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Sunday, September 21, 2014

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Virtual museum explores Jewish experience in Montreal

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Zev Moses

MONTREAL — Anyone anywhere with a story or a photo related to the Jewish experience in Montreal who wants to share it online and via mobile technology may soon have that opportunity.

The virtual Museum of Jewish Montreal (www.imjm.ca), which for the last four years has been collecting and disseminating information about the city’s Jewish past, is hoping to become more interactive.

It wants to make you – the public – a partner in creating and curating its content.

But that will take money.

The not-for-profit website has launched its first crowdfunding campaign, hoping to raise $15,000 by April 8 on indiegogo.com. ROI Community, a Jerusalem-based international program to encourage innovative and entrepreneurial young Jewish leaders, will match all contributions up to a total of $10,000.

As of last week, almost $5,000 had been raised. More information is available at http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/stories-project-projet-d-histoires.

The “Stories Project,” said museum founder and executive director Zev Moses, will develop a “groundbreaking web tool that will allow anyone to easily share a photo, record a memory, or preserve the stories of their loved ones.

“Our new online plug-in will establish a dynamic repository for Montreal’s Jewish history.”

Moses believes this will raise awareness in the Jewish community and Quebec as a whole of the diverse Jewish people who have called Montreal home over the past 250 years.

Modern technology reaches a far broader audience, especially a younger one, than the memoirs and academic publications where history has traditionally been documented.

It’s also in keeping with a great oral tradition, he said. “Much of the information that relates to Jewish life in Montreal has been passed down from generation to generation through photographs and storytelling… but most of them have never been recorded and are, therefore, at risk of being lost forever.”

The project is aimed at reinforcing that the stories of “ordinary” people are a valuable part of the writing of any history.

The process will be easy: upload a picture through the site’s plug-in, “record” a brief testimony about it, and then press “share.” In the parlance, it’s known as crowdsourcing.

Eventually, it’s hoped much of this content will be permanently stored on the website.

Since its inception, the museum has been interested in gathering and making available stories about unheralded individuals, groups or events that give a feeling for how people lived in the past –whether they were factory workers, community organizers or poets. There are stories about bagel shops and funeral parlors, as well as synagogues, and about political movements as much as about fundraising campaigns.

The site has served as a gateway for those wanting to conduct more in-depth research on Montreal Jewish history, such as in the archives of Canadian Jewish Congress and the Jewish Public Library, with which the MJM co-operates.

Last year, the museum started offering digital tours – available both online and on mobile devices – that connect these people and places to Montreal’s present-day topography.

Moses, 30, founded the MJM after wondering about the building across from where he lived. It looked like a synagogue – what was its history?

The MJM was launched with a Jewish Community Foundation cultural grant, and that organization remains the principal source of funding, Moses said.

The other staff members are research director Stephanie Schwartz and development co-ordinator Hanna Jones.

One of the first projects the MJM undertook was mapping former Jewish community institutions and other sites now used for different purposes or that no longer exist.

These physical traces serve as the backdrop for information about people and events, or to explain why something that happened a century ago should interest us today, he said.

Users can take virtual tours of these areas, and the MJM also organizes real-life walking tours through the year.

Moses said the MJM site has about 1,400 to 1,500 visitors each month on average.

He notes that many of the crowdfunding donors have been young, which he sees as a hopeful sign of interest in their history.

As part of the revamping of its online presence, the museum plans to make all of its historical content and walking tours available on mobile devices.

“By meeting our fundraising goal, we hope to transform our museum into a living archive of Montreal’s Jewish community, the content of which will be inspired and created by our users,” he said.

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