Ask a Jewish child of the ’80s for their favorite examples of Jewish popular culture from that era and you’re certain to encounter fond memories of Muppets with a penchant for Hebrew, Jewish holidays and gloriously bad puns. Often they’ll give you just two words: “Moishe Oofnik!”
Your likely trigenarian would of course be referring to Oscar the Grouch’s Israeli cousin and the best-selling Jewish video series of all time, Shalom Sesame. Shot in 1986 and again in 1990, the Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop) production combined segments from the classic Sesame Street with those of its Hebrew-language counterpart, Rechov Sumsum, mingling elements of Jewish and secular culture for American Jewish audiences.
Now, just in time for the prior generations’ viewers to share it with their own children, Shalom Sesame has returned for the first time in 20 years with a DVD collection slated for release this Chanukah. The new series follows our familiar friend Grover to Israel, where he joins the cast of Rechov Sumsum, as well as Jewish celebrities like Jake & Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ben Stiller, Natalie Portman and Matisyahu, in learning about Jewish and Israeli culture.
©2010 Sesame Workshop. Used with permission.
Of course no introduction to Jewish culture would be complete without a lesson in the value of repairing the world. In the episode “Mitzvah On the Street,” a storm makes a mess of Sumsum Street, creating an opportunity for the Shalom Sesame characters to help their friend Avigail learn about mitzvot like “helping each other out” and “taking care of what’s important to us.” Together, they sing and learn about engaging in tikkun olam, repairing the world, or as Avigail says: “We help the world when we help someone do what they can to make things right.”
That’s pretty good for a three year-old purple monster!