BJE, in partnership with Adat Ari El, has introduced an innovative, 3D online videogame called Virtual Israel. Combining the latest in education and gaming to transport young people back in time to Israel, circa 1912-1915 (then Palestine), players become new European immigrants, experiencing early life in Jaffa and historic Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv's first Jewish neighborhood.
Participants must accomplish tasks which weave together elements from that time in order to advance through the game. Activities include purchasing a visa stamp, finding the seven fruit species in Israel, going on a quest through the streets of Neve Tzedek, and having tea with an Arab resident in a tent. Lessons are built around each experience. Users can enter buildings, talk to other immigrants, and move between levels. While they play, they also interact with historical figures like Henrietta Szold, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, A.D. Gordon and Arthur James Balfour. The dirt streets, palm trees, street names, and many buildings in the game are authentic and realistic.
"By engaging in an immersive, fun activity, students develop a deeper connection to the immigrant experience and the cultural and historical roots of the State of Israel," said BJE Associate Director Phil Liff-Grieff, "It's so exciting to see this come to reality. We've been working towards the creation of the project for several years."
Virtual Israel is being tested by the fifth grade Hebrew school students at Adat Ari El, which partnered with BJE to develop the game and corresponding curriculum, the first of its kind in the country. The goal is to eventually make it available to complementary Jewish education classes nationwide. The interactive game allows users to talk to other players through their immigrant avatars.
"A group of 10 kids from a Florida school could get together on a Sunday with a class in Los Angeles and they can play the game together," Liff-Grieff said.
BJE hopes to expand the game beyond the eight lessons currently completed which were funded through grants from the Jewish Federation and BJE board member Sandra Bernstein. Liff-Grieff hopes to raise additional funding in $10,000 increments to expand the curriculum.