MONTREAL — In another age, there were talking books. Now there’s a magazine that not only has audio, but also video, and it’s totally interactive.
This marvel of the latest digital technology is being made available by Montreal’s Vaad Ha’ir, the more than 90-year-old kashrut certifier and beit din.
For as long as anyone can remember, the Vaad’s Passover magazine has been a holiday tradition. But, as executive director Rabbi Saul Emanuel, says, “What new can be said about Pesach?”
When people get their copy of Canada’s Passover Magazine for 5775, they will find that the story and customs may be timeless, but they can be imparted in a very modern way.
Embedded in most of the nearly 200 pages in the magazine are computer chips. By downloading a free app called Zappar (www.canadapassover.ca), readers can enter a whole new universe beyond the physical, simply by scanning with their smartphone or tablet.
“It’s the first of its kind in the world,” said Rabbi Emanuel, who is bowled over by the technology. “The pages just come alive.”
The app’s launch was scheduled for March 10, just before the publication of the magazine. More than 20,000 copies will be distributed free of charge across Canada.
Max Dawes, partnerships director of Zappar, which is based in London, England, said the Vaad is the first Jewish organization in the world to employ its technology.
Simply line up Zappar’s lightning bolt icon that appears on your device’s screen with the same icon on a magazine page. Within seconds the bolt will go from black to yellow, a ping will sound, and on the screen will appear all manner of complementary audiovisual content.
The tone is set with the front page when Zappar leads readers to a festive seder scene of singing around the table.
Some other examples:
On the page outlining the steps for koshering for Passover, the reader can choose any one of them and see a video demonstrating how it’s done. Libun Gamur, for instance, shows someone properly using a blowtorch on a utensil.
Want ideas for how to set a stunning seder table? The paper magazine provides a few, but use Zappar and you can search through many more. The pictures look like a stack of regular photos that can be flipped through with the flick of a finger.
For the budget conscious, there are tips on how to enhance the table for under $5, with videos of how to make attractive decorations for very little.
Similarly, seder rituals described in the magazine, can be seen on video.
The Sfirah chart in the magazine, for counting the 49 days of the Omer between Passover and Shavuot, is enhanced by tutoring in the recitation of Hebrew blessings.
Almost all of those appearing are real, local people (even Rabbi Emanuel has a cameo voiceover). This is original material produced specifically for the Vaad.
The magazine has a large children’s section, which will become far more engaging for that age group with Zappar. There are games and quizzes, music, and narration by Rebbe Hill, an American rabbi known for his holiday CDs and books.
The popular storyteller Rabbi Paysach Krohn offers three tales to choose from.
There’s also an interactive Hebrew wonderword-type puzzle. The hidden words can be highlighted in red.
Once the page is activated, users can take their device anywhere.
If you are unable to obtain a copy of the magazine, it will be available in its entirety on the Vaad’s website, and the Zapper can be activated by holding the device up to a regular computer screen.
About 75 per cent of the interactivity is available in French, Rabbi Emanuel said. There is a page on the Sephardi way of observing Passover, both the seders and the distinctive Mimouna, a celebration at the holiday’s end.
Rabbi Emauel gives credit for the interactive magazine idea to his assistant, Goldie Zweig, who does the graphics for the paper version. She is the one who knew about Zappar and made the contact. The company is a world leader in “augmented reality,” and some of the biggest corporations, including Coca-Cola, are clients.
None of the advertisements in the magazine are interactive, but Rabbi Emanuel says that may be introduced next year.
The app is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and most Android phones and tablets.
However, Zappar had no experience with Judaica, and one challenge was incorporating Hebrew font. Via Skype, Zappar’s Dawes said it was a pleasure working with the Vaad and wished all of Canada’s Passover Magazine readers an experience that will enable the holiday to be celebrated unlike it ever has been before.
“We have pushed this to the limits of what’s possible,” Dawes said.
As wondrous as this new world is, Rabbi Emanuel has one proviso: “It is forbidden to use the Zappar on Shabbat and yom tov.”