The virtues of going virtual

Ourboox: You just type or paste in your text, and can even choose from some ready-made graphics of images and add video clips or sound, and – presto! – you have your very own book.

Prof. Mel Rosenberg (center) with his wife and Ourboox CEO Shuli Sapir-Nevo and cofounder and CTO Ran Shternin. (photo credit: Courtesy)
Prof. Mel Rosenberg (center) with his wife and Ourboox CEO Shuli Sapir-Nevo and cofounder and CTO Ran Shternin.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Most of us have our dreams. Some have grand ambitions, and some are of a more modest – and probably eminently more attainable – nature.
If you are among those who have long dreamed of publishing your own book, and have all kinds of stories stored away that are just begging to be transferred from your bottom drawer to the global village, then Prof. Mel Rosenberg could be of service in making your wish come true.
Until not that long ago, the Canadian- born longtime Israeli resident was more interested in what came out of people’s mouths than out of their fertile imaginations. As a longtime professor of microbiology, formerly at Tel Aviv University and now at the Holon Institute of Technology – where he gives courses on creative thinking, children’s book writing and the music of the ’60s – he devoted many years to the diagnosis and treatment of malodorous oral emissions.
But now he devotes much of his waking time to producing new tomes, and putting the work of all kinds of people, on all manner of topic, out there for the net-surfing world to access and enjoy.
All of the above, and much, much more, is ready and awaiting your mouse click at, the boyish-looking Rosenberg’s much-beloved baby.
“The core of Ourboox really started about 12 years ago,” explains the 63-year-old literary entrepreneur, “when [Bank Hapoalim owner] Shari Arison invited a bunch of eclectic people to a series which was like [public benefit corporation] Mahut Hachaim (The Essence of Life), which came before the actual Mahut Hachaim. It was about helping people change the world in a significant way, based on their abilities and resources.”
The new activity appeared to suit Rosenberg. “There was a series of lectures, workshops and yoga, and there were all sorts of amazing people. It was amorphous – a kind of hippie thing. I was open-mouthed at the end of it all.
Shari Arison went off to do her thing, and I felt I really could do anything. It was empowering; for me, intellectually, it created a feeling that I should do something meaningful.”
In fact, Rosenberg appears to have managed quite a lot of significant endeavor since making aliya from Winnipeg in 1969. He completed three degrees at Tel Aviv University, became a jazz musician – saxophone and vocals – and even put out a number of polished mainstream jazz albums.
Betwixt, Rosenberg began to write fun children’s books – mostly self-published.
The Arison-sponsored eye-opener got the closet writer thinking about how to get his words out there. “A couple of years after the Arison thing, I said, ‘I know what I’ll do. I’m going to take all of my children’s books, find an amazing illustrator and make them all available for free on the Internet, in those days using Flash [technology]. I hired Rotem Omri who, over the course of about a year and a half, took her time to illustrate nine of my children’s books.” Rosenberg says he has written “dozens” of tomes.
The venture began to build up a head of steam and now features around 3,000 titles on an expansive range of subjects, from architecture to dental health – harking back to Rosenberg’s former line of work – cooking to satire, and even business and finance, in various languages.
Trolling through the Ourboox inventory, you can come across such wild and wonderful offerings as Rosenberg’s own account of how he accessed a vegan ice cream business in Dimona; a fetchingly naïve-looking children’s volume in Hebrew, called The Marionettes Come to Life; a book in Arabic which appears to hail from the scientific environs of Rosenberg’s original day job; and even an Italian-English rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk designed to help kids with their mathematics.
Ourboox actually follows an earlier attempt by Rosenberg to set up a virtual bookstore, which didn’t go too well. He eventually received a nudge in the required direction when he set up a modestly proportioned stall at a book fair in Bologna, Italy. At the event, he was approached by a large number of illustrators who were just desperate to add their visuals to somebody’s words. Rosenberg gradually realized that it was time to establish a repository of books that would not only be available to all and sundry for free, but would also generate a community feel.
“Maybe one of every 20,000 writers makes a living from their writing, and it is the same for illustrators,” notes Rosenberg. “They do some illustrating for Moshe Cohen’s fish shop and make a living out of working as a graphic artist somewhere; meanwhile, they dream of illustrating books.”
The die was cast. “I thought, ‘How do I make these dreams come true?’ The basic premise was to take Mahut Hachaim to the next level, by creating an international community and a website where anybody can self-publish for free, and we all help each other. I call it a ‘missionegas,’” says Rosenberg, producing a neat hybrid of “mission” and “mishegas” (Yiddish for craziness). “It’s basically for any Mel Rosenberg out there who wants to live the dream.”
And it really is perfectly simple and user-friendly. Rosenberg quickly talked me through the basic steps of producing a book on Ourboox: You just type or paste in your text, and can even choose from some ready-made graphics of images and add video clips or sound, and – presto! – you have your very own book.
The idea appears to be catching on nicely. The national education system is getting in on the act, realizing the instructional benefits of say, learning the art of storytelling, or the value of conveying a history lesson by digging into a student’s personal family history.
A word of warning: Rosenberg may help you make a long-harbored ambition become a virtually corporeal reality, but he wouldn’t advise giving up your daytime job just yet. “If you love to write and produce something, then you can join the ranks of the jazz musicians who can’t sell their CDs, and the songwriters and everyone else who has become enfranchised and disenfranchised at the same time, by the Internet. So, you won’t make any money right now, but at least you won’t lose any money – because it’s all free. We have a community of 3,000 people on Facebook called Making Books Come True, and we help each other.
“If I write a book and someone illustrates it, the illustrator still owns their work. They haven’t sold it and haven’t given away their soul.”
That may sound idealistic, but it works. “Ourboox is a virtual global kibbutz,” relates Rosenberg. “At my young age of 63, I’ve become a yazam (entrepreneur). It’s fun.” 
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