Holocaust survivors’ challenges to be tackled in 36-hour Tel Aviv hackathon
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Holocaust survivors’ challenges to be tackled in 36-hour Tel Aviv hackathon

In May, tech entrepreneurs and mentors will search for new ways to improve lives, ease loneliness and commemorate the tragedy

File: Holocaust survivors attend a ceremony at the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2016, the 71st anniversary of the death camp's liberation by the Soviet Red Army in 1945. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
File: Holocaust survivors attend a ceremony at the former Auschwitz Nazi death camp in Oswiecim, Poland, on January 27, 2016, the 71st anniversary of the death camp's liberation by the Soviet Red Army in 1945. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Israeli high-tech entrepreneurs will turn their attention to the plight of Holocaust survivors for 36 hours in May, seeking tech solutions to their needs and answers to the difficult questions of how to continue to commemorate the tragedy and educate future generations.

The four Israeli entrepreneurs behind the initiative, Nathan Leibzon, Erez Gavish, Anat Greemland and Alon Rapaport, have set up what they are calling the “Spark Hackathon” which will see entrepreneurs, developers, mentors from the tech world team up with Holocaust survivors and representatives of nonprofit organizations. Microsoft Israel is backing the initiative by sending mentors and offering its cloud services to the participants, along with accounting firm Ernst & Young Israel among others, according to the Hackathon website.

“The idea is to find answers to the daily challenges facing Holocaust survivors, and ways to educate the younger generations and how to commemorate the victims,” said Leibzon, 29, in a phone interview with The Times of Israel. The upcoming Holocaust Memorial Day, which Israel marks this year on April 12, is a trigger for the event. “On this occasion we hear about their lives and how difficult their situation is today,” he said. “So, we are using the hackathon to try to find tech solutions to their plight.”

The Nazis murdered some six million Jews in the Holocaust. As the survivors age, organizations globally are grappling with the dilemma of how to preserve their stories and educate future generations, while also caring for the needs of the survivors, whose numbers are dwindling and who often die childless, alone, and in dire economic straits.

Illustrative: A Holocaust survivor shows her number tattoo. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images via JTA)

Israel’s State Comptroller Yosef Shapira published a scathing report last year, painting a shocking picture of government failure to extend help to Holocaust survivors. At the time of the publication of the report, some 158,000 survivors lived in Israel, in addition to 56,000 individuals recognized as the victims of racism and anti-Semitism. Their average age was 85.

The organizers of the hackathon have already met with survivors and nonprofit organizations dealing with the Holocaust to pinpoint the challenges that the tech entrepreneurs, product manufacturers and marketers who gather for the brainstorming event will address.

“We hope to create a list of 15 challenges,” said Leibzon, saying that some had already been identified like how to fight loneliness, how to better manage volunteers and how to make sure survivors exercise their rights. Israel, the so-called Startup Nation, should be able to come up with technology solutions for at least some of these issues, he said.

“Different people from different worlds will meet to use technology” for this purpose, Leibzon said.

“Solving problems and facing challenges that seem impossible are the bread and butter of the Israeli entrepreneurship industry,” he said. “We have to devote the next few years to improving their quality of life as much as possible.”

The hackathon will begin on May 10 at 8 am at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange and continue for 36 consecutive hours, at the end of which the various developments and ideas will be presented. The organizers hope that at least some of the ideas will turn into products and that the event will serve as a basis for the creation of further cooperation between entrepreneurs on the subject.

Registration for the event is available at www.tlvstarters.com/spark.

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