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JUDY SIEGEL-ITZKOVICH (10/29/2004) wrote:
A Multimedia Jewish Heritage Journey to Lithuania, Poland & Belarus, a CD-ROM in English by Shorashim Productions and Grafix Mediaworx, distributed by Torah Educational Software.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

A week-long visit to historical sites connected to the Holocaust in Eastern Europe is almost a rite of passage for many Israeli senior high school pupils (that is, the ones whose parents can afford the $1,000+ for flights, food and accommodations). For those from religious schools, the emotional experience is augmented by tours of old and often neglected Jewish cemeteries and of synagogues that before the Nazis were overflowing with Jewish worshipers but today are either decaying, renovated as museums or used by the gentile population as a medical school or post office.

Rabbi Zev Leff, the American-born haredi rabbi of Moshav Matityahu and head of the local yeshiva, took a group of Israeli and Diaspora Jews about two years ago to sites in Lithuania, Poland and Belarus. This excellent CD-ROM, which offers not only a generous color photo collection but also anecdotes, biographies, historical notes and religious lectures, documents this tour. One particularly moving museum photo in Slobodka shows a Yiddish message written in blood on a wall saying ³Jews ­ Take Revenge!² Jewish music plays softly in the background, but it can be turned off if the user prefers to go on the virtual tour more quietly.

The only thing that¹s missing is video clips of interesting encounters, such as that with one of the few remaining Jews of Brisk (now now Brest-Litovsk) in Belarus who claimed to be a cousin of the late Menachem Begin, who was born there, or the gentile woman in Radin who as a girl lived next to the Hafetz Haim (Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan). The user knows of these only from photo subtitles; a Hebrew-speaking member of the group who lives in Ramat Gan does, however, provide an audio clip reminiscing about being a yeshiva student in Kelm ­ one of 12 Holocaust survivors from a town with a Jewish population of 4,000.

The program is valuable not only for those who plan to make a trip to
explore their Eastern European Jewish roots, but also for those who have already gone and want to remember what they saw and felt, as well as those with no travel plans who are interested in these subject.

The program is well organized, with a map of the three countries and
clickable points in each that represent towns, cities and former concentration camp sites that the group visited. Among these places are Mir, Volozhin and Radin in Belarus; Telz, Kovno, Slobodka and Kelm in Lithuania; and Warsaw, Auschwitz, Lublin, Majdanek, Lizhensk, Cracow and Gur in Poland. Each city or town is subdivided according to the Jewish cemetery, yeshivot or former concentration or labor camps. Just click on a photo and see more.

Many have an icon to click to hear an audio-file lecture by Leff or those of two other English-speaking rabbis, Yosef Ingber or Efaim Bryks, who accompanied the group. There are more icons to see a brief textual biography of noted rabbis who are buried there or the history of the Jews in that location. Among them are Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (great grandfather of the late Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik), Rabbi Yaakov Yitzhak (the Hozeh of Lublin), the Maharshal (Rabbi Solomon Luria), Rabbi Elimelech of Lizhensk and Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Rothenberg Alter (the founder of the Gur hassidic dynasty).

Obviously, the disk will appeal especially to modern Orthodox or haredi users who want to hear Torah lectures. Leff and his two colleagues speak about how the seeds of Torah were created out of the ashes of Europe; ³why we are davening at cemeteries?²; debunking the myth of Jews going as sheep to the slaughter; why do bad things happen to good people?; and viewing the Holocaust from the safe shores of Israel.