SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — What would the Exodus have looked like online?
That’s the premise behind “Google Exodus,” a two-minute video that tells the Passover story using social media.
In the video, which has gone viral with more than 1 million page views since being uploaded March 31 onto YouTube, God Skypes Moses, Moses finds Pharoah’s palace using Google maps, and he and Pharaoh engage in a heated e-mail exchange about letting the Jewish people go. Moses orders live frogs and other plagues on Amazon.com, and he tweets his success to the Israelites via Twitter.
“We view this film as a natural extension of what we do, which is to reach out to Jews of every background using modern tools,” said Nechemia Coopersmith, the Jerusalem-based chief editor of Aish.com, part of the three-man team that produced the video. “We wanted to take all the social media tools — Google, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo.answers, Google street view, Skype — and weave them into the story of the Exodus."
Aish.com is the website of Aish HaTorah, a Jerusalem-based Jewish educational and outreach organization with branches around the world.
The video opens with a CNN news alert: "Pharoah Enslaves Jews." As Pharaoh and Moses trade messages via gmail and iPhones — Moses’ "Let my people go!" is met with Pharaoh’s "No way!" — the lead-up to the plagues begins.
"My staff just turned into a snake! Cool," writes Moses, updating his status on Facebook. Later, a YouTube video shows a plague of locusts descending on a field.
When the Jews leave Egypt and reach the Red Sea, viewers get up close and personal as the waves part when Google maps zooms in for a "street view." The scene is of Charlton Heston in "The Ten Commandments."
“Google Exodus” is proving a huge hit, steering a tremendous amount of web traffic to Aish’s Hebrew and English websites. The video also was released in Spanish on the organization’s Spanish-language website. This week, the video ranked fourth on the UK Guardian’s Viral Video Chart.
"With Passover coming up, this film is a fun way to reach people who might otherwise not be interested," Shraga Simmons, said senior editor of Aish.com and a member of the production team. " ‘Google Exodus’ enables us to communicate Jewish values in a language that everyone can understand. And the cool thing is that it is spreading via the same web tools featured in the video."
If Christianity evolved out of Judaism, this Exodus video was inspired by the birth of Jesus — specifically a Christian video released last December called “Digital Story of the Nativity,” which narrates the baby-in-the-manger tale using the same social media tools employed by the Aish.com team.
The big difference?
“Google Exodus” uses a jazzy orchestral version of the Passover seder song “Dayenu,” while Digital Jesus rocks along to “Jingle Bells.”
Coopersmith says the Nativity video was itself inspired by a popular Google ad that aired during the 2010 Super Bowl telling the story of a Parisian-American love affair conducted via Google tools.
That ad only used Google, Coopersmith said, whereas “we wanted to expand and use every social media tool possible.”
The Aish team is now busy on its next project: a social media-rich video for Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. It should be up on Aish.com a week before the May 9 holiday, Aish officials said.