Shofar? There’s an app for that
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Shofar? There’s an app for that

How your cellphone can ring in the new year

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

A screenshot from 'Wake Up World' (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)
A screenshot from 'Wake Up World' (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)

You just put your lips together and blow. That’s how you whistle, as Lauren Bacall once told Humphrey Bogart. It’s also how you make a shofar blast come out of your smartphone or tablet.

Making the shofar sound by blowing in to the microphone of a handheld electronic device is so easy a small child could do it. And that is precisely what G-dcast had in mind when it created its new “Wake Up World” app for the preschool set.

“As far as we know, this is the first Jewish app that uses this input technology,” says Sarah Lefton, executive director of the San Francisco-based Jewish educational media nonprofit.

Having started off in 2008 producing Torah commentary cartoon videos, Lefton and her team are now experimenting with interactive mobile apps for young children. Before releasing this new Rosh Hashanah one (for Apple and Android), G-dcast put out a Passover game app, and also an app that takes kids through the steps of making challah for Shabbat — including the blessings recited before washing hands and eating bread.

With “Wake Up World,” G-dcast pairs its newfound strength in app development with its original storytelling chops. Only this time, the narrative is not a retelling or adaptation of an existing tale, but rather a completely original children’s story.

G-dcast executive director Sarah Lefton penned the app's story herself. (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)
G-dcast executive director Sarah Lefton penned the app’s story herself. (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)

“Wake Up World” can be listened to in “read it to me” mode in either English or Hebrew, with the English version narrated by social media expert and children’s book author Randi Zuckerberg, sister of Facebook CEO and chairman Mark Zuckerberg. The app has stunning visuals created by Laura Huliska-Beith, an award-winning children’s book artist.

The app’s user “blows” the shofar to move the 4-minute-long narrative along at key junctures.

Lefton herself wrote the rhyming story about a child (users can decide if they want the hero to be a boy named Asher, or a girl named Yali) who teaches her parents, her pets, and animals in nature that the shofar is a wake up call for the New Year.

“I had no experience writing children’s books, but I certainly have lots of experience reading them,” offers Lefton, who has a three-and-half-year-old son and an eight-month-old daughter (not coincidentally named Yali).

Janet Harris, director of the San Francisco Jewish Community Federation’s Early Childhood Education Initiative, is quick to praise Lefton’s narrative. “The language is repeating, alliterative and poetic,” she says.

“And the story has a conflict and a resolution, which is what you look for in any good children’s story. I like how it speaks to a central theme of Rosh Hashanah — the shofar as an alarm clock.”

A screenshot from 'Wake Up World' (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)
A screenshot from ‘Wake Up World’ (photo credit: Courtesy of G-dcast)

Harris can see the app being used at home by children aged three to five (preferable together with their parents). However, she doesn’t believe it has a place in an early childhood education center or nursery school.

“There is no substitute for young children learning about Judaism and Jewish customs from real people and from first-hand experiences,” she explains. Holding a shofar and hearing it blown in person is a thousand times better.”

Harris suggests that “Wake Up World” is something a parent could give a child to do for a short time while waiting in the car in the pick up line at an older sibling’s school. According to Lefton, this is one of her intentions for the app.

“We wanted to take advantage of the ‘pass-back effect,’” she says, referring to the common occurrence of parents’ handing their tablet and smart phones to their children sitting in the car’s rear seat.

“Every kid I know is playing with gadgets,” she notes. “We want to make kids’ screen time Jewishly engaging.”

Lefton emphasizes that G-dcast has never intended for its media projects to replace real-life experiences. “But at the same time, most families don’t have a shofar lying around at home, so the app allows them to at least virtually engage in a Rosh Hashanah ritual,” she says.

“It’s pretty cool to pick up Mom’s phone and make it sound like a shofar.”

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