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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JUNE 21, 2013 Creating modern Israeli heroine LeBor crosses Lisbeth.Salander and biblical Yael By Ruth Ellen Gruber BUDAPEST (JTA)--There's a new Jewish heroine on the block, a tough but tender Israeli who does undercover work for the United Nations and stars in a new series of thrillers by the British author and journalist Adam LeBor. The first installment, "The Geneva Option," was released in the United Kingdom in April and recently hit U.S. booksellers. It spis a tale of corporate greed, international corruption and insidious plans for mass murder, with intrigue spanning the globe from New York to central Africa to Swit- zerland. The protagonist is Yael Azoulay, an auburn-haired Israeli army veteran forced to use subterfuge, computer savvy and Krav Maga'skills to thwart the villains. "As far as I know, she's the first Israeli woman protagonist in a thriller," said LeBor, a Budapest-based correspon- dent for the Times of London, the Economist and other publications. The story pivots on an unholy alliance between su- perpowers and multinational By Julie Wiener New orkJewish Wee In a move likely to give the fledgling Jewish educational technology field a much-needed shot of capital and know-how, an Israeli nonprofit and an American publishing company best known for its Hebrew school textbooks are teaming up to create the first incubator focused on developing Jew- ish educational games, apps, software and other high-tech resources. Israel's Center for Educa- tional Technology (CET) and the Springfield, N.J.-based Behrman House announced the joint project June 4--the news was closely guarded until then--at CET's annual "Shap- ing The Future: Innovation, Education and Entrepreneur- ship" conference in Tel Aviv. Called jLearn.ingLabs, the new venture will be financed with between $500,000 and $800,000 in seed capital over the first two years, Behrman House's president, David Beh- rman, told The Jewish Week in a recent exclusive interview, be- fore the partnership was made public. While the partners have not yet raised the seed money, they are in discussion with various institutions and Harper Publishing Adam LeBor in "The Geneva Option," his second venture into fiction, introduces Yaei Azoulall, an Israeli army veteran who is caught up in of international intrigue. r corporations aimed at corner- ing the market on raw materi- als essential for 21st century technology. "I wanted tolook at the ten- sion between the moral aims of the U.N. and the actual results of superpower politics in the U.N.--there's a pretty serious gap there," said LeBor, who drew on his own dealings with the world body as a reporter in Bosnia during the 1990s. "But I don't see the book as an indictment of the U.N, or of the people who work there," he added. "There are obviously a lot of good people in the U,N. committed to its values. At the same time there are some really dreadful people there, just placed there by their gov- ernments, or careerists out to milk the machine for as much as they can." LeBor drew inspiration for Azoulay from many sources, including Lisbeth Salander, the hacker heroine of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" tril- ogy, and Azoulay's biblical namesake, Yael, who sheltered an enemy commander in her tent and then killed him by hammering a stake into his head. "What if there was someone working for the U.N. with a powerful moral drive to do good, yet who was forced to operate in the shadows? Even to kill?" LeBorwrote in a recent Op-Ed in the Times of Israel. Azoulay, he wrote, is"a mod- ern woman--a 21st century heroine, hmnted by her past, with a complex identity, but one firmly rooted in Israel." Azoulay faces more than just physical eflemies. In her mid-30s, she's also contend- ing with the biological clock. To complicate matters, the potential love interest for this proud Israeli is a Palestinian- American journalist. "There's always tension between career women and the call of relationships and family," LeBor told JTA. "The basis of drama is conflict, and you need inner conflict in the protagonist." "The Geneva Option" is Lebor's second venture into fiction, having already-au- thored more than a half- dozen non-fiction books. His latest, "Tower of Basel," is an investigative history of the Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements that also was recently pub- lished in the United States. Many of his books have a Jewish or Israeli theme--in- cluding "The Believers," about the swindler Bernard Madoff's impact on the American Jew- ish community, and "City of Oranges," the story of Israel told through the sagas of three Arab and three Jewish families in Jaffa. "His previous novel, "The Budapest Protocol," posits a shadowy World War II conspiracy aimed to achieve Nazi economic domination of Europe. "I guess it's a way of explor- ing part of my own identity in away, being brought up Jewish in England, having gone to two Jewish schools, having lived on a kibbutz in my gap year, having studied Hebrew and also Arabic," he said. "I real- . ized when I got to the level of being able towrite non-fiction books, I thought that there were some interesting things I can explore here." LeBor says writing fic- tion is more difficult than non-fiction, but often more satisfying. "When you get fiction go- U.S. publisher, Israeli nonprofit team up on new Jewish ed-tech incubator and nonprofit in this field. jLearningLabs, which will begin operating early in 2014, will offer three tiers of involve- ment: some entrepreneurs will be housed at Behrman House's suburban headquarters 27 miles wct of Manhattan, oth- ers will participate remotely from various locations and a third group will receive sup- port but in a more flexible, less-scheduled manner. Partici- pants will also have opportuni- ties to network with peers at MindCET, CET's Negev-based "incubator for Israeli ed-tech entrepreneurs. Projectswill receive funding, in-kindservices and other assis- tance. Incubated entrepreneurs will have the "benefit of col- laborating with other projects, getting our management ex- pertise and our infrastructure," Behrman said, adding that jLearningLabs will also broker matches between professionals with complementary skills. "If you're an educator with an idea, and I'm a tech person without the Jewish education knowledge, the incubator might marry the two, where neither could do this on his or her own," he explained. Exactly what types of proj- ects is jLearningLabs hoping to midwife? ing a variety of media. "Over time we'll see what the market wants and who's interested," Behrman added. "Itwill have to adapt. Theworst thing you can do in digital development is create a rigid three-year plan. You have to put it out there and adapt." Asked who will end up with ownership and licensing rights to the completed products-- particularly if they turn out to be profitable--Behrman said it will vary depending on how much jLearningLabs has invested in them. "In some cases, if a group comes to us witha team already assembled and some of the work alread done, the lab might take equity or a fee," he said. "If an individual comes to us who needs more help or resources, the lab might own the project and the individual would get the fee. The key is that people earn a fair living. If they have a great idea and it becomes a blowout success, they should be compensated. The more fully formed and developedthe team, the more they'll own. The more the lab is like a general contrac- tor helping to bring together all the pieces, the more itwill own." Behrman said his company and CET have been working together on several projects Jewish market, jLearningLabs is "the kind of combination that could bring interesting outcomes." "It can be difficult to bring content, even Jewish content, from Israel to the States and from the States to Israel, be- cause there is a cultural bias in both places," he said. "By collaborating around this kind of work, both sides have a lot to contribute." "It also has its own value of connecting Jews from both sides of the ocean," he added. Warshavsky's MindCET cur- rently houses eight projects and brings together educators, researchers and computer programmers from both the Jewish and Arab communities. Among the current projects un- der development at MindCET, which aims to spur educational programs that can be used all over the world, are a GPS -based geography game that children can play while traveling in the back seat of a car, a crowd- sourcing tool and various resources to help children do research online. Founded in 1921, Behrman HOuse is a privately held for- profit that publishes a variety of books and educational materials. In recent years, the ompany hasventured increas- generating projects and from cooperative ventures. According to itswebsite, CET is "dedicated to the advance- ment of the education system in Israel, and in the Jewish community around the globe." The organization employs more than250 people, has more than 700 textbooks and 70,000 items in its virtual libraries and its websites receive more than two million visits monthly. "We are two organizations with complementary strengths and are both effective and dis- ciplined," Behrman said. "We have the discipline to set goals and targets, and to help people achieve them in an efficient way. That's what we've been doing with book production all these years: we manage writers, artists and develop- ers on a schedule and have to produce things that are usable, not just nice." But isn't the Jewish educa- PAGE 13A ing, it's true what you read about--the characters just come alive," he said. "You wake up in the morning still half asleep and you know what to do. You end a chapter on a cliff-hanger. You think how on earth is she going to get out of that; you sleep on it. And you know what to do. It's really an amazing high. It's like flying when it works." As for YaelAzoulay, her next full-length book adventure. will be set partly in Vienna. Until then, LeBor and his pub- lisherwill be takingadvantage of new technology to issue occasional short stories or novellas that can be published as e-books within weeks of being written. The first, "The Istanbul Exchange," came out last month. Azoulay "is going to get into a lot more trouble, for sure," he said. And, LeBor said, he plans little by little to,reveal more about her past. "It's not spelled out in 'The Geneva Option' if [Azoulay] has any connections with Mossad, and if so, what they might be," he added. "So you have to wait to see that in later volumes." tional market--a tiny niche of potential consumers--too smaU to make labor-intensive high-tech projects profitable or even financially viable? While acknowledging that the "size of the market is a chal- lenge," Behrman emphasized that "no one with our combined skills, discipline and focus has ever tried." "I see this as very analogous to the book-development busi- ness," he added. "Behrman House operates in a small market, but we still produce books of equal quality--and no one gives us grants. It's more challenging with software, because it's faster moving, but I don't want to surrender to the ideathatJewish software has to be subpar unless some donor comesalongwithacheckbook." Julie Wiener is associate editor of The New York Jewish Week, from which this article was reprinted by permission. R Silver. i 3 Daniel ;i foundations, and plan for the incubator ultimately to be self-sustaining, with reveues from finished products helping to finance future ones. While there have been some philanthropic investments in promoting Jewish educational technology including $500,000 in grants awarded by the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund two years ago and a number of smaller grants through Avi Chai Foundation and the Covenant Foundation--this is believed to be the first major partnershipbetweenafor-profit Behrman said the plan is to "develop a portfolio of proj- ects that are diversified and robust:" a mix of short:term and long-term, low-budget and higher-budget, addressing a range of subjects and a mix of age groups. "At the higher end of the complexity spectrumwewould like to see games around ethics, history, Israel, Bible--almost any subject," he said. "At the lower end of complexity, are projects that engage children of all ages thinking about the issues in interesting ways," us- for the past 18 months, "so we know each other." Those projects include an online Jewish history resource for congregational schools and an app.lication enabling teach- ers and students to collabora- "dvely annotate and comment on Jewish texts via a Kindle or other e-reader. In a phone interview from Tel Aviv, Avi Warshavsky, the CEO of CET's MindCET incubator, said that by combining Israel's 'eerydynamic"startup culture and Behrman House's knowl- edge of the North American ingly into digital products, last year launching an "online learning center'--which in- cludes classroom-management and assessment software, along with online access to lesson plans, texts, educational games and other materials. Italso has developed a hand- ful of iPad and iPhone apps. CET, which is 50 years Behrman House's junior and is near the Tel Aviv University campus, was originally a gov- ernment entity, but is now an independent nonprofit funded mainly from its own income- www wlnterpa. 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