From chess games to shiurim

From chess games to shiurim

New app brings people together on the spur of the moment

The new app Sponté puts users in contact with events as they unfold.
The new app Sponté puts users in contact with events as they unfold.

Imagine for a moment that you play chess, and you feel like engaging in a challenging game as soon as possible.

Or that you need more people for a minyan and time is short.

Or that you know about a wonderful Purim event and want to ensure that anyone who is looking for something fun to do on the holiday will know about it as well.

“Fed up with our day jobs” — though in no position to abandon them entirely — friends Josh Block and Joshua Yammer, who grew up in Teaneck, met at the Frisch School in Paramus and continued their friendship at Rutgers University, decided it would be “nice to do something different,” said Mr. Yammer, 26, who now lives in California. The result of that search, Sponté, aims to help people pull events together on short notice.

Mr. Yammer, who works in real estate during the day, contrasts his program with sites such as Meetup.

With Meetup, he said, you do things at a scheduled time. “Ours is a free platform and more spontaneous — hence its name. It’s focused on doing activities when the user has free time.”

Mr. Yammer and Mr. Block conceptualized the app, which is available on iTunes and downloadable on iPhones — they’re now working on Android compatibility — but “we don’t do the tech side,” Mr. Yammer, noting that Mr. Block, who plays chess in Washington Square Park, “ended up playing with this guy, Rob Silverman, who loved the idea. We pitched it to him and he became our programmer.” A fourth acquaintance, Cecil Pang, also joined the team.

Like so much else these days, project planning meetings are half in person, half virtual. The three New Yorkers work out of Mr. Silverman’s apartment, and Mr. Yammer Skypes in. “We’re equal partners,” Mr. Yammer said, adding that the project has involved very little cash outlay. “We just had to pay for hosting data on servers, and some minor legal fees. We were lucky to find well-equipped programmers.”

 Josh Yammer, right, formerly of Teaneck, now lives in California but collaborates with his app partners through Skype.
Josh Yammer, right, formerly of Teaneck, now lives in California but collaborates with his app partners through Skype.

Right now, he said, the program is free, although eventually the partners hope to monetize it. “The goal isn’t to make money,” Mr. Yammer said. “We found something we love to do and want to do.”

While he hopes that people of all ages will find a use for the app, he assumes that most users will fall between the ages of 17 and 28, “college students to post-grad, before someone settles down.

“I’ve seen a lot of party get-togethers on it,” he said. “Last year, someone posted information about a Zusha Purim concert in the Bowery. People came to the event who hadn’t been planning to go. They used our app to get to the ticket link.” People also have used it to host game nights, such as a SuperSmash tournament in New York City.

“One of my dad’s friends — my dad’s a big supporter — posted a minchah minyan on it. It’s not catered toward any one group. Everyone should use it as they see fit.”

Mr. Yammer said that Judaism is key to his identity.

“I grew up in an Orthodox home in Teaneck and went to Moriah, Frisch, and did a year in Israel at Netiv Aryeh,” he said. “I’ve always been very connected to Jewish life — it’s the center of my universe.”

And wherever he goes, he attends synagogue. “I’ve moved from Teaneck (Rinat Yisrael) to Rutgers (Hillel and Chabad on campus) to the Upper West Side (West Side Institutional) to the Lower East Side (Bialystoker) and now to Los Angeles (Beth Jacob).”

He was particularly inspired by Rabbi Shyah Shagolow from Chabad at Rutgers, he said. “Even though he was and is 100 percent my rabbi, he has and is always there as a friend as well. He taught me what it means to be a Jew, and what it means to be a Jew in the world we live in. To always be proud of your Jewish heritage and to never be afraid or embarrassed to wear a kippah.”

Mr. Yammer cited a line from Pirkei Avot, “where Ben Zoma says: ‘Who is rich? The one who appreciates what he has.’ That has helped me stay grounded and do everything I’ve accomplished so far. When you are jealous and comparing yourself to everyone, you’ll never be happy and you’ll never accomplish anything because it will never be good enough. And what’s life without happiness? Obviously, we want Sponté to be successful, but the reason we work so hard on Sponté is because we love what we do. It’s not work for us.”

He sees many uses for the program in a Jewish context — “shul gatherings, family get-togethers for Chanukah or Purim, minyan times, shiurim. If Jewish communities can find ways to incorporate Sponté into their life, we would love to see that happen.”

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