Jewish music from analog past to digital future

Jewish music from analog past to digital future

Versions of the crowdfunding campaign’s official Jewish music collection are available for contributors at various levels.  
Versions of the crowdfunding campaign’s official Jewish music collection are available for contributors at various levels.  

Tel Aviv is arguably the startup capital of the world — so, at the outset, a story about a new technology initiative might not sound particularly surprising.

But this particular startup is located inside the venerable Beit Hatfutsot-Museum of the Jewish People, an institution that has been archiving and exhibiting the story of Jews across the globe for nearly 40 years.

Unlike the bootstrapping tech hubs that line the city’s Rothschild Boulevard or cluster together along Harakevet Street and Montefiore, this startup isn’t focused on R&D or social-media technology. Here at the Museum of the Jewish People, all of the energy and buzz is devoted to saving the strains of ancient Jewish music.

Its mission is simple: the museum’s Feher Jewish Music Center —one of the world’s largest archives of Jewish music — is on a mission to transfer its sounds on-line, where it can be safely stored for future generations.

It’s a gorilla of a process, extracting the sounds of history from old technology and shuttling it safely across a digital highway to a more secure future. So Nurit Gazit, the museum’s chief digital officer, has recruited a small army of tech-minded workers who are up to the task.

The Feher Jewish Music Center consists of more than 25,000 pieces of Jewish music from across the Diaspora. Locked inside their melodies is the whole history of the Jewish people, from its traverse through exile toward the Holy Land, its pre-Holocaust glory, and its up-from-the-ashes rise after, and all of the traditions, tongues, and travels that marked its evolution in between.

To fund the massive digital undertaking, the museum is sponsoring a crowdfunding campaign that it hopes will raise $250,000 to cover the three necessary components to get the music catalogued, data-tagged, and fully on-line, including equipment to transfer the music and professional experts to handle the sound quality, the research required to accurately identify the music, and finally the specific technology for delivering the data from the hard copies onto the Beit Hatfutsot website.

The campaign was launched April 18; the museum hopes to reach its goal within two months.

Contributors to the crowdfunding campaign will be able to sample the sounds themselves — they receive digital links to the campaign’s Jewish music collection. Donors of $360 or more will also receive a physical box set of the CDs containing the music.

After Beit Hatfutsot raises the funds to complete the library’s digitization, the museum will launch the next phase of the project: opening up the database so that listeners and music lovers can add their own liturgical traditions, and hopefully offer up snippets of musical history from their own family libraries and records.

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