Jewish Techies Launch Hanukkah-Themed Hackathon

Jelly donuts will be served.

The event will take place at the New York Code + Design Academy. (hackathonukah.com)

The event will take place at the New York Code + Design Academy. (hackathonukah.com)

Donny and Oren Kanner had always wanted to go to a hackathon. But since the events tend to fall between sundowns on Fridays and Saturdays, the brothers—both observant Jews who honor Shabbat—were never able to attend.

“As observant Jewish people, we wouldn’t be able to make it until Saturday night,” Donny, an agile project manager at the Hackerati, told Betabeat. “I’ve attended portions of hackathons, but we’ve never really had the opportunity to go to the beginning of one.”

So Donny and his brother Oren, a PhD candidate in robotics at Yale, decided a few months ago to create a hackathon that catered to their religious schedules.

“We were frustrated with this continuing inability to attend, so we said what the heck—why not make one for ourselves?” Donny said. “From that concept, [and] a series of puns later, we landed on ‘Hackathonukah’ and a lighting theme.”

The amazingly-named Hackathonukah will be a 25-hour, Hanukkah-themed hackathon running from 7 p.m. this Saturday, the 13th, to 8 p.m. on Sunday, the 14th. Given the story of Hanukkah—wherein a small drop of oil kept a menorah alight for eight days—the hackathon will focus on all things lighting-related.

As the description on the event’s website explains:

Hackathonukah is the hackathon of lights. It is a 25 hour technology event that celebrates lights, programming, hardware and The Internet of Things. This event will bring together the diverse talent found in the greater New York technology community to build cool stuff, eat Hanukkah-themed food, and have fun!

Sponsors for the event include New York Code + Design Academy—where the event is taking place—as well as Kinect for Windows, Phillips Hue, SmartThings, Thalmic Labs, LIFX, Digital Ocean, Muse, Keen Home, Spark.io, MeU and Transloadit. Participants will be able to hack on a wide range of technology provided by the sponsors.

Relative beginners, Oren suggested, could work on developing creative ways to turn lights on and off. He’s hoping more advanced hackers might use smart lights to visualize data like stock prices or the weather.

Donny’s looking forward to seeing participants experiment with LED-embedded clothing items.

“The skill level is a total mix,” Donny said when we asked who’d signed up already. “There’s a range of experience, [from] two years of experience, to 10-plus.”

And though they made the event with observant Jews in mind, they’re welcoming a diverse crowd on Saturday.

“It’s not really in our philosophy to be an exclusive event if you’re catering to a population that didn’t have access,” Donny pointed out.

The event, Oren assured us, will still feature most of your fave Hanukkah snacks, including gelt and jelly donuts. The brothers were thinking about frying some latkes, but got nervous about working with hot oil in a room full of people.

If the event on Saturday goes well, the Kanner brothers are hoping to make Hackathonukah an annual event—and maybe even throw some other Judaism-themed hackathons throughout the year.

“As long as there are people who want to fill the room and sponsors who want to help put together the cool technology,” Donny said, “we want to put it on again for sure, and make it bigger.”

Jewish Techies Launch Hanukkah-Themed Hackathon