IS IT MAGIC OR IS IT TECHNOLOGY? A NEW OU COMMUNITY CALENDAR TELLS THE TIME FOR EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE
OVER A 20-YEAR PERIOD
For a timeless religion, Judaism is deeply concerned with time. What time do you light Shabbat candles? What time does the Sabbath end? When is dawn? What is the earliest one can don the talit for the morning service? What is the latest the morning Shema can be said? When is the earliest the Mincha service can begin? What time is sunset? When do the Hebrew months begin? What are the dates of the holidays?
Although the Hebrew calendar, with its holiday observances, is the same worldwide, each community has its own time schedule, depending upon its geographical location and time zone. Sunset in Portland, Maine is not the same time as sunset in Portland, Oregon, or in the 3,000 or so miles in between (including smaller Portlands in Connecticut and Texas).
To come to the assistance of those concerned with time, wherever they may be (including of course, Israel), the Orthodox Union, utilizing the latest technology (and it might even seem magical), has added a community calendar to its website, www.ou.org, that not only provides all of these times (the zmanim) for a 20-year period for cities and towns around the globe, but going beyond a community calendar to make it a community portal, they have included information on Orthodox synagogues and mikvehs in each area – and if there are none, it refers the visitors to the 15 closest communities where they may be found. These Jewish institutions are shown on Google maps, with virtual push pins. There are also job openings listed for the communities and nationally, courtesy of the OU's Job Bank.
Want to know when the sun rises in the community of your choice on your birthday in 2008, or perhaps in 2018, or looking backward in time to 1998? Check the OU community calendar. When is Passover in 2012? Check the community calendar. Does Albuquerque, New Mexico have a mikveh? Check the community calendar. (It does.) What is the Torah reading for the Fourth of July weekend in 2016? Check the community calendar. Taking an early flight and need to know when’s the earliest you can daven? Check the community calendar. Will your summer vacation three years from now conflict with Tisha B'Av? Check the community calendar. Are you doing the daily seven-year Daf Yomi or two-year Nach Yomi cycle? Check the community calendar to see the schedule for every day during each of the cycles. What's happening at the OU shul in your brother-in-law's community, 2,000 miles from where you live? Check the community calendar, click on the shul and bring up its website. There are also explanations of each holiday and any restrictions it may have.
In short, it is an extraordinary tool for Jewish communities.
"The Orthodox Union, as a communal organization, has always worked to service the Jewish community as a whole, and its individual members,” explained Gary Magder, OU Director of Internet Development, who oversaw the project. “Through these online services, the OU is extending its reach, using the Internet to connect the world’s Jewish communities. With over 100,000 cities, you can find information on just about every location where there are Jews.”
“We have had a tremendous amount of positive feedback,” declared Eliezer Edelman, OU National Director of Operations and Management, who approved the project. "For example, many individuals have emailed us to thank us for providing an online holiday calendar they can show to their employers as proof that their requested vacation days are for a Jewish holiday.”
How exactly was it done? According to Magder, who had an invaluable team in OU senior web developers Aharon Grenadir and Avi Block, the calendar makes use of the open-source PHP (hypertest pre-processor) programming language. Pulling information from a variety of databases, calculating postal codes, longitude and latitude, calendrical cycles and a host of other factors, the OU is able to provide you with the candle lighting time for Shabbat, Parshat Bo 2015, wherever you may live.
The calendar automatically determines where you are when you come to the page based on your computer address, though you can always change it.
Magder fully understands the technicalities of constructing the calendar, yet he is still in awe of what has been done and its seemingly magical qualities. "What's hard to grasp is that given the tools available to us, we have almost all the world's knowledge in our hands," he says. "And we’re working to make that knowledge easily accessible to our constituents on www.ou.org.”
Planning Ahead: The calendar for Baltimore, March, 2013