I must admit, I was so excited to get the new Shalom Sesame DVDs in the mail for review. I loved loved loved those days at camp when it rained (or, as I now know, the counselors were hadn't written a lesson plan) and we were allowed to watch the a Rechov Sumsum video, the Israeli version of Sesame Street. I loved seeing these videos, which were clearly created for American children to learn about Israel, especially since I thought they were written for Israeli children. I loved that we watched them at camp, because I thought this was so much better than Hebrew School at home. (By the way, that Wikipedia article I linked to up there is interesting and explains a lot about how the shows were produced, etc. I didn't know that the show was actually known as Shalom SumSum in the edition that I watched. These DVDs are available, by the way, on Amazon.)
The new series came out just recently. Called Shalom Sesame, they are specifically designed for American children, bringing aspects of Jewish life, holiday stories, Hebrew alphabets, and Israeli culture. Lots of celebrities are slated to be involved in these episodes as well. (Publicity materials indicate that there will be games and activities on the website, but they're not live yet. *I received free copies of these DVDs for review purposes.)
The two episodes that we received were the first one, "Welcome to Israel" and the Chanukah program "The Missing Menorah." Both feature Grover and Anneliese van der Pol, an actress with whom I wasn't familiar. I plunked my children down in front of the TV, and they were very excited for a daytime television treat. It started well. We got through the opening credits/singing, which ends with children shouting "Shalom Sesame!" and Yael promptly responded "Shalom Sesame!" We were off to a good start, I thought.
Sidenote, with full disclosure: My children don't watch Sesame Street. I grew up on it, I love it, but for whatever reason, it doesn't hold my children in its thrall. Disappointing to me, but how can I force them to watch things they don't care to see? So they're not knowledgeable about Grover and his ways. Do your kids watch Sesame Street?
Things declined from there. Anneliese is on a plane going to Israel and she just wants felafel. My children know what felafel is. Do most American children? There's no explanation of it and many of the terms are completely undefined. I think I'd feel confused if I were someone who did not know much about Israel.
There were cute cartoon sketches reminiscent of all the Sesame Street episodes I've seen, and a number sketch with the Count at which the "number of the day" was chosen, with counting in both English and Hebrew - but not much reinforcement of the Hebrew words for the numbers. There was also a letter cartoon section, with some words that started with "yud."
Sam's favorite part (and he is the one who really didn't like the whole video) was when a little boy sleeps over at a friend's house. I thought it was particularly interesting that one little boy was dati and one little boy more secular. He talked about washing and about the friend's mom providing him with special food. How did these little boys get to be friends and why did the show spend so much time highlighting their differences? ("His mom got a special cup for me to wash my hands before I eat." - a statement like this is totally confusing to American (non-frum) children who are required...at least in my house...to wash their hands all the time before and after eating.)
Overall, Sam gave it a thumbs down and Yael gave it a thumbs up.
So when we went to watch the Chanukah video (a few days later), Sam preferred to play his handheld video game while Yael watched. This one was about the holiday of Chanukah, obviously, but only slightly explained what sufganiyot are. The "lost menorah" took about 45 seconds to find, during which the characters all sang a song that wasn't very memorable. The brachot weren't said, and the story of Chanukah was told in a pretty simple and often confusing way. The number of the day was 8, but I'm only now realizing why, since a direct connection wasn't made.Overall, even Yael was a little disappointed with this one.
So....on the upsides: the video quality is great. The colors are bright, the cartoons don't look dated, it's fun to watch and to have Hebrew on the TV in our house. But for learning something? I don't think that my kids got a lot out of these videos. The PR materials did call the series "edu-taining" and I think it's a little light on both education AND entertainment. Maybe this is why the regular Sesame Street show is 1 hour long - to enable them to have many different segments all in the same show. Perhaps they tried to do a little too much.
What worked for me in the original series was that even though they were technically driven toward small children, even the older kids (like me) could see them at Hebrew School or camp and enjoy them. I think these are too focused on the 3-6 year old crowd to be pleasing to older children. Some of the gags were definitely funnier for the parents than the kids. And Grover does do his waiter bit, which was always a favorite of mine. It went totally over my kids' heads.
Sigh. I really wanted to LOVE these videos but I didn't.
So I'll leave it to you...I'm giving away both DVDs, just leave me a comment here and you're entered to win!
I'll do a random drawing next week to pick the winners. You have until next Thursday night, October 21st. You can let me know what you think!