January 27, 2020

Israeli and American Teens Invent Ways for Artificial Intelligence to Preserve Holocaust Memories

The winning team of the 2019 IAC Eitanim Summer Hackathon. Photo by Linda Kasian.
One hundred and seventy Jewish-American, Israeli-American and Israeli teenagers collaborated to create an innovative product to help keep the stories of the Holocaust alive at this year’s Israeli-American Council (IAC) Eitanim Summer Hackathon from June 30 to July 4 at American Jewish University (AJU).
“The IAC made a conscious choice to make this year’s Hackathon about Holocaust education,” IAC Co-Founder and CEO Shoham Nicolet said in a statement to the Journal. “The secret of IAC Eitanim is taking teenagers, putting them in the ‘driver’s seat,’ giving them tools, skills and values – and most importantly connecting them with each other. There is no limit to where these teens can go and what they can achieve. When I look at these teenagers and how IAC Eitanim is inspiring deep connections to their Jewish heritage and Israel, I see the future of our community leadership and am confident in their ability to make change in the world,” he added.
IAC Eitanim is named after Nicolet’s IDF commander Major Eitan Balachsan, an Israeli war hero who was killed during an operation in Southern Lebanon in 1999. “The program draws inspiration from Balachsan’s life and values,” IAC said in the statement.
At the Hackathon, participants were divided into teams that replicated a start-up structure. They heard personal testimonies from Holocaust survivors and conducted research to determine ways to preserve the stories for future generations. Throughout the week, “the groups tackled a major concern within the Jewish community, at a time of increasing public ignorance of the Holocaust,” IAC said.
At the July 4 Demo Day, teens presented both online and offline product solutions in a four-minute demonstration. The winning team, ConneXt, proposed an app that would closely connect users with stories from the Holocaust through various features, such as Journey, Chat, Bios and Share tabs. The Journey tab would allow users to select the country, age and path of survivor so users could intimately explore the experience of someone similar to them. The Chat feature would allow users to message Holocaust survivors and receive (Artificial Intelligence) AI-crafted responses based on individual stories programmed into the app. This would allow AI to keep the testimonies alive for years to come. The Share tab would give users the opportunity to sign a petition to require mandatory Holocaust education in all fifty states, as it is currently only required in six.

“I was honored to serve as a judge during the IAC Eitanim Demo Day and to speak to Jewish-American and Israeli-American teens from across the country,” Tel Aviv University Professor Dina Porat said. “With anti-Semitism on the rise, it’s crucial we keep the haunting memories and lessons of the Holocaust alive to ensure what our people endured is never forgotten.”

Sixty-six percent of millennials have never heard of Auschwitz and the same percentage of respondents of all ages do not personally know or know of a Holocaust survivor, according to the latest comprehensive survey on Holocaust memory conducted by Schoen Consulting for the Claims Conference.
The Israeli-American and Jewish-American group was joined at the Hackathon by teen leaders from Educating for Excellence Israel, an organization that strives to strengthen Israeli society by reducing socioeconomic disparity and creating equal opportunities for children who reside within Israel’s social and geographic periphery. Volunteer mentors and various industry experts from around the country also shared their knowledge and experience with the Hackathon participants.
To learn more about IAC Eitanim, visit their website.