Since Erin Lofties can’t host a Hanukkah gathering in her home this year, she’s attending one in another city ... remotely. “It’s a good chance to see what other people are up to, to see how they’re celebrating, and to feel connected again,” she says.

She, her husband, Nathan, and 2-year-old son Finnegan plan to take part in a Hanukkah party this Thursday night with both online and offline components hosted by Tech Tribe, a technology-focused affiliate of Chabad Young Professionals run by Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Lightstone. While Zoom events have become standard during the Pandemic, Tech Tribe’s party involves a novel twist: Participants unable to come in person will be Zooming in from within the special “Zoom Robot Menorah” invented for the party.

“Even though we’re really far away, there aren’t a lot of local events anymore, so I thought it might be something fun to watch with a toddler in the evening,” says Lofties, who lives in Norman, Okla., some 1,500 miles from the venue in Brooklyn, N.Y. She found out about the event after she started following Tech Tribe on Instagram. “I want to check out the virtual party and menorah-lighting just to keep up the excitement and to keep the holiday as meaningful and memorable as possible.”

They’ll be celebrating in tandem with a handful of socially distanced local community members gathered outdoors in Brooklyn to light the menorah. The menorah itself is a custom, retro-futuristic candelabra with a tablet built into it so that people anywhere can participate in the celebration.

In previous years, Tech Tribe has created other Chanukah events that meld technology with tradition, including an animated GIF menorah and an augmented-reality art installation exploring Jewish life in space.

The idea was to go beyond what’s available on Zoom today, explains Rabbi Lightstone. “There’s a lot of Zoom fatigue. So we hope to create something that combines the online with the offline and gives people the chance to more seamlessly meld the two.”

Participants everywhere will light their own menorahs at home, sing songs and join in Hanukkah activities. “The holiday is about bringing a light into the darkness during the difficult times, during the winter,” says Lightstone. “Hanukkah allows us to look into ourselves for the inner spark that can’t be put out by the darkness and to share it outwards.”

Max Sklar, an engineer at a tech startup, plans to participate in the program. “I feel like we need to get together and do something to remind us that we’re still here just as people,” he says. “So something like this, where this year it’s more casual, socially distanced, where people can still be together, it seems very nice. I feel like it is going to be very different, but also the same in some ways as well.”