Since 2010, Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Lightstone have made what would seem to be a counterintuitive annual pilgrimage: from the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., to the city of Austin for the South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, music and film festival.

What started as an ad hoc, grassroots event simply by dint of the fact that there was a rabbi at the Texas tech festival has since become the highlight of SXSW for many visiting Jews, with hundreds of people attending each year. A Shabbat dinner, minus the electronics and constant buzz of the cell phones, at SXSW may appear to some as sacrilegious, but for those who attend, it has become a lifeline.

But this year in an ironic twist, the non-tech part of the tech festival is going to be ... quite techy; virtual, in fact. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, an in-person event in Austin is not possible, but SXSW is one of the biggest festivals around creativity technology, and thankfully, it’s not exactly going away, rather moving into the virtual space that so many have grown accustomed to.

And so, the Lightstones are bringing the Shabbat energy as best they can right into that virtual space.

The event will take place the day before Shabbat, of course, and will include the classic Shabbat fare: challah, in the form of a virtual challah bake together online. The Lightstones have worked hard to incorporate some of that SXSW vibe with jazz music to be played by Israeli virtuoso Daniel Zamir, and conversation to go with it around topics important to their niche community. Twitter CMO Leslie Berland will join to share remarks about the event as well.

“Hundreds of people come for Shabbat every year in Austin, and it’s a real mix of people. The serendipitous conversations and connections that happen at our Shabbat meal are now moving to a virtual platform,” said Mordechai Lightstone.

Embracing the full gamut of virtual opportunities, the Digital #openShabbat will be streamed on Zoom, Facebook and audio-only on Clubhouse.

Tech Tribe participants bring Shabbat home with a challah bake.
Tech Tribe participants bring Shabbat home with a challah bake.

“I’ve loved attending #openShabbat at SXSW in Austin, and other Tech Tribe events such as hearing the Megillah at the Tech Tribe Purim party. It’s special to have a home for Jewish observance with other tech folks. That still matters, even if we’re remote. I’m excited,” said Batya Aliza Etzion, a member of the Tech Tribe community.

Chana Lightstone stressed just how important such an event is at this time.

“It’s been an entire year now, and people are looking to have important conversations around how technology can help us connect in the post-corona era,” she said. “This #openShabbat Digital will serve as a platform for how Jews in tech who are taking part in the virtual SXSW can connect and find a way to channel their Judaism in the liminal online/offline experience we have right now.”

Click here to join live on Thursday, March 18, at 9 p.m. EST.

Tech Tribe's Purim Party with Chabad Young Professionals Austin at SXSW in 2017
Tech Tribe's Purim Party with Chabad Young Professionals Austin at SXSW in 2017