Invasion of the Poké-Persuasion: Pokémon Go Users ‘Play’ Near Jewish Landmarks

You no longer have to “travel across the land, searching far and wide” for Pokémon — you just need a smartphone.
The desire to catch ’em all has finally reached our reality after nearly two decades, invading our museums, monuments, parks, trains, offices and homes.
Pokémon Go is an app based on the Pokémon franchise — TV show, movies, trading card game, etc. — which has created an uproar of excitement for users craving a slice of ’90s nostalgia post-Game Boys.
Pokémon Go puts players in a virtual, augmented reality world using GPS coordinates, telling them where to find more Pokémon across the city — called PokéStops, like a checkpoint — and allowing them to be seen on your smartphone within your surroundings.
Released on July 6, it has risen to the top, becoming the most downloaded app, more so than the dating app Tinder.
Using the app, the creatures can pop up at tourist destinations like Independence Mall or even sitting next to you on your couch. (This reporter even shared an Uber ride with a Zubat. And no, it didn’t split the fare.)
Users can also battle each other at PokéStops called gyms, ’mon a ’mon, and create teams together.
The goal is simple: catch ’em all (see theme song). Putting that into action, however, is causing some problems.
Users have been trespassing on private property or people’s homes in search of Pokémon, going so far as  to walk across highways, resulting in dangerous collisions.
Other users find themselves so distracted by the app that they fall into manholes, or are robbed while trying to find a specific location.
Aside from these glitches taking place in our real world, the app has been praised for getting people up and moving, unlike other video games. (Remember the days when we didn’t need a reason to go outside? I digress.)
People are more social, making friends with other gamers and exploring areas otherwise unknown to them.
However, the scavenger hunt-style search for pocket monsters (as they’re formally known) has stirred some controversy in the Jewish community.
Pokémon have been caught all over the world, even in museums and monuments. Unfortunately, because they can show up virtually anywhere, they’re popping up in places like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., or even at Auschwitz.
And to make matters worse, the particular Pokémon appearing at these locations — though the cartoon creatures vary and change — is called a Koffing, which can be seen emitting gas from its round floating body, marked with a cartoonish spoof of a skull and crossbones, according to Twitter users who shared pictures of these incidents.
The Koffing appeared in the museum’s Helena Rubinstein Auditorium, which features testimonials from Jews who survived gas chambers.
The Holocaust Museum asked players to steer clear of catching Pokémon in or around the museum out of respect for the memorial. The museum also reached out to the game itself to remove Pokémon from the location altogether.
Other sites have been experiencing similar issues, like Ground Zero in New York City.
Even around Center City Philadelphia, the Jewish comm-unity has seen a few PokéBalls on its doorsteps.
Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel and Society Hill Synagogue are PokéStops in the game, but surprisingly have not had to deal with an influx of gamers poking their phones in the synagogues.
One Society Hill employee said she even noticed groups of men playing the game on the block at night.
Over at the National Museum of American Jewish History, Ilana Blumenthal and Alyssa Stuble from the museum said some Poké-players have been trying to get inside the museum on their quests.
“It’s possible that people come in and they find them in here,” Blumenthal said, adding that their interns are having a blast.
Of course, there’s a lot more activity going on surrounding the building, with PokéStops like the Religious Liberty Statue right outside.
Security hasn’t been an issue, and if people want to catch Pokémon inside the museum, Blumenthal said they’re welcome to do so — if they pay admission.
“We’re fine with people coming in here and having fun, as long as they go through security,” she added.
Of course, the first floor of the museum as well as the cafe and store are free to enter, but she said a few people have, in fact, paid admission to continue their hunts.
“My hope is that if people are using this — they just want to catch a Pokémon, if that’s what they’re doing — in the museum, they’ll actually come in if they wouldn’t have originally, and say, ‘Oh, this is a really neat place, I want to actually come back and see the museum, not just catch things,’” Blumenthal said.
Stuble plays the game, too, and she’s glad people are stopping by.
“When I’m playing, leaving work and going to work, I always see other people — we’re all doing the same motion with our phones, so I see a lot of people gathered around outside,” she said. “I think it’s actually a good thing that technology is getting people out of the house and into cultural institutions.”
Steven Rosenberg, a psycho-therapist in Elkins Park, also sees the positive effects of the game getting people out and about.
“There are a lot of benefits to Pokémon Go with respect to the psychological aspects of it. One of best things is the fact that it gets people outdoors because they’re looking for the Pokémon,” he chuckled.
It’s simple to play and results in a positive reward, which he called “cognitive behavioral therapy and behavior activation therapy.” That means that if a player goes out and experiences positive rewards of healthy behavior, they feel better.
It’s kind of like how you feel after working out.
“It’s the same thing like going out and going to the gym. You feel better once you get out,” he explained.
People may be going outside, but are they really becoming one with nature out in the Poké-streets?
“One of the biggest thing about it is it gets you outside, but you’re still on your phone. So a person who tends to be introverted or closed-in or has some type of psychological problems or depression, they find themselves always on their phone and being alone anyway,” Rosenberg added.
The app makes people more distracted, he said, and gives them a heightened level of stress to play.
“The situation of it is it does get you out, get you activated. You can join a team, you can do all sorts of positive things, but I can also see as a psychologist that there are many things that can go wrong for a person who already has psychological problems playing the game,” he said.
Still in the early weeks on the hype, Rosenberg called the game an “obsession.”
“Within the Jewish community, there are a lot of kids who, even on Shabbos, are wanting to use their phones and go out and play Pokémon Go, and the families are in an uproar about it,” he said, which he’s heard from friends and patients in the Orthodox community near his home in Huntingdon Valley.
“Overall, once everybody realizes that they are getting distracted by it and people getting run over, people are falling into manholes, just getting obsessed with their phones, I think the craze will die down,” he said. “Ultimately, it will be an opportunity for people to get out and socialize. Once all of the negatives are realized and people are more careful, it should be a positive effect on the community.”
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