A trip to Israel can involve many enjoyable experiences, such as digging for ancient artifacts at Beit Guvrin, touring sites in the Old City and praying at the Kotel. Aaron Herman recently did the latter on a Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) mission trip, except he didn’t do it alone. Aside from praying with others at the Western Wall, he provided people who weren’t actually there with an opportunity to join in his experience, giving them his point of view.
And no, Herman, a tech expert and senior manager of missions for JFNA, wasn’t just taking a video with his smart phone. He was wearing a little headset known as Google Glass, a device that enabled him to record a video so viewers could see his prayer experience through his eyes.
In the simplest terms, Google Glass is a wearable, hands-free computer operated by voice commands. While wearing a Glass headset, you can surf the web, check emails and watch videos in the most convenient way possible. Glass is due out on shelves sometime this year and isn’t available in Israel yet, but Herman was able to get two pairs of the high-tech gadgets for the trip.
“The idea is when you’re on a mission with Glass, you can bring people from around the world together,” says Herman, who shared video clips and other forms of media on Google Hangouts, the corporation’s online conferencing platform. “The idea for participants is for them to find something meaningful and share it. You can just be walking around and be in the moment, but also [post to] social media in real time.”
While people may have used Google Glass in Israel individually, the Winter Family Mission is the first time it’s been used in the country in a group setting, allowing several families from across the country to share their experiences, both fun and community service-based, with their Internet community.
Herman is responsible for enhancing the way JFNA goes about conducting missions and he was able to bring Google Glass on the trip after attending a program for tech professionals to test the product.
“You can bring people into your story. You become the camera,” he says. “I didn’t want the new technology to take over, I wanted it to enhance the experience.” Enhancing the experience is what it may have done for many who used it during the trip, including D.C.-area dentist Ken Ingber and his family.
“I was hesitant at first,” Ingber says. “I tried it and after two or three minutes you don’t even know it’s on. It’s amazing.” Ingber, his wife and two children used the product during many excursions, including an orange-picking adventure led by guides from Table to Table, an organization that gathers food from markets, farms and restaurants for those in need.
“Each wearer handcrafted his own Israeli experience, acting like a movie presenter in real time — and his friends got the thrill of watching live footage,” writes Tikva Schein, communications associate at JFNA, in an email to WJW.
The families also used Glass, the iPad Air and GoPro to share their trips to Masada, the Tel Aviv promenade, Kibbutzim Sdot Yam and Hanaton, Havat Ha’shokolad (the “Chocolate Farm”) and other locations.
Both Ingber and Herman said the kids quickly got the hang of using Glass, and let locals use it as well, including Ethiopian youth at a school in northern Israel.
“When you remember something, it’s such an added layer to actually see what you’re remembering,” Ingber says. “This helped [the kids] focus. They realized they were memorializing their experience.” For future missions, Herman says he’d like to continue to bring Glass along for the ride.
“We have a number of missions coming up [and we want to] integrate it in the most effective way,” he says. He notes that Glass has the potential to change the way missions are conducted, not only by enhancing the travelers’ experiences, but by also involving Jewish communities that aren’t in Israel through its real-time qualities. JFNA, he says, is always looking to promote the latest cutting-edge type of experience through technology, a trait he says is necessary for an organization that represents 154 Jewish federations and 300 smaller network communities across North America, and raises around $900 million yearly for Israel-related causes.
“The mission was a real moment of federations working together to achieve a cutting-edge way of removing the ‘otherness’ from Israel,” Schein writes. “We know that one of the surest ways to feel closer to an experience is through identification with what you’re seeing.”
For those who might say the device would take away from the experience or serve as a distraction, Herman would simply disagree. “From the footage I’ve seen, [the users] wanted to show their connection to Israel,” he says. “People around me didn’t feel like they were being harassed. It was like you were the tripod, but still in the moment and still experiencing the mission in the best way possible.”
For more information on upcoming JFNA missions, go to jewishfederations.org/missions.