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|Wednesday, October 4 2000 03:01 5 Tishri 5761|
Turning tots on to tradition
By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
(September 24) - Torah Tots' Parsha on Parade: Bereishit, a CD-ROM in English, by Reuven A. Stone and Menachim Z. Shimanowitz for Torah Educational Software (http://www.jewishsoftware.com) of Jerusalem, a CD-ROM in English, requires Pentium 166 PC or higher, or Macintosh, for ages three to nine, $49 or shekel equivalent, introductory price through The Jerusalem Post Books Department only $39.- Rating: *****
Some haredi rabbis - most of them Israelis - regard the computer and the Internet as an unkosher, subversive influence liable to lead Jewish children astray.
Then there are those who view these as tools that have a great potential to educate and bring Jews of all ages closer to their heritage, if used correctly.
The second view is represented by this entertaining and educational program, which took 18 months to develop. It is the first in a five-disk series that will, over the next few years, cover the entire Pentateuch - no company has ever attempted this before.
With assimilation and intermarriage increasing in the Diaspora, if the Jewish people are to survive, turning children on to Jewish tradition is a major task.
Formal Jewish education in day schools is most effective in promoting identity, but parents who can't afford this near-luxury, or those not inclined to send their children to such institutions, can at least buy software for home use that grabs users' attention. The teaching approach of Parsha on Parade focuses on keeping the child's attention, and then offers games that reinforce the material.
The program begins with a catchy, original tune with these lyrics: "Parsha on parade through the streets of Totsland..., it's time to celebrate - Hurray! - because learning the Parsha means thinking of Hashem each day..."
Click on any of the 12 boxes representing the Torah Portion as they move across the screen, or just enjoy the song and wait until the screen stabilizes and shows a brown building with 12 arched windows. Pass your cursor over a window and out pop several of the disk's characters: Baruch McBracha (who has a Scottish drawl - mistakenly called "brawl" on the list of the cast of characters - who wears a top hat and a red tuxedo); Talmi D. Torah (the "on-the-go Torah scroll"); Simi the Siddur, and the rest. Two rather sinister characters - Yetzer Hara (the evil inclination) and his cousin Lushie Lashon Hara (evil tongue) are used elsewhere in the disk, and are barred from the honor of introducing the Torah portions. All the voices used for the characters, ranging from cowboy to Scottish to New York-style Yiddish accents, are provided by one man named Shloimy Bluth.
There are several ways of getting into each portion: Peek at the Parsha, in which you get a short summation; This Week's Episode (a longer summary); and the whole biblical text in English only: all of these can be fully printed out. There's also a speedy search engine that finds any chapter and verse in Genesis.
The first two introductions to the portion are geared to kids who grew up infused with American culture. For example, the "episode" on Bereishit begins this way: "I'll trade you one Big Bang for six days of Creation. It's the Big-Inning, and you've got box seats to witness the creation of our world in the next exciting episode of Parsha on Parade."
Other phrases that might confuse or even dismay straitlaced Israeli haredim are that "Hashem pulled the plug on mankind" during the great Flood, or the fact that Abram (before his name was changed to Abraham) "tried to smuggle Sarai over the Egyptian border in a suitcase with clothes, but he knew customs agents would probably force him to open his suitcase."
For the summaries, the disk's producers decided to use words like Hashem, Chava, Hevel, Avrohom, and a number of Ashkenazic Hebrew words that would be unrecognizable to most non-haredi children; at the same time, the English translation of Genesis uses the conventional God, Eve, Abel, and Abraham. Since the software will be enjoyed by non-observant youngsters as well, they should have completely avoided Hebrew names and words, and this should be corrected in a future edition.
Each portion comes with more than a dozen games, such as identifying graphic symbols that stand for Hebrew letters to make words and sentences from the Pentateuch; multiple-choice tests as the clock ticks, and more than 60 original drawings which can be colored in using the computer, or printed for crayons.
An entire section is dedicated to teachers looking for lesson material, and there is a Web site (http://www.torahtots.com) for everyone. If Torah Educational Software wants to translate the disk into Hebrew, Russian, French, Spanish, and other languages, it will have to adapt the content to suit the individual cultures, but the result will be welcome.
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