The cartoon Torah that’s getting teens animated
A new series called G-dcast is bringing the weekly sidrah to life online
Rebecca carrying water in G-dcast
Over the past decade, the internet has been pushing open the gates of Jewish learning to wider audiences. Online ask-the-rabbis field questions from around the world, teachers give shiurum via computer using voice-over technology and if you miss shul on Shabbat, you can still catch the rabbi's sermon the next day on a podcast. But a recently launched venture is taking virtual Torah to a new plane.
Called G-dcast, it consists of a four-minute cartoon based on the weekly Torah portion broadcast on the web. Like a hipper version of Thought for the Day, it is narrated - and in some cases, performed - by different presenters each time.
In Bereshit, Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, author and raconteur with a gift for translating mystical ideas into modern idiom, tackles the conundrum of how could there be light on the first day of creation when the sun and stars appeared on the fourth. (Look out for a fleeting appearance from Reb Yoda of Star Wars).
Or take Goldie Goldbloom, Orthodox novelist and mother of eight originally from Australia, who shows a nice line in humour in recounting how Rebecca came to be chosen as Isaac's wife. "The well was the singles bar of the time. A lot of famous Jewish guys met their wives down at the well," she says. Or commenting on one tradition that Rebecca was just three when picked to be a matriarch: "Now, that kind of thing would get you jail time."
Chicago duo Stereo Sinai (aka Miriam Brosseau and Alan Jay Sufrin) contribute a catchy musical midrash on Lech Lecha, Abraham's journey - with the opening words of the sidrah in Hebrew chanted over drum ‘n' bass, and a message in a lyric: "It's not just a land that we're walking to/ But the journey itself is where we prove ourselves to you."
G-dcast is the brainchild of Sarah Lefton, a former producer for the New York Times' online technology section, who now lives in San Fransico and whose Jewish CV includes a spell at Camp Tawonga, a youth camp outside Yosemite National Park, and the founding of a Jewish T-shirt company.
The site's "official audience", she said, is "older teens - 15, 16, 17 and who may or may not have much of a Jewish background. Just like a lot of cartoons on television, it's designed in such a way that is also very enjoyable and useful to an older audience.
"I have myself in mind when I make these. I grew up without a lot of Jewish education as a kid. Frankly, it was embarrassing for me going to shul as I got older and realising I didn't know all of these basic stories."
Completing the creative trio at the helm are education director Matthue Roth, a poet and author whose writings include Never Mind the Goldbergs and Yom Kippur a Go-Go, and animator Nick Fox-Gieg. Roth was a long-time friend of Lefton's, while she met Fox-Gieg "on a J-date, which was hilarious", she said.
"I discovered he was this extremely talented animator. Matthue and I had been talking about the project for some time. It was, as they say, beshert. The date part of the meeting didn't go anywhere, but the collaborating started right away."
Originally, she had thought of doing some kind of animated Daf Yomi (the programme to learn a folio of Talmud each day). "I started working with a Talmudist at Berkeley, who told me I was in way over my head and why didn't I start with something a little simpler. So it became a Torah project," she said.
Using their large network of contacts, they have enlisted a variety of contributors, including rapper Y-Love, with 16 of the 54 sedarot recorded so far. What's more is that G-dcast is a truly international project. "We have Chukkat recorded in Melbourne, I have a couple of Israelis working on pieces, and I'm talking to someone in Argentina and Brazil," she said. "We want to represent diversity in every sense of the term - religious, geographic, ethnic, sexual."
There is British input, too. Daniel Silverstein, of Psychosemitic (the Jewish-Muslim arts project), has recorded upcoming sidrah Vayeshev, while Marcus J Freed, of Biblioyoga, has done Vayechi; Silverstein's fellow-resident at the London Moishe House, Joel Stanley, is also at work on a piece.
Freed, who met Lefton at a Jewish innovators' conference in Jerusalem, recorded his script in the UK - a mix of narrative, character voices with "a bit of poetry, a bit of rap" - and then sent it off to be animated across the Atlantic.
G-dcast is "cutting-edge, completely original and a huge amount of fun", he said. "It's a new approach to reconnecting with the heart of the story, which is the centre of the biblical tradition."
If you are a parent with a child who has just started cheder or day school, and your Jewish knowledge is rusty, then G-dcast is a quick and entertaining way of refreshing your memory of the content of each sidrah. The website also includes material for teachers.
Lefton hopes it is just "a starting-point. We'd be thrilled a year from now when this is done, to take on the Prophets, the Writings... eventually maybe work our way back to that Daf Yomi project".
You'll find G-dcast at www.g-dcast.com