NEW YORK, Dec. 30 (JTA) — You sit down at your computer, hands on the keys. A baseball game on the screen. You step up to home plate. The pitcher throws the ball. Crack! You head around the bases as the crowd looks on. Think this is an ordinary computer game? Think again. This is Jewish IQ Baseball, a new generation of Jewish computer software. Unlike other baseball computer games, the player must correctly answer a question on Judaism in order to run around the bases. Once available only at Jewish bookstores or through mail-order companies, Jewish software is now part of a growing market, whose products are becoming increasingly available. One such outlet is Kosher Komputer. Located in the predominately Orthodox Jewish town of Monsey, N.Y., a suburb of New York City, Kosher Komputer is not your ordinary computer store. There are no copies of Myst or Barbie’s CD-Rom. Instead, Kosher Komputer fills its shelves with items such as Judaic Wizard, Jewish IQ Baseball and Where In Israel? Jewish computer software is available at Jewish bookstores, but “it is not an important category,” says Emanual Fishman, co-owner of Kosher Komputer. The fact that people “can actually see and work the software before they buy it” is one benefit of the store, Fishman says. Created six months ago, Kosher Komputer was originally intended as a sales outlet for software designed by Torah Educational Software. But it has since expanded and now sells software for all the major Judaic software companies. A few years ago, only a handful of software was available for the Jewish computer user. Now more than 60 titles exist. “The prices are dropping and the graphics are nicer,” says Jeff Astor, Kosher Komputer’s store manager. As in the secular world, Jewish software runs the gamut, from educational games to printing programs to advanced research tools for the scholar. “People are looking to educate themselves in their homes,” says Anna Young, the owner of the Jewish Software Center, a mail-order software company based in Los Gatos, Calif. Young believes that the software is especially helpful to people in small communities. The software “helps people who don’t have access” to other Jewish sources, she says. Clients from as far away as Gibraltar and Japan take advantage of the wealth of mail-order and on-line companies now selling Jewish software. “Pick any country in the world and we probably have someone in our database,” says Barbara Singal, marketing director for the Chicago- based Davka Corp., makers of more than 50 Judaic software programs. Instead of parents paying tutors, they can buy the software. “Invest once and it’s a lifetime thing,” says Chaya Teitelbaum, a sales representative at Kosher Komputer. And since it’s interactive, Teitelbaum adds, “kids respond to it better.” According to Young, she and other parents want to “show their kids playing Jewish software games can be fun.” Despite the fact that the games are fun, Fishman does not think that they could compete for children’s attention in a regular computer store. “Parents want to get these for their kids” even though “kids don’t necessarily want them,” Fishman said. “It’s serious stuff.” Unlike secular computer games, most of the Jewish software games are designed to educate and reinforce learning. Miriam Wallach was hoping to teach her nine nieces and nephews something beyond Judaism when she recently bought them Jewish software. She said she wanted them to “become computer literate and learn how to use the keyboard and the mouse.” Although a large segment of software is geared toward kids, there are plenty of adult-oriented programs as well. People doing serious religious study find the software indispensable. “I speak frequently and I need to quickly locate a Rashi or a phrase,” say a rabbi, referring to the medieval talmudic commentator. “This fills a need,” he said as he was shopping at Kosher Komputer and testing the Bar Ilan Judaic Software. The Bar Ilan software is one of the most comprehensive compilations of “seforim,” or Jewish books. More than 400 seforim are available on one CD-ROM. Another shopper at Kosher Komputer was looking for software to teach him Hebrew. He has plenty of choices; there are at least nine different Hebrew-language computer programs. Schools and publishers are among the many users of Hebrew word- processing programs and Jewish clip-art software. Jews are not the only ones buying Judaic software. Christian families buy Hebrew-language software and Bible-study software, according to Young. “They also give them as Bar and Bat Mitzvah gifts.” Wallach says her primary goal was not to go out and buy Judaic software when she stumbled upon it at a Jewish bookstore. But she says that now that she has sampled it, she will probably go out and buy more if it is “more user friendly” and has “better graphics.” Software designers are listening. “The software is more sophisticated than it was several years ago,” says Astor. One of the newest software designs, Return To Life, will be available, not only through Judaic software sellers but at computer stores such as Comp USA. Return To Life traces the lives of Holocaust survivors after the war. Return To Life was designed by Torah Educational Software in conjunction with Yad Vashem in Israel and will be available in late January.
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