Teens unbottle Israeli creativity

Teens unbottle Israeli creativity

Area student brainstorms at Eitanim hackathon on water conservation

Jordan Efraim holds the microphone at the Eitanim hackathon in Los Angeles.
Jordan Efraim holds the microphone at the Eitanim hackathon in Los Angeles.

Meet Jordan Efraim of Washington Township.

He’s the chief technology officer of Project Bakbuk. Bakbuk means bottle in Hebrew, and the team going by that name wants to build an app that would promote water conservation and awareness of Israel’s leading role in water conservation technology.

Earlier this summer in Los Angeles,  Jordan and his 12-member team sketched out their preliminary design.

“We were pretty much focused on the game-ification of logging your daily water usage, to help you cut back on your water bill,” he said. “We didn’t exactly have a working beta. We had a very basic outline, images of everything we wanted it to do.”

Project Bakbuk isn’t a real company. Jordan, 17, is a senior at Westwood Regional High School.

The planning, design, and team-building, however, were real. They took place at a Los Angeles hackathon run by Eitanim, a new program from the Israeli-American Council. Eitanim brings teens together to learn and experience design and problem solving — and how to promote Israel at the same time.

It’s start-up-nation meets hasbara.

Jordan’s weeklong Los Angeles experience followed his participation last year in the Eitanim program, which met at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly. Beginning in the winter, the group of 10 teens convened monthly. The three-and-a-half-hour meeting would begin with a presentation, and then a period of intense brainstorming, planning, and creativity would follow, as the kids tried to solve a problem related to promoting Israel’s image.

“We did a lot of work that pushed you to think outside the box,” Jordan said.

Teenagers unleash their creative prowess at an Eitanim meeting in Tenafly.
Teenagers unleash their creative prowess at an Eitanim meeting in Tenafly.

In one session, the challenge was to use 3D modeling software to create a logo for Eitanim.

Another time, Amir Sagie, the deputy consul general of Israel in New York, spoke to them about BDS. Afterwards, the teens brainstormed about branding Israel.

“Every time we would have a different task,” Jordan said. “Basically you start and finish a project in one meeting.”

“I got to walk them through the different stages of how to create something new,” said Anat Katzir, a synagogue educator with her own start-up on the side. Ms. Katzir served as the mentor for the group.

“The idea was for me to allow them to learn something, engage them with a new technology, and come up with a semi-complete project,” she said.

Jordan is an Israeli citizen. He was born in America to an Israeli father and a mother from Connecticut. After graduation, he plans to serve in the Israeli army. For a long time, he has been a member of Tzofim, the Israeli scouts organization that has chapters in Fair Lawn and Tenafly.

Last year, the local Eitanim chapter met only in Tenafly. This year, Eitanim plans plans to open two new chapters, one in Fair Lawn and the other in Hoboken.

Eitanim wants its groups to include both Israeli Americans and American Jews. “We want to create a bonding and bridging between the communities,” Ms. Katzir said. She said that Eitanim’s twin focus on defending Israel and developing problem solving skills makes a lot of sense.

“That’s how Israel became what it is,” she said. “Israelis came to a new country and had to deal with a new situation. People had to step up and create something new constantly. In the modern day, we see that as the way initiatives and startups take place.”

That mindset of innovation of Zionist pioneers now is in demand around the world, all the time. “People have to step up and create something new constantly,” she said. “They have to deal with technologies that are constantly changing. They have to work with people from different backgrounds. That’s the reality we want to give our teens experience with as they step into the real world.”

Project Bakbuk was one of 10 teams at the Los Angeles hackathon. Teenagers went to Los Angeles from across the United States and were divided into teams at the beginning of the exercise. The most successful teams will present their ideas at the September conference of the Israeli-American Council in Washington.

Jordan’s project was not a winner, but he is proud of his group’s idea nonetheless.

“One of our biggest ideas was a shower timer,” he said. “You would start a timer and see how long your shower was. It would compare that to a national average, a local average, and the app’s average. Every time you get lower than that shower time, you score points. On the main screen would be a water bottle, a bakbuk, that would fill up as you saved water.”

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