Haredi hackathon targets solutions to coronavirus crisis

Ultra-Orthodox programmers include many from hard-hit city of Bnei Brak: ‘We were strongly motivated to seek solutions.’

By World Israel News Staff

Hundreds of programmers and developers from Israel’s ultra-Orthodox communities participated in a massive hackathon last week to find new solutions to help in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, the sponsoring organization Kama-tech said Thursday.

It’s not widely known that there is a burgeoning number of high-tech workers from the Haredi sector. Kama-Tech got corporate sponsors including Google to challenge the Jewish programmers, saying their goal was “to develop innovative solutions to facilitate the battle against coronavirus and … help governments and societies deal with the ongoing crisis.”

Kama-Tech is a social initiative founded by private developers and ultra-Orthodox community activists to facilitates the absorption of Orthodox workers into Israel’s high-tech industry.

“The Orthodox community was one of sectors hardest hit by corona in Israel, mostly due to the density of its cities, which boast some of the highest populations and [levels of virus] saturations in the country,” said Kama-Tech founder and CEO Moshe Friedman.

“In contrast, the Orthodox community also encompasses fantastic talent, creativity and wisdom,” Friedman said. “Particularly because we were so deeply affected by the virus, we were determined to recruit our greatest minds to gather and fight this life-threatening illness on the front lines. I had no doubt that we’d witness incredible results during these 24 hours, and we did.”

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Over the 24-hour allotted timeframe for the hackathon, the several-hundred programmers and developers came up with a wide variety of pioneering solutions, several of which drew the interest of international companies and non-profits, most notably Google, Pitango and Poalim Hi-Tech, the organization said.

The event attracted developers and programmers from around Israel, including the city of Bnei Brak that is predominantly ultra-Orthodox and had dealt with some of the highest coronavirus infections so far during the pandemic.

A large group, including Minister of Science Izhar Shay, attended the hackathon at an office building in Bnei Brak while following Health Ministry guidelines, but most participants joined in remotely by ZOOM.

“Over 300 people are here today, mostly on Zoom,” Shay said, noting that the programmers were both male and female and that the “Kama-Tech developers are proving how they successfully integrate innovation with love of Israel. The ideas that I’ve seen are all breathtaking and original.”

Teams of programmers worked from a list of challenges including big data analysis of the virus’ behavior and patterns, technology to reinforce contact with the high-risk population, applications to identify antigen tests, tools to nip chains of infection in the bud in virus hotspots and expanded public awareness tools.

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During the hackathon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Reuven Rivlin and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called in with their encouragement.

Living in Bnei Brak and watching all that ensued up close with vicious cycles of mass outbreaks leading to various stages of lockdowns, we were strongly motivated to seek solutions, and especially to brainstorm for ways to protect people classified as high-risk by significantly reducing the risks of infection,” said developer Tehillah Ruben who participated with friends and colleagues who developed an app called Pod-It which allows the user to check his level of risk.