Jeff, Mike and Guy test out “Across the Divide” at the MFA

It all started when Jeff Hesser and Mike Mandel had a Hanukkah vision: What would it look like to interact with a life-sized menorah, one with light and sound, controllable like the video games they create? Their vision drew the attention of Boston-based Israeli musician Guy Mendilow, followed by violinist Chris Baum. The look and feel came together with the sound, and what resulted was the concept for “Across the Divide,” a piece that “through the act of illuminating a menorah-like installation with synchronized light and music, participants are invited to explore what happens when people communicate across boundaries.” Through the use of an Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, participants will interact with a group of people in physical reality to create a shared musical experience.

So what does this mean for you? Well, you can celebrate Hanukkah by bringing two realities to life through a playful conversation that crosses the digital divide—at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, no less!

This special collaboration between artists, video-game developers and musicians is just what the Hanukkah public art project “8 Nights, 8 Windows” is all about. What started as an attempt to bring an innovative vision to a Hanukkah classic has evolved into a collaborative force, allowing an array of talented artists to rally around the themes of miracles, innovation and illumination, and to act on the miracle that Hanukkah commemorates.

Artist Jeff Hesser, a champion of the project from its inception, is excited to participate because of his desire to create truly meaningful experiences, especially ones “that cross the boundary between physical and virtual reality.” He says, “I’m also excited about incorporating the Oculus Rift into a museum setting.” And, importantly, he’s also concerned with ensuring that his own kids have more opportunities to see Hanukkah represented and publicly celebrated.

Developer Mike Mandel is especially passionate about this project because of the criticism that virtual reality is seen as an isolating technology, further separating us from real face-to-face interaction. Through this installation, he’s looking to “explore new concepts of how social interaction and communication can succeed across physical and virtual boundaries using the universal language of music.” He says: “Hanukkah’s central themes of miracles and illumination are at the core of experience we built for this installation, and we hope it will provide a thought-provoking foundation for the participants.”

Guy Mendilow sees the “8 Nights, 8 Windows” project as a unique opportunity to shed the holiday’s focus on externalities; he views it as a chance to publicly bring back the importance of human interaction, family and old stories, told in a new way. “New and old—what does it really mean to communicate across boundaries?” he says.

Jeff, Mike and Guy have all played integral roles as members of the “8 Nights, 8 Windows” creative team from the beginning. For all three, the value of this project goes far beyond “Across the Divide.” Guy is especially passionate about the project, not only for himself as an artist, but for his son. “These holidays were presented so superficially to me, and as soon as I lost interest in the campy songs, I lost interest in them entirely,” he says. “It’s the core themes of Hanukkah that are incredibly relevant, and what makes them magical is that they are human themes.” His passion is what hooked violinist Chris Baum, and it’s the excitement and vision of the entire project that made Chris an active participant and advocate as well.

Come to the MFA on Dec. 17 to try out the Oculus Rift and stay for the experience—this event is not to be missed! “Across the Divide” is a preview of the full “8 Nights, 8 Windows” project (coming Hanukkah 2015!), and will play an integral part in illuminating “Hanukkah: The Festival of Lights.”