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Google brings Purim alive

A young, housebound congregant had a virtual Purim experience with the help of Google and a robot
Children of migrant workers wear costumes as they celebrate Purim in south Tel Aviv in 2012 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Children of migrant workers wear costumes as they celebrate Purim in south Tel Aviv in 2012 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

Purim for most kids and communities is a joyous time that builds on weeks of anticipation and planning. What costume to wear? What to give as mishloach manot? Who to have or where to go for the meal?

Our community, the Hebrew Institute of White Plains, is the same. Each year we have a fantastic Megillah reading where the sanctuary is filled to the brim with children and adults dressed up and ready for a party. We have a carnival following a kid’s Megillah reading in the morning. Unfortunately this year was a little different than most. One of the kids in our community is undergoing treatment for cancer. She is a bubbly, bright, fun and outgoing child, who unfortunately has been unable to join us at Sabbath services, and could not be with us for Purim celebrations. For the sake of clarity in this article we will call her Amy as her family would like to remain anonymous.

Each week for the past few months, and going forward until Amy gets better, we have organized to have a group leader go to her house to play with her, share a story about the weekly Torah reading, and have her realize that she is missed and loved by all of us in the community. But Purim calls for something bigger and better – it is not enough to just send a group of high school students around to deliver a mishloach manot (which we did) – we wanted to bring Purim to Amy in a way like no other.

Sitting at a Sabbath dinner several weeks ago, I was discussing how I would like to get some sort of technology to live stream Megillah to Amy. One of the guests at the table told me that he has Google Glass, an amazing piece of technology which is basically a smart phone in a pair of glasses. We talked more and continued the conversation over the next few days planning how to make this dream a reality.

After sharing my thoughts with several other people, I was introduced to a member of our community who works at Google. She shared my story with her manager who shared it to the Glass team. They jumped straight on board. Danielle Murdoch who was leading this Purim project spent two weeks sorting out the details to make this happen, and joined us in White Plains for much of the Purim celebrations. We set up a connection between the Glass and a Google+ account, which streamed photos and videos of the Megillah reading Saturday night and Sunday morning straight to a laptop that the family was watching. This gave Amy a way in which to feel a part of the celebration while being able to store some memories for later.

If that was not good enough, the Sabbath guest who I was originally talking to contacted Double Robotics, which created a remotely controlled mobile teleconferencing system, enabling conversations to happen anywhere and anytime. The Double robot is controlled via an iPad, which Amy had at her house, and it allowed her to roam the Purim carnival held at the synagogue, talking to her friends, and seeing what was going on.

While technology is used in our lives on an almost daily basis, sometimes we neglect to think about the possibilities it can bring. What we did, and hopefully what can be repeated in other communities, was to engage technology in a way that helped unite the community, bring everyone together, and ensure that no one missed out. The possibilities are limitless. Hopefully, as the next generations of Jewish leaders take the mantle, we will be able to utilize technology in a way that advances the cause of the Modern Orthodox community. We have the opportunity to create a synthesis between technology and our heritage that could draw people together for social, educational, and communal events – all we need now is the drive to make it happen.

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About the Author
Rabbi, community developer, father; living life and shaking it up!! Originally from New Zealand, lived in the Big Apple, short stint in Canberra and now residing in Sydney. Alon is the Rabbi of Or Chadash Synagogue and the Director of Programs at Shalom, as well as a doctoral student at LaTrobe University. He writes on the daily study of Daf Yomi on Instagram @insta_talmud Website:
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