Online videos offer novel teaching tool for Jewish ritual

Need to learn the Friday night Kiddush over wine? Just follow the bouncing grape cluster, sing along with the prayer, and win 200 bonus points.

Turning the rituals of Shabbat into a video that mimics a game may sound cheeky, but it’s designed to coax more young adults into leading Jewish lives, courtesy of Jewish nonprofits Moishe House, Birthright-Next and G-dcast.

Their three short Moishe House Rocks animated videos — one for Shabbat, one for Havdallah and one on how to build a sukkah — are now online.

Funded earlier this year by a grant from the Jewish New Media Innovation Fund, the clips are designed to appeal to 20-somethings seeking to expand their Jewish horizons, such as Moishe House residents.

Clips from Moishe House Rocks video on leading a Shabbat Kiddush

Moishe House is an Oakland-based international organization that creates Jewish group-living arrangements for young adults.

“We have found that for many residents, this is their first time actively participating in Shabbat, Havdallah [the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat] and Sukkot,” said Moishe House co-founder David Cygielman. “Not only are they now doing these Jewish holidays and rituals at home, they are responsible for leading them. We want to increase the resources we provide for residents.”

Moishe House collaborated with G-dcast, the brash S.F.-based company that creates short animated films on Jewish themes, usually Torah text.

G-dcast executive director Sarah Lefton said at first they considered doing clips on big-ticket holidays, like Passover or Chanukah, but decided to change the emphasis to more quotidian Jewish tasks.

The clips are “a tool [Moishe House] can offer residents to get them up to speed; a fun, easygoing way to practice,” Lefton explained. “Leading a Kiddush can be intimidating.”

The Shabbat clip depicts a young guy showing up at what looks like a Moishe House and waging a series of “battles” to get Shabbat under way: the blessings over wine, bread and the washing of hands. For each successful step, he wins on-screen points, including “buzz points” for sipping the wine.

Going against type, in the clip the young man does the candle blessing, a role usually reserved for women.

“This was not a choice made lightly,” Lefton said. “We wanted to hedge a bit between traditional and nontraditional.”

A second clip about Havdallah is done in shades of gray and has an evocative, nocturnal quality to it, much like Havdallah itself.

The third clip, on sukkah-building, is a humorous piece that draws on some little-known talmudic rules, such as the prohibition against using an animal as a sukkah wall, to make comic points.

“This is not a textbook,” Cygielman said. “We are hoping that people will not only learn about how to lead these Jewish rituals but also become excited about having the opportunity to do it. Animation in a fun style can lead to this.”

In addition to notable local artists, such as singer Elana Jagoda (who performs Debbie Friedman’s now-classic “Birchot Havdalah” melody), Moishe House residents took part in the voices, both singing and acting. Among them: singer-guitarist Isaac Zones and comedian Joshua Walters, both of whom live in local Moishe Houses.

“We really wanted to use residents and alumni to lead the way in our G-dcast videos,” Cygielman said. “Why not take advantage of such a talented group?”

The Moishe House Rocks
video clips can be viewed online at

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at