What do Google Glass, a robot, and Purim have in common with one another?
Normally nothing, but this year, they came together in order to create a vibrant and engaging project that enabled a little girl from White Plains, NY to be a part of the communal celebrations.
Hebrew Institute of White Plains is home to around 300 families with many children. Purim is a time that the community comes together and celebrates. We host a carnival, a children’s megillah reading, a beautiful night time megillah reading where adults and children pack our main sanctuary to the brim all decked out in costumes.
Unfortunately this year, one of the children in our community was unable to attend as she is undergoing treatment for cancer. She is a bubbly, bright, fun and outgoing child, who unfortunately has been unable to join us at Sabbath services, and was unable to join us for Purim celebrations. Her family would like to remain anonymous during this trying time, so for continuity of this article she will be called Amy.
Amy’s parents approached me several months ago, asking whether, in my capacity as Youth Rabbi of HIWP, I could organize some of the Shabbat morning group leaders to come to her house to play with her, share a story about the weekly Torah reading, and have her realize that she is missed and loved by all of us in the community. About a month before Purim, her father asked whether we can do the same on Purim. But for me Purim calls for something bigger and better–it is not enough that we just send a group of high school students around to deliver a mishloach manot (gift bags given out on Purim)–we wanted to bring Purim to Amy in a way like no other.
Sitting at a Shabbat dinner several weeks ago, I was discussing how I would like to get some sort of technology to live stream the megillah to Amy. One of the guests at the table told me that he has a Google Glass, which is basically a smart phone in a pair of glasses. We talked more and continued the conversation over the next few days.
After sharing my thoughts with several other people, I was introduced to a member of our community who works at Google. She shared my story with her manager, who shared it to the Glass team. They jumped straight on board. Danielle Murdoch who is leading this Purim project, spent two weeks sorting out the details to make this happen, and joined us in White Plains for much of the Purim celebrations. We set up a connection between the Glass and a Google+ account which streamed photos and videos of the megillah reading Saturday night and Sunday morning straight to a laptop that the family was watching. This gave Amy a way to feel a part of the celebration while being able to store some memories for later.
If that was not good enough, the Shabbat guest who I was originally talking to, organized with Double Robotics, a company that created robots called a Double, which is a remotely controlled, mobile teleconferencing system, enabling conversations to happen anywhere and anytime. This robot is controlled via an iPad, which Amy had at her house, and it allowed her to roam the Purim carnival held at the synagogue, talking to her friends, and seeing what was going on.
While technology is used in our lives on an almost daily basis, sometimes we neglect to think about the possibilities it can bring. What we did, and hopefully what can be repeated in other communities, was engage technology in a way that helped unite the community, bring everyone together, and ensure that no one missed out. The possibilities are limitless.