When Sarah Lefton first conceived of G-dcast, the San Francisco-based media production company that creates apps and animated videos explaining Torah portions and Jewish rituals, she was in her early 30s and thought the content would appeal to people like her: adults fascinated by the details of Jewish texts and tradition.
“[It was] using the Internet to show people how quirky and wonderful Judaism was if you just scratched the surface a little bit,” Lefton said. “But when we put them online, that’s not where it caught on at all.”
A decade later, G-dcast has created hundreds of videos about everything from Queen Esther’s activist role in the Purim story to a how-to illustration of the Havdallah ritual. And the nonprofit has developed a reliable audience: Jewish educators and elementary school students who have become the key consumers of G-dcast’s content.
Now G-dcast is trying to capture a new audience — an even younger one. With the launch of a website this month (www.bimbam.com) and the web series “Shaboom!” set to debut April 6, the organization is making a bid for the preschool and family set.
“If we can get families with young children of all stripes excited about what Judaism has to offer them on an everyday basis, they may later get excited about Torah and Talmud and holidays,” Lefton said.
“Shaboom!” will consist of 10 animated episodes using songs and humor to teach about Jewish concepts like kavod, honor and respect, and bal tashchit, taking care of nature. The series is directed at preschoolers and young children, focusing on social and emotional development concepts rather than Jewish holidays or ritual practice.
“That’s what they’re focused on in this age cohort,” said Lefton, who said she was influenced by the PBS series “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” and direct research G-dcast conducted with young families. “At ages 4, 5 and 6, they’re learning to be respectful of friends. Helping us be good people in our families, in our communities, is a huge piece of the beauty and the importance of Judaism.”
“Shaboom!” will show its first episode on bimbam.com and on a dedicated YouTube channel. Five other episodes will air weekly this spring, and the series will return with five more weekly episodes starting Sept. 7 in time for the High Holy Days. Bimbam.com also will host G-dcast’s previously produced Jewish lifecycles content, including educational videos about wedding rituals and welcoming new babies.
“We’ve been talking about renaming the organization since we named the organization. G-dcast was a name that I made up in 2005 because I thought it was funny and because I needed the domain name, but it has a lot of challenges,” Lefton said. “People can’t spell it, people leave out the dash, people are nervous about the word ‘God’ sometimes. Sometimes I don’t get my phone calls returned because people think I’m an evangelist. But it still has a lot of brand trust among Jewish educators.”
In recognition of that brand trust, G-dcast’s signature Torah portion videos and other content will remain on G-dcast.com. Viewers also can visit the original website (www.g-dcast.com/leg) to watch the first narrative short, a three-minute movie aimed at adults that made the Jewish festival circuit over the last year and went online in February. “The Man Who Buried His Own Leg” tells the story of a man who holds a funeral for the leg he lost to diabetes so he will have both legs available when the Messiah returns. It was this story, which Lefton heard from a friend, that inspired her to start G-dcast years ago.
“To me this was so wild and weird and wonderful, and I had to know more about it. It caused me to meet with a rabbi and crack open some texts,” Lefton said. “It became this driving compulsion of mine: I’ve got to tell this story. In the meantime, G-dcast got created.”