By Eric Berger
Digital artist Nitzan Bartov will demonstrate this Chanukah that augmented reality goes far beyond Pokémon GO, the location-based augmented reality game downloaded 750 million times that took smartphone users by storm in the summer of 2016.
She explains that she has created an app through which people can look at a menorah and enter a “Chanukah-related solar system.”
The 31-year-old Israeli, who now lives in New York City, sees a natural connection between a holiday that celebrates a miracle, and the “magic and surprise of discovering” animations through a phone or tablet.
Augmented reality, often abbreviated as “AR,” uses cameras to create an interactive digital overlay in real-time over the “real world” displayed on a smartphone or tablet screen. The augmented reality menorah will include dreidels, sufganiyot (doughnuts), chocolate gelt and a jar of oil.
The augmented reality menorah is the latest effort from Tech Tribe, a Chabad-affiliated organization dedicated to enhancing and creating Jewish experiences for those working in tech and digital media.
To illuminate the story of Chanukah and other concepts, “we try and take whatever is currently trending in the tech world,” says Rabbi Mordechai Lightstone, co-director of Tech Tribe with his wife, Chana. Lightstone also serves as social-media director for Chabad.org.
The Capacity for Light and Goodness
Bartov studied architecture in Tel Aviv before moving into the fields of game design and digital art. She met Lightstone through a New York friend who asked Bartov if she wanted to join a digital adventure; she was interested. So she met with the rabbi, and they came up with the idea for a “digital miracle” using a physical menorah as the centerpiece, with a digital layer created on top of it.
“We wanted to show that hidden within plain sight is the potential for a lot of light and a lot of revelation,” says Lightstone. “It shows people that in our own souls, we have something to unlock – the capacity for light and goodness.”
The Tech Tribe directors will use the app at a party on the fourth night of Chanukah, Dec. 14, at The Yard, a co-working space above Herald Square in Manhattan. They will light the candles the traditional way, but then also have a tablet near the lampstand through which people will be able to see a “parallel dimension.”
Bartov says “the aesthetic is going to be digital futuristic.”
The party will also feature (real) potato latkes and jelly doughnuts, beer from Shmaltz Brewing Company, Chanukah songs, and, of course, the recitation of prayers when lighting the menorah. Lightstone expects as many 50 people to attend. He hopes that if the app is successful, others will also be able to use the technology. In previous years, he featured a 3D-printed menorah and Animated GIF menorah. Since he first used the 3D-printed menorah, he has shared the files needed to create them with other Chabad rabbis.
Is it a problem that digital technology could distract from the traditional menorah or make it seem ordinary?
Bartov says they were careful not to. “While we were brainstorming for the right concept,” says Bartov, “we were trying to come up with something that would connect to the holiday and its meaning and would not dilute the menorah as the centerpiece of the celebration and ritual.”
Lightstone is “very open,” she says, “but he is also good at telling you what he wants and what is important and what goes too far from the message we are trying to give.”
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