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Kosher Calls: Online Ring Tones

When a cell phone goes off in synagogue, it usually elicits dirty looks and snickers. But when one California-based entrepreneur heard a fellow shul-goer’s Matisyahu ring tone, a light bulb went off in his head. “I wanted to find more kosher mobile content that could appeal to the religious community as well as to kids,” said Daniel Aharonoff, an Orthodox Jew who has helped kick start several digital media companies. Now, he is bringing his business prowess to his own community through Yidtones, the first-ever Jewish-themed direct-to-consumer mobile phone content company.

While some groups like Chabad and Aish HaTorah offer a variety of Jewish mobile phone downloads, they are fragmented, and, until now, there hasn’t been any one-stop-shop catering to the technologically advanced within the tribe. In an effort to create a central location for kosher ring tones, Aharonoff teamed with Waterfall Mobile. The mobile company has democratized the process of bringing direct-to-consumer content to cell phones by taking some of the control away from large cell phone carriers (like Verizon) and opening the business up to the little guy. According to executive vice president Matt Silk, Waterfall demystifies mobile downloads the same way iTunes makes digital music accessible for the average consumer and E*Trade makes online investing more user-friendly. Aharonoff was attracted to Waterfall because it required no upfront investment and didn’t charge a monthly fee, so Yidtones (www.Yidtones.com) was up and running, with content available for download, within a week.

For a $1.99 fee per-download, users can choose from an array of Jewish-themed ring tones, including songs, inspirational messages and even jokes told by Aharonoff’s fellow synagogue member, a comedian and professional voice-over actor. The fee is charged directly to users’ monthly cell phone bill.

Since its soft launch in August, the company has relied solely on word of mouth. Not surprisingly, its highest customer density is in metropolitan areas with large Jewish communities, such as Los Angeles and New York.

One particular ring tone that’s gotten a lot of traction is a joke geared toward the Lubavitch community. In an effort to poke fun at the fact that so many Lubavitchers are named after the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a voice can be heard calling someone to the Torah as “Menachem Mendel son of Menachem Mendel son of Menachem Mendel…” and so forth.

While Yidtones is gaining momentum with religious mobile users, Aharonoff hopes to widen the scope of his demographic, extending overseas and into other languages. Down the road, he plans to give Yidtones a subscription model, offering users packages of ring tones, wallpapers and screensavers (with photos of rabbis and holy sites), and even text messages of Divrei Torah and daily portions.

“There are Jews of every flavor — Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated,” Aharonoff said. “We want to appeal to all of them.”

Lucy Cohen Blatter is a freelance writer living in Manhattan.

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