Monday, June 20, 2016

In Memory of Alan Weinkrantz

About 5 years ago I was in New York City to speak at a technology conference called #140edu. It was one of Jeff Pulver’s 2-day conferences sort of modeled after the TED Talks. On the evening before the conference was to start, Jeff hosted a meetup for the speakers and select guests. I arrived unfashionably on time and there were only a few others at this trendy NYC bar/lounge. A gentleman named Alan Weinkrantz walked up to me and said, “So, you’re the tech rabbi?” We talked to each other for most of the rest of the evening.

I was intrigued by the work Alan was doing in the tech world – both in the U.S. and in Israel. He tried to convince me to come out to Texas for SXSW later that year (and each year ever since). What I liked most about Alan was that in that first conversation, he seemed to get me. He thought it was just so cool that a rabbi was so entrenched in the technology world. He peppered me with all sorts of questions about how rabbis and other Jewish educators were using social media and mobile apps. He wanted to know which applications I used for Torah text and for reading other Hebrew documents. He asked which social networks I recommended to synagogues and how they should be using them.

Alan Weinkrantz

At the end of the evening, Alan told me he was creating YouTube videos of all of the speakers at the conference and asked if he could do a video interview of me the next morning. I explained that I was set to speak on the second day of the conference and actually had little idea about what I’d be saying. Somehow he still convinced me to do the interview… and I’m grateful he did.

Alan’s questions – both before he began recording and during the actual interview were essential to helping me construct my talk at the conference. Alan helped me frame my views of technology and social media that would allow me not only to deliver a more thoughtful speech at that conference, but Alan also helped me formulate the basis for my outlook regarding the intersection of Judaism and technology over the past few years.

A friendship with Alan Weinkrantz was formed at that conference in NYC that allowed us both to challenge each other and think deeper about the world of technology, social media and startups -- especially in the Jewish world and in Israel. The best part of meeting Alan for me was that he totally got me. When I explain to some people that I am both a rabbi and a technologist, they just look at me quizzically. Alan, however, just seemed to understand what that entailed and he thought it was so interesting how I managed to intersect those two worlds.

Alan would interview me again a couple years after that initial conference. We were both in Las Vegas for CES and Alan asked if we could meet up so he could ask me some questions about the Israeli startup companies that were exhibiting at CES. It isn't easy finding a mutually convenient time to meet anyone at CES and it isn't very easy to coordinate meeting locations because of the throngs of people in attendance. However, Alan and I were able to find some time (and find each other) so he could interview me for a Times of Israel video series he was doing on technology. It was great to see him and catch up. That was the last time I would see Alan although we corresponded by email and through social networks all the time.

On Saturday night as I was about to go to sleep in a hotel room, I got word of Alan's untimely death. He had been at an outdoor cafe in Tel Aviv (where he was spending more time lately) when a driver had a heart attack and drove full speed into the diners at the cafe. Alan and two others were killed. I immediately went to Alan's social networks to see recent photos of him. It was eerie to see the photo of his final meal that he had posted on Instagram, likely only moments before his demise. A friend of his posted that he had called her to join him for dinner that night, but she said she was too busy. As I perused the early responses on social media from friends who had just heard of Alan's tragic death, I was feeling intense grief, but I was also intrigued by the way we mourned this sudden loss through social media. And then I realized, that this was exactly a discussion that Alan I would have had.

I will forever miss Alan Weinkrantz, a visionary who was so amazed by technology. More than anything, Alan was a mensch. I'm grateful I got to become his friend, even if it was only for a handful of years. Yehi zichrono baruch, may the memory of Alan Weinkrantz be for blessings for all who knew him.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

What a loving tribute. For all of us who didn't know Alan, you gave us a gift by sharing a little of him with us. Susan Stein, Memphis