Hacking Shabbat



This Friday, more than 120 people in Tel Aviv and San Francisco will come together for a shared Shabbat dinner followed by 24 hours of intense computer programming to create and improve Israeli- and Jewish world-focused software in the first ever Friday Night Hack.

“Really this idea is rooted in our cultivation and commitment to innovation,” said Seth Cohen, director of network initiatives at the Schusterman Family Foundation.

The foundation, as part of the Schusterman Philanthropic Network, is co-sponsoring the event with Hasadna (the Public Knowledge Workshop of Israel), an Israeli nonprofit that works to spread data transparency with open-source programs and applications.

The participants will collaborate during the day on applications that fall under the two broad categories of Israel and the Jewish world. The Silicon Valley site and the Tel Aviv site will host not just coders but all kinds of software designers and application specialists interested in not only the projects but the collaboration with others like them halfway across the world.


“It’s creating a community,” said Esty Katz, project manager for the event and a volunteer at Hasadna.

Hackathons, as these marathon sessions are called, are a fairly common phenomenon in the world of software and application building. Details and themes may change but can often do a lot to move projects and ideas forward. Unfortunately there is often a disconnect afterwards with no follow-up, something this event will seek to avoid, said Mor Rubinstein, community coordinator at Hasadna and one of the event organizers.

“They’ll keep working on it after,” she said.

The two organizations have had discussions during the past year about ideas that would bolster both their missions until the talks coalesced around the idea of a hackathon.

“Those conversations over the last year have really helped us identify this opportunity,” Cohen said.

As for the projects, the two channels each have at least one project that will be worked on, though there may be others to come. For the Israel channel, the Hasadna project Open Muni-Open Budget, created a way to make it easy for people to see their city’s budgets and understand how funds are used. The hackathon will give participants a chance to brainstorm and build their ideas for improving and adding features to the open-source application, which encapsulates a lot of what Hasadna represents, and ideally will be a way for local communities to engage in their civic budget, said Beth Rotman, another Hasadna volunteer involved in the hackathon.

“It’s involved in and supported by the community,” she said.

Although originally designed for Israeli cities, Hasadna is looking at bigger goals in the future. Translations in Arabic, Russian and English are in the works and since it is an open-source application, anyone can play with the code and find ways to make it better.

“It’s also part of a trend in the world,” Rubinstein said. “We want to make it global.”

Another project, part of the Jewish world channel, is a program that will help Jewish college students to find compatible roommates. Called “Open Dorms: College Roommate Finder App,” the program will ideally match people by interest and background and ease the transition from high school among other things, Cohen said. Open Door was originally pitched to him by a higher-up at BBYO, he said but with the involvement of the programmers in the hackathon, it could be used by anyone.

“It will be built, owned and utilized by the community,” Cohen said.

This is a new kind of event for the Schusterman philanthropy and even Hasadna has not been involved in an event quite like this before, although it has done international hacking collaboration in general and the volunteers who work there have pushed for data transparency and other goals for years.

“It’s really amazing what goes on here week after week,” Rotman said.

Though the hackathon hasn’t happened yet, there have already been inquiries from places like Britain and South Africa about doing more of them in the future. It could lay the foundation for a new network of socially minded hackers, an idea all of the organizers found exciting.

“We want to make it something we can do every six or seven months,” Katz said.

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