Techies unite! Joint event set for Tel Aviv, S.F.

Bay Area and Israeli software coders are scheduled to team up for a hackathon this weekend in San Francisco and Tel Aviv.

Open to all eager coders, Friday Night Hack will focus both on helping Israel and the Jewish community worldwide. The event will begin simultaneously in Israel and San Francisco following a Shabbat dinner on Friday, July 19.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we create an experience where [those involved] feel authentic as coders and hackers, and yet bring a Jewish dimension to it?’ ” said Seth Cohen, one of the organizers of the event. “Out of those conversations, the hackathon was born.”

Hasadna volunteers participate in a hackathon in Tel Aviv. photo/courtesy of hasadna

Hackathons generally bring together computer programmers to collaborate on projects. In this one, participants can choose to work on two apps: one will focus on making municipal budgets in Israel more accessible to concerned citizens, and the other will help Jewish college students in North America find fellow Jews to live with.

The event is organized by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation in partnership with Hasadna, an Israeli nonprofit that seeks transparency in the Israeli government. Cohen is the director of network initiatives for Schusterman.

The Bay Area portion of the event is being supported by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. It will take place at Parisoma, a tech-oriented space near Market and 11th streets. Coders in Israel will work out of Google’s offices in Tel Aviv.

Cohen said 125 people are expected to participate — numbers that have far exceeded initial expectations, he added.

David Katznelson, director of outreach and strategy for the S.F.-based federation, said the event falls in line with his organization’s larger efforts to reach out to Jews in the Bay Area’s high-tech sector.

“The big picture for us is working on creating a contingent of people in the technology world … people who are super smart in their respective fields, and creating experiences for them that bring them into the federation fold,” he said.

In San Francisco, the hackathon will last from Friday evening until the stroke of midnight on Saturday night, and it will include what Katznelson called a “Havdallah-ish” observance. Cohen said the logistics of organizing such an event — one that spans about 30 hours and needs to occur during weekend hours in Israel and California simultaneously — necessitated the hackathon being scheduled during Shabbat.

“Timing was a bit of a challenge, but we actually looked at it as an opportunity to give [a meaningful Shabbat experience to] people who might not otherwise have a Shabbat experience,” he said, “[and] in an environment that really speaks to them.”

Katznelson said he would have preferred the event not be held on Shabbat, but said the federation decided the benefit of engaging Jewish techies was valuable enough to justify its support.

Arno Rosenfeld
Arno Rosenfeld

Arno Rosenfeld is a reporter at the Forward. He is a former J. intern and has worked as a correspondent for JTA and The Times of Israel.