Diarna — the digital heritage mapping projecting — is racing against time to document endangered Jewish heritage sites in north Africa and the war-torn Middle East. Newsweek magazine features a lengthy article on its work.
Newsweek reports on how Diarna, headed by Jason Guberman, is documenting “Jewish heritage sites—from synagogues and cemeteries to ruins of schools, houses and community centers Jews once used in the Middle East and North Africa” and create a Geo-Museum of Jewish Life in the Middle East and North Africa:
For years, his staff and a rotating cast of about a dozen interns and volunteers have been racing to create digital records of Jewish sites. The project’s name is Diarna, which means “our home” in Judeo-Arabic. As wars in the region destroy these sites, Guberman’s team is running out of time.
In his office near Manhattan’s Union Square, Guberman has created a “situation room” that has been stripped of cubicles and lined with marked-up maps of Yemen, Iraq, and the Syrian cities of Aleppo and Damascus. This enables the team to prioritize the most at-risk areas and dispatch researchers … into the field when moments of peace create opportunities. To create realistic renderings of the sites, Diarna has recruited a network of volunteer photographers and paid researchers through social media and word of mouth in countries like Yemen, Syria and Iran. Most live and work in the region and can access dangerous areas more easily than Americans or non-Muslims.
[in New York] his staff uses SketchUp, a 3-D modeling tool, to transform photographs from the field into digital models of the ancient buildings and plot them, according to their coordinates, on Google Earth. They also look for people familiar with the sites—like former congregants of synagogues, or the architects who renovated them—who can recall details about their appearance. Their recollections about anything—from whether the flooring was made of tile, wood or carpet to whether the buildings were lit with stained glass, skylights or chandeliers—help Diarna researchers create more accurate 3-D images and descriptions of the sites. Diarna often shares the witnesses’ raw recorded testimonies to bring online exhibits to life. Unlike other organizations doing similar kinds of work, Diarna makes its 3-D models publicly accessible.
Jason Guberman described Diarna and its goals in a session of the international JHE conference on Managing Jewish Immovable Heritage, held in Krakow in April 2013.
Watch the video of his talk here (scroll through to minute 87)