Let me now sing a hymn of praise to the smartphone—surely the greatest object known among humanity. In this blog post, I will endeavor to tell you all the different ways that my smartphone proved absolutely invaluable on this trip:
--Google translate: it’s not perfect, but I used it multiple times a day, and for me it was a brilliant way to reinforce the many words I learned in the last two weeks. It is a terrific bridge between peoples, and hopefully a contributor to increased intercultural understanding and world peace.
--Google maps, which we used primarily to navigate the mystifying traffic in Bali, but which also helped us get to where we needed to be in Jakarta and Jayapura. It was much less helpful in Timika, where very few roads appear to have names. It was also a source of amusement, such as in Jakarta when it announced, “increased traffic is ahead. Recalculating arrival times.” At times, Google maps became an additional passenger in our car, making its own contributions to our appreciation of the country. (He’s not an app, but I’d like to give a huge shout out to the amazing Benjamin Verbrugge, whose superb driving skills got us everywhere, and always in one piece!)
--Recording apps: I used these in Jakarta and Timika to record basic Torah cantillation patterns, and in Timika to record verses of the Torah for two of the women to learn. How amazing to be able to leave my voice behind to help them in their quest to read from the Torah.
--Tikkun Korim: This is a free app which does one thing: it presents the weekly Torah readings in Hebrew, with vowels and cantillation. Tap the screen once, and the vowels and cantillation disappear, allowing you to practice the Torah reading as it appears in the actual scroll. I loved seeing the delight from the Timika teens as they watched the vowels disappear. The app is small—only 2 MB—so easy to download even when your phone plan is quite modest.
--Facebook and Messenger: I love it and hate it. I love it for how it allows me to stay connected with the people here who have become a part of my life even though our lives are so far apart. I hate the overt ways it digs into my private life and lets me know in multiple ways just how intimately it’s come to known me. I leave Indonesia with at least half a dozen new friends from among those I’ve met on this trip. I’ve let them know that if they have any questions, they are more than welcome to ask them, and I’ll answer as best I can. And I know that I’ll get to see their photos and read their news from far away.
--Google, and all the places it takes you: I found a synagogue website that provided a terrific online resource for learning to read Hebrew, and I sent the link on to students in Timika and Sentani. I found batik stores, restaurants, relevant newspaper articles, and oh so much more. What an extraordinary thing to live in such a connected world.
So I call on all of you who carry your smartphones around and forget how wondrous they are to appreciate this truly magical object you have in your possession. It makes our world smaller, and brings other people so much closer. What an amazing age we live in!
Rabbi Shoshana Kaminsky
I've been the rabbi of Beit Shalom Progressive Synagogue in Adelaide since 2006. As part of the Council of Progressive Rabbis of Australia, New Zealand and Asia, I'm preparing for my second trip to Indonesia to meet with Jewish communities there.