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At SXSW, Hundreds to Find a Shabbat Oasis

by Phreddy Wischusen –

Amid a busy schedule covering the 2018 South by Southwest (SXSW) tech, music and film festival for New York’s TechCrunch website, writer Fitz Tepper will be taking a relaxing Shabbat break mid-conference, thanks to an organization called Tech Tribe and its #openShabbat program.

Tepper, 24, believes Tech Tribe’s influence can reach far beyond the walls of the Downtown Austin Hilton, where #openShabbat will take place. “Chabad makes you feel welcome and loved—regardless of if you are a Jew who has never missed a Shabbat, a Jew who doesn’t know what Shabbat is, or not a Jew at all,” he tells “This sense of inclusiveness would make the cyber world a better place.”

Tepper, who will be covering the introduction of new startups and technologies at the tech section of the conference, will be joined by as many as 350 other Jews invited to the Shabbat offering among thousands expected at the annual event in Austin, Texas, this year from March 9 to March 18. The conference and festival company, launched in 1987, draws participation from an ever-growing array of celebrities, filmmakers, musicians and entrepreneurs.

A division of Chabad Young Professionals International, New York-based Tech Tribe, which weaves Jewish programming into tech events, and #openShabbat, which specifically caters to the Shabbat needs of SXSW attendees, is the work of Rabbi Mordechai and Chana Lightstone who have brought Shabbat to the conference since 2011.

“People come because they know that we’re the only place to offer the marriage of transcendent tradition and the ground-breaking innovation that drives society forward,” says Lightstone.

To spend Shabbat with Tech Tribe, he continues, is not to escape the modern world, but to find deeper and more meaningful ways to engage with it. “In effect, a seat at the #openShabbat table is to be at the nexus of all things past, present and future.”

‘Program Makes for Great Networking’

In addition to #openShabbat, Tech Tribe and Chabad Young Professionals of Austin will host a musical Havdalah ceremony on March 10. The program makes for great networking, says Tepper.

“While my job is to identify and champion any entrepreneur doing groundbreaking and innovative work, as a Jew I feel a special connection and sense of pride whenever I come across a fellow Jew doing amazing things in the startup and technology field,” he says. “I’m especially proud of the thriving startup scene in Israel, where many companies are run by observant Jews.”

Lightstone agrees: “People see a lot of darkness in where the Internet and technology are heading today—trolls, fake news, a loss of privacy. I want to share how we can channel all the amazing innovation towards the positive—both on a personal and a global level.”

TechCrunch website blogger Fitz Tepper with Lightstone at World Lubavitch Communications Center (WLCC), where Chassidic hackers created a worldwide Judaism broadcast network in the 1970s. Tepper is looking forward to attending the #openShabbat program at SXSW again this year.
Tech Tribe directors Chana and Mordechai Lightstone at Facebook’s New York offices.
A Tech Tribe Purim event in New York last week.

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