NJ tech whiz hosts Hanukka ‘hackathon’

NJ tech whiz hosts Hanukka ‘hackathon’

The festival of light inspires an all-nighter for gadget developers

Given its post-Shabbat timing, the “Hackathonukah” marathon in New York City gave observant Jews a chance to test their digital skills.
Given its post-Shabbat timing, the “Hackathonukah” marathon in New York City gave observant Jews a chance to test their digital skills.

Zach Feldman, who grew up in a Conservative Jewish home in Scotch Plains, is a computer coding whiz. He is also a cofounder and currently chief academic officer of the New York Code + Design Academy, in lower Manhattan. 

Putting all that together, Feldman found himself hosting a 25-hour marathon of software and hardware development linked to Hanukka. 

Dubbed “Hackathonukah,” the marathon “hacking” session started post-Shabbat on Saturday, Dec. 10, and ended 25 hours later on Sunday evening.

Taking inspiration from the holiday, Feldman and fellow tech mavens Donny and Oren Kanner — Modern Orthodox brothers from Paramus — invited participants to devise fresh ways to incorporate “smart” lighting, connected devices, and novel sensors. With support from a number of high-tech sponsors, there were prizes for the best connected devices projects as well as general app or website development. 

The challenge, according to Donny Kanner, was “to come up with cool ways to control light, both functionally and aesthetically.” 

They also served “Hanukkah-themed” food.

The idea arose, they said, because most such events take place on Saturdays, which counts out observant Jews. 

Within days of announcing the plan, NYCDA had signed up the maximum number of participants — 76. Feldman said a few more squeezed in. Among the cool lighting concepts concocted by the participants was a lighted dreidel. Others were less specific to the holiday, but the creativity was impressive, he said.

As a kid, attending Scotch Plains-Fanwood schools and Congregation Beth Israel, Feldman was always into exploring technology and tinkering with gadgets. He went on to earn a degree in music business at New York University’s Steinhardt School and helped establish NYCDA in 2012. The academy offers hands-on, intensive workshops in web and mobile app development and various kinds of design. It currently has around 100 registered students. Next summer, they will be offering a coding course for youngsters from nine to 18. 

He said he thoroughly enjoyed the Hanukka-themed event; “we’d definitely like to host it again,” he added. 

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