Sarah Lefton and Matthue Roth discuss g-dcast

Parshat Chayei Sarah from g-dcast on Vimeo.

I had a nice email chat with Sarah Lefton and Matthue Roth of G-dcast. I remember seeing the first episode of G-dcast that Sarah had put together at the first ROI120 conference in Jerusalem in 2006. The assembled audience of young Jewish innovators was very impressed by what Sarah had put together and I have to say that I am pleased that Sarah had the fortitude to make her vision come to fruition. My questions are in italics. Enjoy!

First of all, mazel tov on finally getting G-DCast out there. I know Sarah, that you went through a number of trials and tribulations getting the resources together to make this happen. Was it worth it?

Sarah: Oh hells yes. It is a relief to have it living OUTSIDE of my head.

One thing that is definitely interesting is watching the response – so far – play out exactly as expected. We are getting a lot of intense interest from educators who want to use the curriculum in their classrooms. We am seeing enthusiasm from fairly well educated Jews. What remains to be seen is if it is interesting to people who don’t know these stories already. Actually, an ex-Mormon friend of mine who,
in her own words, “hates God,” agreed to put it on her Facebook page, which is sort of a small triumph maybe?!

Matthue: Yes, definitely — I think the wonder of this is that it’s such a mediumless medium. It’s anything you want it to be. The danger of the Internet that parents are worried about is, what happens if you click on the wrong Youtube video and watch porn? G-dcast is almost the opposite. It’s like, you see a cartoon, which you think is going to be funny and snarky and irreverent — which, hopefully, it is — and then it ends up being a little bit hopeful and inspiring.

Can you share with us some of the challenges you had to overcome? How many episodes do you have in the can? Can you give us an idea of who some of the future voices are going to be?

Sarah: Funding is hard.
Motivating people to work together for very little money is hard.
Animating some of these parshas is gonna be hard.
Having a day job while you try to do all this is hard.

Matthue: I think the biggest hardness — and this is kind of the essence of
G-dcast — is getting the words out of our minds and into the mic, onto the screen. Our narrators have an immense amount of ideas, and they’re all immense ideas, and fitting it into 3 minutes is a
challenge to start out with. But the entire thing is a conversation — it starts out as a conversation between the narrator and the Torah. And our job is to make that connection happen, and help facilitate it, and not get in the way. And then Nick starts to animate — and Nick is amazing; he’s innovative and intuitive, and he’s had almost no Torah background growing up. In a way, he’s our ideal audience. And he listens to the G-dcast and interprets it, and it’s an entirely new conversation all over again.

Sarah: We have 15 episodes lined up right now and are working on Shemot right now. EGYPT!!!
Some upcoming voices will be familiar to you, and some will be mysterious new people you will want to hear more from. For instance…

• MTV News producer/documentary filmmaker Liz Nord (Brooklyn) introduces us to Joseph in Vayigash
• Electronica duo Stereo Sinai (Chicago) drops a funky take on Lech Lecha, told through Sarah’s eyes
• National Jewish Book Award winner Dara Horn (NYC) solves the mystery of the angel in Vayishlach
• Filmmaker Malki Rose (Melbourne) tells a little known story…with sting…in Chukat
• Chasidic hip hop artist Y-Love (Brooklyn) talks trickery in Toldot
• Singer/Songwriter Elana Jagoda (San Francisco) delivers a country sing-along take on Kedoshim
• Sydney Taylor Book Award winner Sarah Gershman (Washington, DC) takes an intriguing psychological look at what the golden calf really represents in Ki Tisa
• Daniel Silverstein, aka Anomaly MC (London) rhymes his way through the darkness in Vayeshev

Matthue, you’re listed as the educational director. Sarah, yourself and your team seem to have created media that transcends age and denominations, presenting the Torah in a fresh way that pretty much everyone can relate to. As an informed Orthodox Jew, you are aware of issues that some have with the Torah – for instance kashrut, homosexuality, shabbat, authorship etc. how do you plan on dealing with these?

Matthue: From the beginning, Sarah and Nick and I made up our minds not to
approach this from a traditional standpoint — “traditional” in any meaning of the word. G-dcast is about the basic experience of interacting with the Torah. Some people are going to embrace a strict
literalist point of view. Others are going to read it like one of those fairy tales where everything’s a metaphor for something else. The one thing we’re really trying to do is to get people engaged, and
to have them find things about the Torah that they love. I’m still not sure who’s going to do the homosexuality one, but Sarah and I have a few ideas that will knock your socks off.

Sarah: Thanks! We’re trying. We have a lot of HIGHLY interesting conversations about this stuff. Like, how the hell do we depict G-d, since we’re not allowed to? That was a late night of arguing. And the three of us who make up the core team do not come from the same backgrounds or practices so it made for a very lively discussion.

We are looking forward to the “trouble parshas” and you can expect us to line up voices for those pieces who are well schooled in the ways of talking about those parshas. We will take it head on, never fear. While it’s possible to duck the messy bits, I don’t think we’ll do that.

Are you going to focus on the universal themes and gloss over the more contentious issues – not that there’s anything wrong with that – or will you be a bit more challenging?

Sarah: Challenge!

Parshat Noah was my Bar Mitzvah Parsha, so it’s kind of cool that this interview is taking place now with Noah as the Parshat Hashavuah. First of all, props on the use of the word “cojones” in the
curriculum. It would have been interesting to see a teacher in third grade explain that to his or her students. I am sad that you made Noah out to be kind of a jerk for not warning people to repent. I mean according to the mepharshim, God did provide them with 14 days to repent, and they couldn’t have missed the big boat. But I guess the incongruity between Noah being mentioned as a righteous man in his generation and the story of the raven and the dove are instructive in determining the scope and the nature of righteousness.

Sarah: I’ll let Matt take that one on. I’ll just say that it has been a treat watching people watch this. People (and I’m not talking about experienced learners here) sort of enjoy it and giggle at the emus and the QE2 art and Matthue’s funny business about the trees not being full of water and whatever, and then the end sort of sneaks up on them. Then they go, WHAT?! Which opens up a conversation…which is the whole point. Some of them might ask a question. Some of them might crack a book open. Slam dunk.

Matthue: You know, I’m flinching about you thinking that I made Noah out to be
a jerk — but at the same time, it’s awesome that you disagree with my portrayal of Noah as a jerk. When my first book came out, a bunch of reviews talked about how compellingly I wrote the voice of an angry, stuck-up girl. I was like “hey! I’m in love with that girl!” And I realized that she *was* kind of stuck-up and angry, but that’s part of creating a compelling character. One of my favorite parts of the G-dcast ride so far has been to see debates going like the one on Jewlicious about what people think of it, and what different people have to say. And hopefully, maybe, some of those people will end up being G-dcast voices.

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Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.