Extra ‘Snap’ to SXSW: Purim Revelry on the Streets of Austin
By Phreddy Wischusen
Everything is bigger in Texas.
So goes the saying, and in terms of this Shabbat – and this Purim – that very well may be true.
More than 300 people are expected at Shabbat dinner this week in Austin as part of the annual SXSW (“South by Southwest”) film, interactive media and music festival that takes place over the course of 10 days, from March 10 to March 19.
Called #openShabbat, the Friday-night dinner is organized by Chabad Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Lightstone as part of other activities run by Tech Tribe, an organization founded by the Lightstones to blend ancient tradition with modern communication. They have been hosting the popular dinner since 2010. This year’s meal will be dedicated in honor of Alan Weinkrantz, a founding member of the Tech Tribe community who was killed in a car accident last summer in Israel.
Other #openShabbat dinners are held periodically in New York City. For those not in the know, at these dinners, all electronics are off the table. With devices powered down, the Jewish connections come alive.
Ellie Cachette, a general partner at Cachette Capital Management, has been attending Tech Tribe events in New York for the past several years. As a technical project manager, she says she is “expected to know, from beginning to end, the building of companies.” Such skills include sound investment-making, and knowing all there is to know about technology, markets, product fit and consumer behavior.
“The most obvious way Judaism affects my work is the schedule: our team and office tends to wind down around 3 p.m. on Fridays, so people can get home and prep food and be with their families,” says Cachette. “In total, I think I’ve created a balance for being productive, but also leaving time to ‘spiritually recharge.’ ”
Getting recharged will be extra helpful this year as Purim begins when Shabbat ends, giving Jewish participants at the festival a chance to keep the celebration going.
‘Broadcasting Good in the World’
Purim, which starts on the night of March 12 and continues through March 13, requires four mitzvahs: hearing the book of Esther read aloud (Megillah), sending gifts of food to friends and neighbors (mishloach manot), giving gifts to the poor (matanot levyonim) and eating a festive meal (seudah).
Who’s on the Chabad emissaries’ treat-giving list this year? “Literally everyone at SXSW!” replies Rabbi Lightstone.
The job of putting together the giant cache of goodies falls to Rabbi Mendy and Mussy Levertov, who run Chabad Young Professionals in Austin. They are also co-hosts of the Shabbat dinner and Purim festivities: The YAAASS Queen Esther SXSW Purim party, beginning at 3 p.m. on Sunday. The event is also sponsored by Israel Bonds/Development Corporation for Israel.
The rabbi grew up in the city – the fourth largest in Texas, with nearly 100,000 residents – where his parents, Rabbi Yosef and Rochel Levertov, serve as co-directors of Chabad Lubavitch of Austin. His weekly study group meets in the Monkey Nest Coffee, which features organic cold-brewed coffee and offers live music in a place where bumper stickers read: “Keep Austin weird.” Their monthly Shabbat dinner brings together a diverse group of young adults, many of them working artists and musicians.
Levertov has gotten to know two musicians in particular over the past year through their attendance at Chabad events and encouraged them in their pursuit to form a band. They did, it took off, and they’ll be performing next week at SXSW.
“We look forward to SXSW and the Shabbat dinner every year,” he says. “It’s such a perfect fit to the whole laid-back, and spiritual, Austin scene.”
On Sunday as Chabad emissaries will head out into the artsy streets of Austin in pedicabs (basically, bicycle-powered rickshaws) to perform Purim mitzvahs, and wrap tefillin with Jewish men and distribute Shabbat candles to Jewish women. They plan to capture much of it with “Spectacles by Snap” – Snapchat sunglasses that record life from the wearer’s point of view and can wirelessly transmit photos or video (in up-to-10-second clips) to their cell phone.
“A mitzvah has the powerful effect of broadcasting the good we do to the world, and when others can see it and emulate it, it becomes even stronger,” emphasizes Lightstone. “Snapchat, like all social media, can be used a tool for teaching and inspiring goodness.”