Tag Archives: israel

The End of the Printed Book (coming soon, but not yet)

So I live in Israel and while it’s not too hard to get popular books from best-selling authors in English, it’s a bit harder to get things like technical books, or more niche books like those that deal with genealogy. Finding ways to get English books to Israel cheaply is somewhat of an obsession with much of the English-speaking community here, and it’s not so simple. Amazon.com was a long-time favorite for many years, although now-Amazon-owned BookDepository.com seems the better deal (books are a little more money, but shipping is free). Of course, with the rise of eBooks one would think eBooks are the simple solution – usually cheaper and no shipping charges. My wife recently got an iPad, and when I decided to order a book recently (Ancestors and Relatives: Genealogy, Identity, and Community by Eviatar Zerubavel) I thought about getting it as an eBook. The price was almost half the printed version ($9.99 on Kindle versus $18.21 in Hardcover on Amazon) and that’s without considering shipping for the hardcover.

I’ve been a book collector for more than twenty years, and while not all my books make it out of my library, I do lend many books out. Considering how hard it is to get niche books like an academically-published one like Ancestors and Relatives…, here in Israel I figured it would be highly likely I would be loaning out the book at some point. So how does one loan out an eBook? First I think it’s worth taking a look at who the different players are in the eBook field.

So the big players in eBooks are Amazon (with the Kindle), Barnes & Noble (with the Nook), Apple (with iBooks) and Google (with Google Books). Amazon has long been the leader in this field, with both the hardware (the Kindle) and the store (Amazon.com) to provide the total package for eBook reading. In fact, Amazon is really the only company that offers software on just about every type of device (Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, Android, and of course their own Kindle devices) and in that they have a real advantage. When Barnes & Noble, the retail leader in book sales in the US, launched their eBook platform called the Nook, they introduced one feature which had been missing from the Kindle – the ability to lend books. Amazon quickly copied that feature and made it available on the Kindle, but with the same odd restrictions – you could only lend a book once to a friend, and only for 14 days. Sure, I wish everyone I lent a book to would return it in less than two weeks, but that’s not reality. Why does it matter how long the book is lent for exactly? When a book is lent out, you cannot view it yourself, which makes sense. If I can’t view it while it is being lent out, who care how long it is being lent out and to whom? Herein lies the problem with eBooks as they currently stand – you’re not buying the book, your essentially leasing it. In fact, even with the lending features of Kindle and Nook, not all publishers allow books to be lent – you need to check each book when you buy it and see if lending as a ‘feature’ is enabled.

In the days before Apple launched iTunes and the iPod, digital music failed to take off in a major way. The reason it failed was that it was easier to freely download pirated music than it was to buy and use music from the big labels. Apple fixed that, not by eliminating all the restrictions music companies wanted on the files, but by removing enough of them that using digital music legally became easy enough that most people wouldn’t bother trying to get it illegally. The big breakthrough was that Apple had the store (what Amazon and Barnes & Noble now have for books) tightly integrated, and that Apple got the music companies to loosen their restrictions so that customers could play music on multiple devices (their Mac, their iPod and their now their iPhone for example) and could even burn CDs of their music for their own use. Most people don’t really remember what digital music was like before Apple, but none of that was possible. Sure, the iPod was a breakthrough device when it came out, but the real reason it was so successful was the integration with the iTunes Store and the improved licensing from the music companies.

The problem with eBooks is that none of the companies have yet hit that sweet spot of great device, great store integration and good enough licensing. It’s hard to even think about licensing a book. It reminds me of a used book store I used to visit almost 20 years ago in Jerusalem that had a copy of a book that was out of print, yet highly in demand, so they rented it out. It was bizarre and I didn’t rent it. I waited a little longer and I found a copy for sale elsewhere. Eventually the book came back into print and everyone could get a copy. The iPad is a great device for reading books, and the various Kindles and Nooks are also good devices. The new Kindle Fire is really trying to compete with the iPad, and is perhaps the first device that will be able to do so, but while there are devices that are great, and there is store integration which works okay (I wouldn’t yet call it great on any platform), no one has gotten the licensing right yet.

It took years of battling between Steve Jobs and music companies to get the licensing right for music – and that battle included a visionary like Steve Jobs and music company executives that finally ‘got it’ (perhaps they were forced into ‘getting it’ by Jobs). How long will it take for book publishers to ‘get it’ is anyone’s guess. It’s already possible to download illegal eBooks, although I don’t know if the book reading public will adopt that as quickly as the music listening public did in the days before the iPod and iTunes.

One company that seems to be getting ready for the inevitable move to eBooks is, believe it or not, IKEA. Apparently, they are creating a deeper version of their popular (some might say ubiquitous) BILLY bookcase in order to accommodate the display for physical items, perhaps larger coffee-table style books, but not actually rows of books.

Music needed easy purchasing and a liberal licensing scheme so that people could listen to their music on all their devices. Books needs the same things, but something more. People listen to the same music over and over, but they don’t read the same book over and over – instead they lend it out to others. The book publishing industry needs to come to grips with this difference and make their eBooks as lendable as their printed cousins. Until that point, buying books for reading on digital devices will not be ubiquitous (not even as ubiquitous as BILLY bookcases). What’s worse is that as a ‘leased’ product instead of an owned product, what happens if the publisher decides to change the terms after the purchase, further restricting the usage of the book. What can you do about that? Not much, other than wait for the publishers to wake up and figure out that books are not music, and they need to be treated differently.

So in the end, I ordered the book from the Book Depository web site, and will get it in a couple of weeks. It’s a little pricier, but I get to own the book and lend out as often and to as many people as I like, without having to worry about what the publisher thinks. Of course, since Amazon bought Book Depository they’ll still be getting my money, but at least I’m getting something tangible for that money. In the future no doubt I will be buying eBooks along with the rest of society (I do not believe my grandkids will be buying physical textbooks) but for the time being I’m doing my share to help the paper industry.

Grave of the ‘Unknown’ Soldier

Yom HaZikaron Ceremony. Photo from Wikipedia.

Tonight begins Yom HaZikaron in Israel, Israel’s memorial day for fallen soldiers. As with most Jewish holidays, the ‘day’ begins at sundown the night before and ends at sundown the following day. Tomorrow night begins Yom HaAzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.

It’s always struck me as incredibly emotional to have a country’s Memorial Day lead directly into its Independence Day. This has a lot to do with Israel having had a mandatory draft, for men and women, for its entire existence. Just about anyone who grew up in Israel, or moved here young enough to have served in the army, has friends and/or family that were killed while serving in the Israeli army. In some ways one can compare the attitude of memorial day in Israel to that of memorial day in communities in the US that have large military connections. It’s unfortunate, by true, that in many areas of the US, Memorial Day is considered just another day off from work. It’s hard to think that way in a small country like Israel where everyone knows someone who was killed.

On Yom HaZikaron, all Israeli TV stations either broadcast a memorial symbol like a burning candle, or broadcast programming that respects the reverence of the day. Only the kids channels and foreign channels broadcast normally.

Another fascinating thing that happens on Memorial Day in Israel is that a 2 minute siren is sounded around the entire country, at which time people stop what they’re doing and listen. Car actually pull over on the highway and wait for the siren to finish. The first time I was driving on a major highway at the time of the siren, I had no idea why everyone was pulling over. Other driving knew to pull over even before the siren started, and I didn’t realize why everyone was pulling over until the siren sounded. Here’s a Youtube video of this very interesting experience:



So what does any of this have to do with genealogy? Well, I was just reading a fascinating article from one of Israel’s main newspapers, Haaretz, titled Identifying the unknown soldiers from Independence War. David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, once proclaimed that Israel did not have a grave for unknown soldiers like other countries. The point was that he intended to insure that there was never a need for such a memorial – that every soldier would be known.

The article describes the efforts the Israeli Army goes to to identify ‘unknown soldiers’ from various wars, including now doing DNA testing when necessary to confirm the identity of soldiers who, due to the circumstances of the war, were buried without proper identification.

Somehow after last week’s Holocaust-related posts (on Yom HaShoah, also last week, Israeli TV stations also do not broadcast normal programming) it seemed appropriate to mention this article which points out that many of the ‘unknown soldiers’ in Israel were Holocaust survivors who arrived in Israel just in time to fight and die for the nascent State of Israel. Many Jews arrived from Europe with no family or friends who knew them in Israel, and when they died fighting had no one to insure they were properly memorialized. The Israeli army’s Eitan unit, which handles the investigations into unknown soldiers, identified the graves of fourteen soldiers from the 1948 War of Independence between 2009 and 2010, and nine out of those fourteen soldiers were Holocaust survivors

While a sad topic, it is somehow clear how fitting Israel’s scheduling of Independence Day the day after Memorial Day is, when you realize how the initial soldiers in Israel’s War of Independence died fighting to insure the country was not snuffed out before it even began. All the more reason it seems critically important that those soldiers who have no memorial today are identified, found and have proper memorials set up.

Update: Someone posted a video taken in the open marketplace in downtown Jerusalem yesterday on Yom HaZikaron which I think is worth seeing. The video shows the hustle and bustle of the open marketplace and about a minute in to the video the siren begins…

British Mandate Publications

This posting is a bit tangential to genealogy, so for those not interested, I apologize. However, researching history goes hand-in-hand with researching your family. It’s hard to understand what is going on in your family tree without understanding what was going on around your family at the time.

In the period between WWI and shortly after WWII, the British government ruled the area which now constitutes Israel and Jordan. That area was called the British Mandate of Palestine (the ‘mandate’ given to the British by the League of Nations). What is now Jordan was split off in 1922 as Transjordan, and eventually became the modern state of Jordan (technically the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan). The remaining area is now the State of Israel and the territories (Gaza, which was captured by Egypt, and the West Bank, captured by Jordan, during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49 and later captured by Israel in the Six Day War of 1967).

Back to the British. It’s important to realize that the period of the British Mandate was the apex of the British imperial empire. After WWI, the British ruled over the largest land mass in its history (1.8 million square miles) and yet it really was the beginning of the end of the empire. During the interwar years, and following WWII, the British Empire began to unravel.

During this transitional period, the British government published quite a bit about what was going on in their empire. Many of their publications, even though they dealt with far-flung parts of the empire, were either published or at least made available by the British Mandate government. When the British left in 1948, they left behind many of their government documents which found their way into what became the Israel State Archives.

While many of the documents from this period deal specifically with the British Mandate of Palestine, the variety of documents is actually quite interesting. Many documents deal with the British during WWI and WWII. War Office. Colonial Office. Parliamentary debates. Naval law. Education. Police. Prisons. Railway. Agricultural and Veterinarian studies. Archaeology. Water. Documents related to France, Egypt, Iraq, India, Yemen, Transjordan, Sudan, Turkey, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), West Indies, Kenya, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Gambia and more.

Some documents of interest to genealogists (besides for general history) include a phone book from Iraq in 1945 and phone books of the Palestine Mandate from 1946 and 1947. A guide to transliterating geographical and personal names from Arabic and Hebrew into English that was published in 1931. Several reports deal with the Arab riots in 1920, 1929, etc. which presumably list the names of the victims.

Of course, as the government was British, the great majority of documents published were in English. For those people interested in general British history, there are probably better ways to search for these documents, although browsing the Israel State Archives catalog might give you some idea of what documents you want to look for elsewhere.

The Palestine Gazette, the official publication of the government for all legal notices and publications of new laws, etc. also included name changes during the period, although these are already indexed and searchable on the Israel Genealogical Society web site.

Other British Mandate documents made searchable on the Israel Genealogical Society web site include part of the 1922 census (from Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv) and a collection of lists of medical practitioners. The 1922 census is available to anyone online, but the medical practitioners list is only available to IGS members. Thanks to Rosie Feldman for pointing out these additional resources.

By now you might be wondering where on the Israel State Archive’s web site you can search their catalog of British Mandate government publications. The fact is, you can’t search for it there. The Israel State Archives does not have this index online. In fact, while it was put onto a computer roughly twenty years ago, they no longer even know where that computer file exists anymore, if it does at all. Like many government archives, they have their budget issues and I don’t blame them for these problems. So how do you search this catalog? The archive has a printout from 1993 on fading paper from when it was computerized back then. You can go to the archive and look at it if you’d like of course, but the purpose of this posting, besides making people aware of this archival resource, is to make available a digital version of this catalog.

I didn’t re-type the catalog. It’s 111 pages. What I’ve done is scanned the catalog, applied optical character recognition to the pages so it is semi-searchable, and put the whole thing online. I say semi-searchable because the document was in such poor shape that I wouldn’t rely on the search exclusively to find entries in the catalog. Also, there are about 9 pages of Hebrew documents at the end of the catalog which are not searchable at all (for those who can read Hebrew).

In order to access these documents in the archives, you need to go to the archive building in Jerusalem. It’s in a nondescript building in the Talpiyot neighborhood. See their web site for details on hours, etc. The code given in the catalog needs to be ‘translated’ into a location code using a second document they have there, which maps the codes. I can put this online too if there’s interest, but if you’re already going down to the archive to look at documents, this will only take a few minutes there anyways. For those documents not specific to the Palestine Mandate, and many of those that are, you can probably also find these same documents in British archives and other archives of former British territories.

I’ve posted the document using Google Docs, which allows anyone to browse the document as well as search it. Keywords used in the search are highlighted yellow in the document (orange when the current selection). Considering the original shape of the document, the OCR was surprisingly good and the searching works fairly well.

Example of highlighted search terms in the catalog

So check out my online catalog of the British Mandate of Palestine government publication index from the Israel State Archives.

I’m not sure where to put a link to this for future reference, but for the time being I’ve added it to the my list of links in the right column of the blog (scroll down to bottom right of this page). You can always search for this posting too.