting and burgers.

The Journal turned to two local experts to help you get started: DJ Elan Feldman of Elan Entertainment, a 21-year-old economics major at Claremont McKenna College, and DJ Chris Dalton of C.D. Players Entertainment, a 36-year-old entrepreneur who began his career as a teen talk show host in Detroit.

Starting Out

It might seem like a daunting task to turn a hobby you like into a lucrative business, but both DJs say it isn’t that hard.

“There are some formalities, like creating business cards, buying insurance and buying equipment,” Feldman said. “But the hardest part of starting a DJ company is finding a market. DJing is one of those businesses that a hobby can be a real business, too.”

Start by asking your parents to help you buy a DJ system as an investment. Spin every opportunity you get, even if it’s just to perform for friends at their events for no cost. Practice makes perfect, and if you do a good job, word of mouth goes a long way for these events.

Getting Hired

Referrals do wonders. If you have already worked one bar or bat mitzvah party, chances are the parents know other parents from the Hebrew school who need to hire someone to DJ their child’s event.

“All of my business involves referrals,” Dalton said. “I don’t spend anything on advertising. One time, I put an ad in the Yellow Pages, and it almost put me under.”

Having your own Web site or establishing a presence on Facebook or MySpace doesn’t hurt, especially if the student is doing the research. But parents don’t necessarily turn to a Web site for information about hiring a DJ for their child’s special day.

More important is a professional-looking business card. You can expect to spend about $65 for a box of 1,000 cards if you order them through a designer or retailer. But it’s also possible to get print-it-yourself packages from office supply stores for about $15.

Be sure you bring cards and any other marketing materials to the event. If the adults like what you do, there’s a chance they will pass your card on to someone else and get your name out.

Equipment

Feldman prefers Apple products, saying that he’s found them to be the best and easiest to use.

“I have several DJ programs; the most popular right now is Traktor,” he said. “I like to use an iPod, because I feel more involved with the party when I’m not hiding behind a DJ booth.”

Dalton brings a DJ rig with him that uses dual CD players, much like a vinyl turntable. He uses a tracker scratch with a laptop and will even break out an iPod as a backup to make sure those special moments go without a hitch.

For speakers, Dalton swears by Mackies and JBLs, which he considers to be the most dependable available. He also prefers American Audio mixers, which he says last up to three years.

Cost

Some DJs say shelling out a few hundred dollars a year for insurance purposes is worth the expense, while others say it isn’t necessary. Those who do carry insurance say it provides venues and clients alike with peace of mind.

Most of your expenses will come from investing in new equipment.

“I upgrade my equipment annually,” Dalton said. “It can cost a minimum of $10,000.”

Labor is another a big cost. It’s possible that you will have to pay dancers and assistants based on the size of the party.

And then there’s transportation. You may have to start shelling out for travel expenses, depending on your level of success. Given fluctuating gas prices, consider your transportation costs as part of your price quote.

Rates

Check to see how others in your area structure the rates they charge.

Dalton charges a flat fee of $925 for four hours. But Feldman, on the other hand, doesn’t have a set rate.

“I consider the type of event, its length and the financial situation of the customer before I set my price,” Feldman said.

Generally, if a party lasts longer than four hours, the customer will be paying more for that luxury.

Setup

If there are issues with the synagogue or hall where you need to set up — for example, there isn’t enough room for dancing — go with the flow.

“I teach everyone to give yourself an hour of prep time to make sure everything is OK,” Dalton said. “I work very well with everyone and make sure that everyone working for me understands that we are a team and that there is no ‘I’ in the word ‘team.'”

When dealing with pushy or demanding parents, it is imperative to figure out what they want well before the party starts so you aren’t hit with any last-minute issues. Micromanaging takes the fun out of the event for all parties involved, so before the day of the event, it’s important to come to an agreement on party details (for example, what time the cake comes out, what time dancing starts, if anyone is going to light the candles or give speeches and when, etc.).

Remember to handle parents in a professional manner, because you need their referral.

Playlist

A good DJ must be confident, engage the crowd and never forget that the event is to celebrate someone else’s personal moment, not to showcase his or her ability to entertain.

“Before any party, I meet with the client to discuss and plan the event. All my parties are fully customized. So these meetings serve as an opportunity for the family to tell me exactly what they are looking for and what type of music to play, as well as how the order of events should play out,” Feldman said.

A good DJ should understand his/her audience and keep current with popular music trends. Clean radio edits for certain hip-hop songs don’t hurt, especially because b’nai mitzvah kids often have little brothers and sisters at the party.

A great DJ must be able to guide the party in the right direction based on what the parents and bar or bat mitzvah student want. But then a little musical spontaneity never hurt anyone, and the variety will probably keep partygoers out on the dance floor clamoring for more.

Low tech Torah study and prayer now have a high tech pal


Torah study and prayer are decidedly low-tech ventures, but the rise in popularity of handheld multimedia devices like the iPod, PalmPilot and Treo Smartphone has brought a 21st century edge to ancient practices once confined to the printed page. The marketplace now features a plethora of software solutions that allow users to download sacred texts and Judaic and Hebrew literacy tools, as well as Jewish calendars and kosher guides, into a portable system that helps Jews stay religiously connected in the 24/6 world.

New products like the ShasPod and iDaven are helping Jews keep up with their studies in their own time. Rabbis are reading the Ve’ahavta from their iPod screens, scholars are studying the Torah on PalmPilots and Jewish children are learning prayers on laptops.

As technology advances, so too will the Judaic tools available. But questions of halacha, especially the treatment of God’s name on electronic devices, provide a stumbling block for technophobes who have yet to make the leap.

The iPod has all but revolutionized the music industry since it was first launched in 2001. Now Apple’s popular MP3 player is making greater inroads with the religious community, as Jewish companies develop specific products and programming for the device.

Having trouble fitting a siddur in your already crammed backpack? Davka’s iDaven only takes up space on your iPod. The application contains a group of high-quality photos featuring clear Hebrew text of prayers like Birkat HaMazon (grace after meals) and Tefilat HaDerech (traveler’s prayer).

An iPod loaded with iDaven is essentially a “prayer companion,” said Alan Rosenbaum, head of product development for Davka Corp.

“The iPod has become the ultimate mobile device for music, video and more,” he said. “These days, everyone has one. We wanted to take advantage of its popularity by designing an iPod-based product that would be of Jewish value.”

A more intense iPod learning venture is the ShasPod. Created by Jewish entrepreneur Yehuda Shmidman, this pre-loaded iPod is meant to guide a Hebrew scholar through the process of Daf Yomi, a rigorous seven-and-a-half-year study of the Talmud that boasts hundreds of thousands of participants worldwide.

Every ShasPod comes with 2,711 MP3 files (one for each day of the Daf Yomi cycle, with each day representing a single page of the Talmud). Each file contains a 30 to 60 minute lecture by Rabbi Dovid Grossman of DafYomi.org.

Downloadable Jewish programs for the PalmPilot and similar Palm operating system-driven personal digital assistants (PDA) have been around since the products first gained public attention in the late 1990s.

With the growing popularity of the Treo Smartphone and a new generation of handhelds, like the Tungsten and Zire, observant Jews are increasingly turning to Web sites that feature collections of PDA-friendly Hebrew texts available for download.

Aaron Engel, a Jewish software developer, founded PilotYid.com in 1998, which presents more than 100 Hebrew texts, including the complete Tanakh, in a downloadable format compatible with Palm devices and other PDAs.

Engel was a Yeshiva University student when he first conceived of the idea for PilotYid in 1998, after buying an early PalmPilot. He programmed several prayers into the device and uploaded them onto a Palm software Web site.

“People started downloading it and using it and e-mailing me to thank me,” Engel said. “I realized that there could be a lot of people who would benefit from Jewish software and a lot of people who would create it if there was an easy way to distribute it.”

Engel credits the uptick in production of this type of technology to the overall rise in popularity of hand-held electronics.

“As PDAs became more popular in the general population, they also got more popular in the Jewish population,” he said, adding, “The use of PDAs in Israel created a demand for Hebrew calendars and font support.”

Engel said that monthly freeware and shareware downloads from his Web site are in the tens of thousands, and that out of more than 10,000 people who subscribe to the Web site’s newsletter, at least 100 of them are rabbis.

Along with the growth of this technology have come questions regarding the halachic ramifications for the use of these programs, namely the consequences of storing holy texts on electronic devices.

Jewish law prohibits the erasure of such texts from their original hard copies, especially if they contain the name of God. So is it OK to delete a siddur from an iPod or a Tungsten?

According to Rabbi Susan Leider of Temple Beth Am, a Conservative congregation, that’s not a problem. “Digital writing does not have the same status” as ink-and-paper writing, she said.

Rabbi Elazar Muskin, the spiritual leader of the Modern Orthodox synagogue Young Israel of Century City, agreed, saying, “The consensus opinion is that this isn’t a halachic problem, certainly if one writes over the original text.”

In fact, Rabbi Robert Gan of Temple Isaiah, a Reform synagogue on West Pico Boulevard, views the Jewish potential for such handheld devices only in positive terms.

“I see this kind of technology as a step beyond printing things in books, giving people more access to texts and traditions in a different form,” he said.

Why the iPod Generation Cares About Darfur


The car horns sounded like a shofar practice session, a cacophony of long blasts and short toots with no particular meaning or purpose. And, thankfully, there was no traffic accident to be found.

The blaring noise was instead a response to scores of protesters at the Federal Building in Westwood, who were staging a rally to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

The power of the rally was not necessarily its numbers, but its message: The “apathetic youth of America” are, well, not so apathetic. The event was coordinated by Teens Against Genocide (TAG), a group of greater Los Angeles high school students dedicated to raising awareness about the situation in western Sudan. These teenagers joined the group, and the cause, because they feel so strongly about the issue.

Perhaps the most intriguing question regarding activism for Darfur is: Why teens? Why have teenagers taken a leading role in this pressing issue? Aren’t we so busy with Advanced Placement courses, extracurricular activities, and socializing?

“Teens are starting to see beyond their immediate surroundings,” said Shira Shane, a senior at New Community Jewish High School who founded and leads TAG. “Teens haven’t been weathered by the negative world. They believe in the possibility rather than the impossibility.”

But don’t adults have more money, more influence and more political clout?

Perhaps, but one thing that students have in abundance is the urge, especially after sitting in classes all day, to be active: to get out there and run a mile, or run for office — or both.

More likely, however, teenagers contribute to such humanitarian causes as a test of the power of the will, flirting with the idea that they actually can make a difference with a little initiative. To some students this initiative is wearing a T-shirt or a green wristband to school, sparking conversation with others about the issue. To others it means writing letters to newspaper editors and political officials, letting them know that people care about the issue. Still others channel their energy toward planning events, much like the TAG rally on April 23 at the Federal Building or the rally in Washington, D.C., on April 30.

It has always been the nature of teenage life to be active, to experiment with the power of persuasion, and to test limits. What make this generation of adolescents unique is its access to, and familiarity with, technology. Now, perhaps the connection between those white iPod cords and the mass killings in Darfur isn’t so obvious. But consider that this generation of youth has been brought up with immediate and uninhibited means of communication that allows them not only to keep up with current events, but to use this technology in pursuit of a more just and peaceful world.

It could be argued that technologically advanced American teenagers have everything at their disposal to make a dent in the political surface — everything, that is, except for a direct connection to events outside their immediate circle. And, obviously, this isn’t about high-speed Internet. It involves a moral consciousness and a dedication to basic human rights. Many teenagers, especially Jewish ones, construct this link through the Holocaust and other genocides of recent history. Many more have found the connection internally. And despite over-scheduled lives, they have chosen to make it their cause.

Those involved in TAG, and many other supportive youths, understand that being busy is no factor in saving lives.

In fact, TAG and other like-minded organizations fit well with the teenage focus on school and socializing. Activism gives students the chance to apply to the real world the knowledge they are acquiring: from history and political science courses at school, from an inspirational teacher or from religious values. And, when students take their knowledge to the streets (both literally and figuratively), they are able to build a network of friendships that transcends the boundaries of a clique or a school.

Joining TAG isn’t about building a good transcript, either. For high school seniors, college applications had been submitted months before TAG materialized. And, for underclassmen, taking action is far more important than having that extra club or those extra hours of community service. The efforts to save lives, and to educate others about this genocide, simply cannot be logged in such form.

“Whatever the issue is, teens will try to pursue it,” Shane said. “Teens will push.”

Then, maybe, even more people will push on their horns when passing a rally for Darfur, leaving in the air an echo that will last as long as people are listening.

TAG member Jeff Goodman, is a senior at University High School, where he writes for the school paper.