The Jews of Eastern Europe–Online

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Last night, I attended the opening event for an amazing new informational Jewish website, the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research’s online version of their Encyclopedia of the Jews in Eastern Europe. Having seen a full demonstration of how the site functions, I can honestly say that this is one of the most innovative Jewish websites on the internet today.

What exactly makes this site special? For one, as Prof. Gershon Hundert, the editor of the project, described last night, it is like having a Wikipedia page for every important person, place, and event in the history of Jewish Eastern Europe, except that every article is written by the expert in each field. The fact that this much credible and easy to read information is available for free to the public (without having to download it) is seriously ahead of its time.

Watching the presentation of the functionality of the website last night, I couldn’t help but compare how they designed their site to the functionality of MyJewishLearning.com. And this website passes the functionality test with flying colors. As you can imagine, an encyclopedia covering the history of the Jews of Eastern Europe is pretty vast, and it could be very easy to get lost. But the designers of the site (much like ours, by the way), broke up the encyclopedia into topics like arts, religion, history, etc. to make it much easier to search what you are looking for.

I could spend time discussing their brilliant color images (which you can zoom in with amazing detail), their teacher lesson plans (already spread out in PowerPoint presentations), and their rare video section (have you ever seen a video of Simon Dubnow before? Neither had I). But then I wouldn’t have time to talk about their AMAZING maps section.

Maps? You’d think that would be the most boring section of the website. You would be wrong. These maps go in amazing detail that you would never expect. For example, go and search the Warsaw Ghetto. The map makes it so easy to see where exactly every prominent spot in the ghetto was. And any time you come across a place on the map, that has an article from the encyclopedia, there is a link for you to click. Plus, the maps are so user friendly, it’s disgusting.

If you are a history buff (and even if you aren’t), this site is well worth checking out.

FULL DISCLOSURE: My mom served as the copy chief of the print version of the encyclopedia (and subsequently, those articles appear on the website), and the editor, Gershon Hundert, was my professor at McGill University. But the MJL office was abuzz about how cool the website was before I informed everyone of my relationship to it. So it’s legit. I promise.

Posted on June 11, 2010

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