I was recently given a copy of a DVD from the collection of the 2011 incarnation of *Shalom Sesame. The person who gave it to me wanted to know what I thought of it and, perhaps more importantly, what my three year old thought of it.
Well, the 3 year old (who admittedly is at the lower end of the age recommendation) didn’t sit still beyond the very long opening trailer for the series which could not be skipped to the main menu. Any teacher using the DVD will have to turn on about 4 minutes before they actually need it in order to get to the main programme. But let’s put aside what my daughter thought – she couldn’t really understand anything that was going on.
Here are some very quick comments, I don’t have time for a full review:
1) It felt like everything that had real practical substance – tefillin, Bar Mitzvah, Torah reading, prayer, even care of animals – was only performed by boys and men. The girls and women got to talk about abstract ideas like tikkun olam, but with no real substance. Oh yes, women also got to watch boys and men at the Kotel (Western Wall) doing real Judaism and rejoicing in a male coming of age ceremony.
2) If someone can explain to me the choice that represented the students of the Schools of Hillel and Shammai wearing kippot and with pe’ot (sidecurls) in a way that looked like modern yeshiva students then please do. To me it was an anachronism.
3) I think I must have missed something because I saw the short detail on the letter ‘kuf’ (ק) but at the end I was told Shalom Sesame was brought to me by the letters ק and כ. I missed the focus on the כ, or was it a throw away inclusion.
4) Never mind the substance, the sound quality was appalling and the style was like I remember Sesame Street from my childhood, not a 2011 incarnation. The only twenty-first century feeling piece was a cameo by Matisyahu.
5) In addition to the gender role difference, I had a real problem with the portrayal of Judaism as an essentially Orthodox affair. This coming from a production jointly with America where the majority of Jews are not Orthodox.
6) One final comment – the street sign for Rechov Sumsum, where the episode is set, is written in Hebrew and English, yet we are led to believe it is set in Israel. If it was in Israel the sign would include Arabic too.
I suppose I am disheartened. Really good educational materials (especially with high production costs – like videos) for Jewish communities are hard enough to come by. We’re left with a choice of showing a half-good piece of material and have to spend a good deal of the class explaining why the Judaism we are involved in is not portrayed. We have to moderate the materials right from the start because they are deficient. And if a parent borrowed the DVD to take home, I feel I would not only have to produce a ‘Guide to Jewish concepts’ for the basic content but also a ‘Dissenting guide to thinking about the ideas as a Liberal Jew’.
If there was a mark out of ten, this would struggle to get a five.
*By the way, this is different to Rechov Sumsum – the Israeli production.