How can technology bring back to life a lost community? Wikishtetl is an online encyclopedia (part of Wikipedia) that records memories of a lost world, with articles about villages and shtetls throughout Eastern Europe and other lost Jewish communities.
Wikishtetl was established as part of a special initiative of the Herzog College Education Department, the Yad Vashem Teacher Training Department and WikiMedia Israel. For the second year running, Herzog College launched a Wikishtetl competition, inviting people to write entries about Jewish communities that were destroyed during the Holocaust. As a result, 70 new articles were added to the rapidly-expanding Wiki website.
Dr. Tehila Hertz, who started the WikiShtetl project in 2017, is a lecturer in education at Herzog College. She believes that educators need to understand the power of the digital information revolution and help students to use the internet correctly. The Wikishtetl competition was designed to encourage schools and individuals to write articles for Wikipedia, in order to give students an appreciation of how information is collected and uploaded to the internet.
At a ceremony in October at Yad Vashem, cash prizes were presented to the winners of the competition. They included Yanai Bakar, a 17-year-old amateur historian who wrote an article about Czernowitz in the Ukraine; a doctor of astronomy from Zurich University who wrote about Jewish communities in Odessa; and a career soldier in the IDF who contributed 1,000 listings documenting the Jewish communities of Hungary. Many of the writers drew on their own family history for the projects.
At the awards ceremony, Rabbi Dr. Yehuda Brandes, President of Herzog College, spoke about his goal to expand the Wikishtetl project throughout the Jewish world. “We are doing more than memorializing the communities that were destroyed. We are also exploring the deep roots that gave rise to the nation that we are today.”
Dror Lin, WikiMedia Israel board member, emphasized the importance of the project. “Any information that is not found on Wikipedia today will be lost and forgotten ten years from now.”