Hackathon brings together professionals in various fields to plan a project on a specific subject determined by the time allotted to it at the outset. The term “Hackathon” is derived from the word “hack” used relating to innovative programming and “thon”, from “marathon” for long distance running for a certain time. Hackathon projects began in 1999 relating to technological subjects. In recent years these projects set out to solve problems in various aspects of medicine, education and culture. Recently, Hackathons have been created to provide solutions to problems, not necessarily by means of technology. One particular Hackthon was organized in the area of games by the Shatil organization and the “New Israel Fund” under the auspices of the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality. The games proposed were technological but also card, dice and construction games. At times, an entire group of people or various experts in the relevant fields would attend a particular Hackathon”.

I attended a Hackathon” held in the Jewish-Arab Center in Jaffa, which was open to the public attended by 120 persons who had not met previously representing a variety of fields in the areas of computer software, education, art, and activists in intercultural relations, representatives of peace organizations and many others. The ages ranged from 10 year olds who came with parents or teachers and adults involved in the “Games for Peace” organization about which we have written previously.

Reactions from some of the participants:

Dov Koller, an activist who constructs websites, a copywriter using modern technological methods to teach Arabic in communities in the Galilee. Kochavit Lankri, Deputy Principal of a high school, teacher of science and intercultural relations through contacts with the school at the Arab village of Batara. She heard about this program from Mustapha, her co-teacher in an ecological program at her high school. Dov Shema read about the Hackathon in the “Dialogue Together” blog. Carlos Stiglitz, Dua Diab Alhajia came from Shatil.

All the participants gathered together in the Jewish-Arab Center in Jaffa and the proceedings began with an explanation by Benny Feibush of the “play work” enterprise, of the didactic impact of games and their contribution to a way of life. Most important is playing games helps to bring about change of attitudes and values. Also is the forging of contact between people and groups. The speaker described similar projects in other countries, the qualities required for participation in group games and characteristics necessary in games that develop empathy and recognition of “others” and which create conversation, interest and pleasure. The group dispersed to join in games of interest in the hall.

Some chose to initiate games in computer, pleasure, language teaching, intellectual and emotional development and introspection, such as “What is your opinion on…” Each group worked on the development of games that required characteristics necessary to bring about changes in the community. A game that was considered the most innovative would win a grant to continue the development of the proposal. A group that worked with a student at the Bezalel Art Academy on a game promoting improvements in learning the Arab language, which looked to me as a version of “Scrabble”, with letters from both languages. Each word used generated a discussion relating to the two languages. The group invited two Arab speakers to join them to help them develop the game, with the idea of trying to implement it in their school, in the hope of winning a grant. The photos here show various groups working on their ideas.

At the tables, a variety of games were being developed. In one of these two ten-year olds worked on the game of “Minecraft” generally played individually, but they proposed a game that could be constructed jointly. Their proposal was that the game would be played by teams of Jewish and Arab children and the outcome could be achieved only by cooperation within the teams.

All the participants in this Hackthon stated that they had enjoyed the experience of developing a game within a specified time, assisted by qualified mentors in various fields. Groups of different ages and experience stimulated the process through being required to focus on the goals they had set. Many of the participants made contacts for the future.
The possibility to construct games that aimed at intercultural understanding was shown at this event. Dov Kollar summed up thus: When you develop a game that enables an individual to recognize the “other”, within the time limit of an hour, exchange “hats” and stress various human aspects and work toward joint goals brings about understanding, empathy and cooperation.” Undoubtedly, this event generated much optimism and hope.