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November 16, 1984 - Image 16

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1984-11-16

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

16

Friday, November 16, 1984 THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

Continued from Page 14

"A Rolie means you play a role in
the game. With books, movies, TV,
there are just one-sided messages, no
conversation. But with computer
games, you can have conversations.
The purpose of a Rolie is to get you
involved as a participant so you can
actually experience what goes on."
How that works can be seen in one
of the Rolies, called "The Goldberg
Variation," in which a player is given
a name, Boris Goldberg, a city, a time
and a picture of himself. Then he's "gi-
ven the choice of becoming, say, a
worker, a student or a rabbi and has to
make decisions based on the circum-
stances — circumstances that actually
existed in a certain period of Jewish
history in a specific part of the world.
"Let's say you decide to be a rabbi
in 19th Century Eastern Europe. On
the screen comes a cheder where you
teach. If you then decide you want to
get married, you have an animated
scene of a 19th Century Eastern Euro-
pean wedding, complete with music. If
you decide to be a writer in Hebrew,
and have to flee Austria because of
restrictive laws in 1881 and you decide
to join the Hebrew Writers Associa-
tion, you'll probably bump into Herzl."
The future," says Kirschen, is in
home computers. This is the way to
reach kids, to have them make contact
with Judaism. And we're now just at
the beginning stage. It's like when
radio started. We're at the birth of a
new medium."
The new medium, however, can
handle some very old messages. Like
the Responsa, a 2,500 volume collec-
tioK of rabbinical opinion on Jewish
law and social issues. Compiled over
12 centuries from 1,500 contributors
in communities around the world, the
Responsa, long the purview of devoted
Torah scholars, is now available,
thanks to computers, to anyone at the
push of a button.
So far, 176 volumes of the Re-
sponsa — 40 million words comprising
38,000 rabbinical replies on questions
of Jewish tradition — have been put on
a computer at Bar-Ilan University in
Israel. The Institute for Computers in
Jewish Life in Chicago is the North
American center for that information.
Ask the computer a question and a
in a few minutes you can find out how a
rabbi in Algeria in the 15th Century
and one in Poland 400 years later re-
sponded to the same halachic question:

Can a man be kicked out of his home
for beating his wife? Find out here.
It speeds up the research process,
from months or years, and makes it
almost instantaneous," says Rabbi
Alan Rosenbaum, Responsa Project
coordinator. For example, a Harvard
Ph.D. candidate was working on a
thesis about the Jews of Venice be-
tween the 16th and 18th Centuries. He
asked the institute to find all it could
on that subject. The computer spit out
647 citations, accommodating for the
fact that Venice is spelled 40 different
ways in the Responsa.
Ninety miles north of the insti-
tute, in Milwaukee, AB Data Corp. is
using computers to identify Jews and
get them together.
What AB Data does is direct mail.
It uses its lists of Jewish names from
around the country to send out letters
designed to raise funds for Jewish
organizations and pro-Israel political
candidates; to find Jews Jewish organ-
izations didn't know existed and get

them to join; to call on Jews to do
things its clients want them to do.
These lists of names are the work
of Bruce Arbit, one of the owners of AB
Data and a process he calls "ethnica-
tion." It's a process that allows AB Da-
ta's computers to figure out if a name is
Jewish.

Arbit began by counting all the
surnames in the United States' 70 mil-
lion households. Then, he matched
those up with the 80,000 Jewish sur-
names in the country. Viola, he came
up with the odds that a name is
Jewish. Thus, he can tell you that the
likelihood of a person named Smith
being Jewish is less than one percent.
On the other hand, a person named
Cohen is 85 percent likely to be a Jew.

With such information in hand,
Arbit and his computer can take any
list of names — from a phone book, a
medical directory, any source — and
pick out the names most likely to be
Jewish. AB Data now has on its list 60

percent of all the Jewish homes in the
United States.
The computer can take the names
on those lists and break them down by
profession, by congressional district,
by income, by what Jewish organiza-
tions they belong to. If we wanted,"
says Arbit, we could identify red-
haired, left-handed observant golfers."
What that means, says Arbit, is
that "Jews no longer live in little ghet-
tos with no one knowing where they
are. This identifies the Jewish corn-
munity." Groups interested in reach-
ing that community can thus connect
with those Jews "specifically, in their
homes." Which is why AB Data does 90
percent of the Jewish direct mail in the
United States, sending out more than
a million pieces of mail a month.
A good example of what it does,
and what effect that has, says co-
owner Jerry Benjamin, came last fall
when Lev Elbert, a Soviet Jewish re-
fusenik, was framed by Soviet officials
who planted hashish on him and then
charged him with drug smuggling.
Enter the Union of Councils for
Soviet Jews, a grass-roots organiza-
tion that links its members in the
United States with refuseniks in the
Soviet Union. It is a client of AB Data,
which sends out direct mail appeals for
new members. When someone joins,
they're assigned a refusenik. If the
new member agrees to adopt him, the
member is placed by the computer on
its "activists" track, as a person who
probably can be counted on to get in-
volved.

So it was, after Elbert was ar-
rested. His wife immediately called
UCSJ president Lynn Singer in Wash-
ington, who called AB Data in Mil-
waukee. AB Data wrote an im-
passioned letter outlining what had
happened and urging that telegrams
of protest be sent immediately to the
Russian Embassy in Washington.
Using its activist track, meaning
it didn't bother to send the plea to
members it couldn't be sure would re-
spond, AB Data had its letter in the
mail 24 hours after the call from
Singer and only three days after El-
bert's arrest. Seventy-two hours later,
Soviet Ambassador Dobrynin received
the first of more than 20,000 telegrams
of protest.
About two weeks later, in a very
unusual move, the charges against El-
bert were dropped.
"We don't know for sure if the

+.'. avkel

CORPOR&TpN

Act out a great episode of history
\ in this fast-action arcade game !

How to
Conduct a Seder

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71

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MINN

Learn about the holiday of
Chanukah with this
fun-filled study program.

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For Apple II - Ile
copyr,ght 1983

#1260

Davka Corp., the marketing arm of the Institue for Computers in Jewish Life, has produced more than 100 computer games such as these
to entertain and educate Jewish students.

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