It will look like any other Israeli celebration. Israeli music will blare in the background. The Israeli flag will be raised, followed by a few (short) speeches. Freebie sunglasses and kova tembel hats will be distributed. There will even be guided tours of Israeli hotspots — on flying carpets.
Yes, you read that right. The party will take place this Sunday at 1 p.m. in Second Life, an Internet-based 3-D virtual world that boasts nearly 12 million users. More than 100 Second Lifers are expected to get their keyboards out and party.
The cause for celebration? The long-anticipated launch of Israel in Second Life.
SL Israel is the brainchild of Chaim Landau, a former Legacy Heritage Fellow who grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., and made aliyah eight years ago. When Landau, whose avatar is named Hagibor Shephard, first joined Second Life about a year ago, he was surprised to find that Israel simply didn’t exist in this virtual world. “I decided I would build it,” he says. “I figured that if people visited Israel in Second Life, they may be encouraged to travel to Israel in real life, too.”
So he joined Second Life’s Jewish community, now 600 members strong, and teamed up with Beth Brown (aka Beth Odets), a 33-year-old artist living in Dallas who, in 2006, founded Temple Beth Israel, Second Life’s most active synagogue, which hosts Shabbat candle- lighting ceremonies.
Brown logged more than 500 hours designing elaborate Israeli destinations, including popular sites like the Western Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Yad Vashem. But she didn’t stop there. Second Lifers can also explore Israel’s cultural hotspots. They can enjoy a therapeutic mud bath near the Dead Sea, tour Eilat’s underwater observatory and even dance the night away in the disco inside the Tel Aviv Opera House.
“It’s the fusion of the ancient and the modern,” says Landau. “One moment you’re in Jerusalem, the next you’re at a beach in Tel Aviv. It’s exactly like the real Israel.”
Landau hopes that SL Israel will serve as a unique advocacy tool.
“For the average person who probably has never been to Israel, it gives them a fun way to explore the Holy Land,” says Julian Voloj, founder and editor of 2Life Magazine, a Webzine focused on Jewish Second Life.
Brown agrees. “It will help a lot of people fall in love with Israel,” she says. “We put Israel on the map. My head spins just thinking about it.”