A former Tucsonan is the mastermind behind a multimedia Israeli tour book app (see www.theisraelapp.com). Yaakov Lehman, 29, made aliyah in 2008, after a spiritual, philosophical and physical journey that took him from California to Europe to yeshiva.
Lehman grew up as Jake in Tucson and graduated from Catalina Foothills High School in 2003. Although he became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Anshei Israel, he felt estranged from Judaism.
He studied globalization and Mandarin Chinese at the University of California Santa Barbara. His entrepreneurial spirit first became evident during his senior year, when he founded Chilla Vista, a music and arts festival run on solar and biodiesel energy, which still takes place annually.
While studying for a master’s degree in economic history at the London School of Economics, on a scholarship from the European Union, he reconnected with his Jewish roots. “I found a religious community and started really exploring, studying, approaching Judaism with an adult mind. I started investigating philosophical ideas and found an astute teacher. The whole process was pretty wild.”
Lehman’s scholarship also took him to the University of Vienna, where he finished a master’s degree in world history. Then he was inspired to move to Israel and study in yeshiva. He began producing video explorations of the streets of Jerusalem, which led him to a joint venture with Rabbi Joel Padowitz, resulting in the first release of the Israel App a year ago.
“It was a project I had in my mind for a while. I wanted it to be more of a multimedia-based exploration of Israel. My partner, who was the investor, wanted it to be more of a tour guide, with just audio and text. We created a fusion between these two ideas,” says Lehman, who is married and has a 1-year-old daughter.
The Israel App features original content for some 400 sites throughout the country. It has GPS-guided walking tours, more than 1,000 photos, and hyperlinks to hundreds of articles. It also includes access to travel services and GPS navigation tools. After the app and its content are downloaded to a mobile device, it no longer needs an Internet connection, so the user does not incur roaming charges while roaming through the Holy Land.
Lehman says that more than 15,000 users have downloaded the Israel App over the past year and that reactions have been very positive. The Israel App can be downloaded for free from the App Store or Google Play.
Another interesting feature of the Israel App is its development team, which Lehman says includes several haredi ultra-Orthodox women who are trained computer programmers. With a significant percentage of haredi men dedicating their time to religious studies, women often bring in the sole source of income and many families live in poverty. Programs like this have the potential to help improve lives. “It’s an exciting model to employ ultra-Orthodox people,” Lehman says.
With the Israel App making inroads, Lehman is now launching a new venture, Wisdom Tribe (www.wisdomtribe.global), which he describes as “a collective of Jewish educators and creatives producing high-end digital media for a sophisticated global audience.”
Lehman is an active participant in the global Wisdom 2.0 conferences, where he hosts “Wisdom Shabbos” meals. “My presence bringing the Jewish contribution has been extraordinarily well received and we are planning several programs for the 2015 Wisdom 2.0 summit in San Francisco,” he says.
Continuing his focus on integrating diverse worlds, the eclectic Lehman also lectures internationally on spirituality in the digital age, including an upcoming tour of the United States next month.
Nancy Ben-Asher Ozeri is a feature writer and editor living in Tucson. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.