Deep in the heart of Texas, have a Jewish connection at SXSW
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Deep in the heart of Texas, have a Jewish connection at SXSW

A guide on how to spend Shabbat at Austin’s South by Southwest Festival, which panels to attend, and where to meet Israelis

Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, left, with 2017 SXSW attendees Jeff Pulver and Marc Fischman (Photo: Gyp C Girl Photography)
Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, left, with 2017 SXSW attendees Jeff Pulver and Marc Fischman (Photo: Gyp C Girl Photography)

Jews from around the world are headed to the capital of live music and breakfast tacos — Austin, Texas — for SXSW’s weeklong innovation and entertainment festival.

Among the panels and parties are opportunities for members of the tribe to infuse some Jewish ideas and Yiddishkeit into their experience.

South by Southwest begins this Friday and goes through March 18. The festival celebrates the world’s greatest new talent and innovation by blending technology, film, music, gaming and comedy tracks into one huge happening.

Over 70,000 attendees descend on the city for a week of networking, parties and big thinking.

Here are the Jewish events and opportunities happening around the city this year:

#openShabbat

All Jews in town for SXSW are invited to a community #openShabbat dinner at the Hilton Austin hosted by Chabad’s Tech Tribe initiative.

Without much formality and a “come as you are” attitude, the Shabbat dinner gives Jewish participants the opportunity to turn off their phones and tune in to the people around them over challah and a traditional kosher meal.

The event’s hosts, Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Lightstone, created the now-popular Friday night gathering in 2011. After attending SXSW the previous year, they both saw an opportunity to bring spirituality and tradition into an event focused on networking for the future.

“People come because they know that we’re the only place to offer the marriage of transcendent tradition and the ground-breaking innovation that drives society forward,” said Lightstone.

“In effect, a seat at the #openShabbat table is to be at the nexus of all things past, present and future,” he said.

Tech Tribe directors Chana and Mordechai Lightstone at Facebook’s New York offices. (Courtesy)

Lightstone expects over 400 dinner guests for an evening dedicated to the memory of Alan Weinkranz, a former public relations specialist from San Antonio, Texas. A staple at past #openShabbat dinners, Weinkranz was killed in 2016 when a car crashed into the Tel Aviv restaurant where he was dining.

In addition to #openShabbat, Tech Tribe and Chabad Young Professionals of Austin along with Chand Young Professionals International will host a Havdalah happy hour on Saturday evening, March 10.

Connect with Israelis

Unlike in past years in which Israel’s Southwest consulate organized a delegation of tech entrepreneurs and artists, this year will have a smaller Israeli presence.

In music, Tel Aviv indie pop band Lola Marsh, and Yemen Blues, a group infusing Jazz and African rhymes together featuring Omer Avital, will be performing.

Israeli artist Ronen Sharabani will feature his exhibit as part of the arts program and designer Orit Dolev will share how her world travels led her to the creation of NOMAD, a digital musical instrument for the “modern nomad” in a session.

Featured Jewish voices

SXSW will also host a range of panels with Jewish speakers and ideas. Below are few stand-out sessions:

CNN’s Jake Tapper in conversation with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
March 9, 12:30 p.m.

How Muslim-Jewish Dialogue Changes the World
The panel includes Rabbi Adam Kligfeld, senior rabbi of Temple Beth Am in Los Angeles, and Maital Friedman, Muslim Leadership Initiative alumni director at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America.
March 12, 11 a.m.

The Last Survivors: Memories of the Holocaust
This panel features two unique projects focused on Holocaust survivor Pinchus Gutter
March 12, 12:30 p.m.

Human Rights Policy in a Connected World
David Saperstein, former US ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom and former director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is featured on this panel on human rights.
March 13, 9:30 a.m.

Uniting to Fight the -ists, -ites & the -phobes
Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet Magazine in included on this panel.
March 13, 12:30 p.m.

Finding Spiritual Community Both On and Offline
This panel features Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Austin’s Congregation Agudas Achim.
March 13, 3:30 p.m.

Here is a full list of official Jewish films, panels and entertainment.

Finally, why not take some time away from the conference to enjoy all that Jewish Austin has to offer. That could include stopping by Austin’s newly reopened and renovated B’nai Abraham synagogue, established in 1893, or if you’re feeling extra festive, check out Austin’s kosher deli located inside Texas grocery store, H.E.B.

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