Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A Farewell to BimBam

Leaving Class with Class: There is (chaval) a lot of competition out there for terrible horrible no good very bad news, but the news of BimBam's shutdown was the most heartbreaking that Abq Jew has received in some time.

Formerly known as G-dcast, BimBam has sparked connections to Judaism through digital storytelling since its founding in 2008. Over its eleven years of existence, it has become an essential Jewish educational resource - for kids and for adults.

Abq Jew has often written about G-dcast / BimBam, and tried to share some of the videos this outstanding team has produced. Just to remind us all of said team's copious capabilities, here is Where Do Jewish Laws Come From?, an Introduction to Torah, Talmud, and Halacha.

See what Abq Jew means? And this is just one of the multi-part Judaism 101 series. Not everyone can do magic like this - non-judgmental explanations of hard-to-grasp topics portrayed clearly and entertainingly.

Which raises the question -

Here are four interpretations of what has just happened. One each from -
  1. Maya Mirky, Staff Writer for J., The Jewish News of Northern California
  2. Sarah Lefton, BimBam Founder and Creative Director
  3. Jordan Gill, BimBam Executive Director
  4. The Editorial Board of J., The Jewish News of Northern California
After which, Abq Jew will add his own perspective.

From Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland. Here is her article about the BimBam shutdown, which Sarah Lefton and Jordan Gill refer to.
Animated Jewish video nonprofit BimBam to shut down   BY MAYA MIRSKY | APRIL 2, 2019 
BimBam, a Bay Area Jewish media nonprofit known for animated video content that has amused and educated for more than a decade, is shutting down after 11 years. 
Founder and creative director Sarah Lefton said the award-winning organization, which relies on donors, was closing because there was no longer sufficient funding. 
“There just isn’t a sustainable model for doing what we do, at this time,” she said. 
BimBam videos, which are available for free online, offer Jewish learning for children as well as adults, from how to talk to kids about God to cheerful animated explanations of the week’s Torah portion. The four-part series on King David released this week will be BimBam’s last. 
But not because they weren’t popular. According to BimBam, its 400-plus live action and animated videos have had 11 million views on YouTube. And with the 2016 introduction of a new set of cartoons for younger kids titled “Shaboom!” their reach grew further. Lefton said she gets constant emails talking about the impact BimBam has had on kids and adults alike. 
“When we visit, for instance, a synagogue, the teachers treat us like rock stars,” Lefton said. 
But funding just wasn’t sustainable, according to executive director Jordan Gill, who said that in general the Jewish funding community hasn’t yet really committed to digital media like BimBam. “It’s really a matter of when,” he said. “It just hasn’t happened yet.” 
BimBam was founded in 2008 by Lefton, who initially called it G-dcast (a play on podcast). By 2009 she had been named in the Forward’s list of new leaders, the “Forward 50,” for her clever Torah video series. “Sarah — she won’t say it, but I’ll say it — is a genius, and ahead of her time in this field,” Gill said. 
Renamed BimBam, the company grew to cover countless aspects of Judaism and Jewish learning. It was cited several times in the Slingshot Guide of game-changing Jewish organizations, including the most recent edition. The company held multiple trainings to help rabbis and educators make their own videos. 
And according to the company, viewers have watched 22 million minutes on YouTube. 
“That’s 42 years of Jewish education that otherwise wouldn’t have happened,” Lefton said. 
One of its more attention-grabbing endeavors was eScapegoat, a web app that allowed people to confess their sins anonymously to an animated goat in the days before Yom Kippur. 
The Brandeis School of San Francisco has been using BimBam for years. “Our teachers use those pieces all the time in their classes,” said Debby Arzt-Mor, director of Jewish learning. 
Whether it’s an engaging way to talk about the weekly portion at assembly or a guest appearance by the animators who show how the videos are made, BimBam has been an effective educational tool that kids like, she said. “It’s basically showing Jewish learning is cool.” 
But even if BimBam isn’t making any more content, the videos aren’t going away. 
They’ll have a new home at the Union of Reform Judaism website, Mark Pelavin, chief program officer, said BimBam’s video content would be integrated into URJ’s teaching tools. “We’re honored and we take this responsibility seriously,” he said. “It’s content that we love.” 
Lefton and Gill are proud of the work they and their team have done over the past decade. “Media is really important,” Lefton said. “And this is not second-class Jewish education.” 
And in a time when children watch more and more online content and turn to screens to learn and explore, she said there’s an opportunity to seize. “We owe it to them to make some of that time meaningful, and Jewish.”
From Sarah Lefton

Sarah Lefton is the Founder and Creative Director of BimBam. She and Executive Director Jordan Gill sent out an email to BimBam's community, announcing the end of the project. Here is what Sarah said:
Dear BimBam Community, 
Amidst great celebration over the launch of our best work ever (King David series for kids and new videos about Masada and the Bar Kochba revolt for adults) last week, I'm sad to share the news that we are sunsetting BimBam today. 
In 2008, I founded this organization because I was certain that people and kids and educators would be delighted to watch high quality, fun videos about the weekly parsha and other Jewish texts. With your support, we built an incredible team that for eleven inspiring years has delivered a staggering 450 videos about everything from the Torah to the Talmud to teaching preschoolers about Tzedakah. 
We changed the Jewish internet. Before the rise of podcasts, and even of YouTube, we made it possible to learn from the most engaging teachers whenever you wanted in a crazy fun format. We made Jewish YouTube better: more accurate, more inclusive, and more caring. We listened to you, we studied your feedback and we visited your classrooms. You changed our lives and our work. 
About our work: it isn't going away. It will be reported today in the J Weekly that we are pledging our library to the Union for Reform Judaism - all our content will continue to be accessible on our BimBam and Shaboom YouTube channels, and over time, on as well. 
We chose URJ as our partner because they share our passionate belief that Jewish people and fellow travelers deserve accessible, accurate and friendly content online, and that it should be free. You will not find a more menschy group of people. We trust them with our work and we know they'll help its impact grow. 
This may be the end of our little organization, but it is really still the very beginning of the story of how Jewish learning evolves in the digital age. I'll be on that journey with all of you. 
Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek. Be strong, be strong, and may we all be strengthened.

Sarah Lefton 
From Jordan Gill

Jordan Gill is the Executive Director of BimBam. He and Founder and Creative Director Sarah Lefton sent out an email to BimBam's community, announcing the end of the project. Here is what Jordan said:
To BimBam's Friends and Family, 
As will be reported in today's J. Weekly, after 11 years of meaningful, impactful work bringing high-quality, pluralistic Jewish learning online, BimBam has released our last video, with all operations closing as of 3/31/19. 
We have ended this project on a high note having just released a burst of content that represents some of our finest work.
The King David series, and the videos about Masada and Bar Kochba, are a testimony to the years of learning that we have done as an organization and how we have grown and matured. We are immensely proud of these videos, and all the videos that preceded them. 
BimBam has produced over 450 videos over the past 11 years. Those videos are responsible for over 42 years of Jewish learning (over 22 million minutes of watch time). We did it with a small and dedicated team, guided by the creative vision of my colleague and friend, Sarah Lefton. 
On 4/1/19, The Union for Reform Judaism will take ownership of our assets including all of our content. We are so proud to be able to partner with the URJ, and we know that they will steward this content and enable it to continue to effectively pursue BimBam's mission of sparking connections to Judaism through digital storytelling. 
The URJ, and are a frequent destination for people looking for opportunities to learn more about Jewish customs, traditions, teachings and holidays, and we know that BimBam content will be instrumental in providing fun and meaningful moments of connection for them when they arrive. 
I want to thank everyone who believed in us and funded our content over the years, and everyone who watched, learned, and laughed with us. This project was more than a job to us, and it was a pleasure to serve the greater Jewish community in this way. 
With warm regards, 
Jordan Gill 
From the J. Editorial Board

The J. Editorial Board pens weekly editorials as the voice of J. Here is the Board's editorial about the BimBam shutdown,
BimBam’s closure is a loss for all of us
Sometimes worthy enterprises, from both the nonprofit and the corporate worlds, do not survive over the long haul. That’s always a pity. 
But when a Jewish organization as influential as BimBam shuts down because of flagging financial support, it’s more than a pity: It’s a shanda, and it reflects poorly on the state of Jewish philanthropy today. 
After a glorious 11-year run under its founding director Sarah Lefton, BimBam was forced to close this week. As our story shows, BimBam (originally named G-dcast) was that rare Jewish nonprofit that leveraged digital media to bring engaging, intelligent Jewish education to audiences of all ages — but mostly kids. 
In addition to scores of delightful animated shorts about the holidays and the weekly parashah, BimBam made insightful films such as How to Talk to Your Kids About God and Teaching Your Kids to Say I’m Sorry
BimBam taught kids how to bake challah, make matzah covers and tzitzit, blow the shofar, and even how to fashion Jewish toy slime out of glue, borax, cornstarch, shaving cream and a splash of Manischewitz. 
And who could forget the animated sacrificial eScapegoat for Yom Kippur? That adorable cartoon capra actually made it to the cover of J. one year. 
In fact, you would be hard-pressed to find a Jewish educator in the country who has not drawn on BimBam’s materials to teach valuable lessons about Jews, Judaism and Jewish values. 
Writing on Facebook after hearing the news, Jewish LearningWorks CEO David Waksberg noted, 
“BimBam has been the most creative and impactful Jewish educational innovation of the 21st century.” 
BimBam consistently modeled Jewish education as something vital. 
Howard Freedman, director of the S.F. Jewish Community Library, also shared his appreciation for BimBam: “I’ve loved it — for myself, for how it engaged my kids, and for how it has consistently modeled Jewish education as something vital without a stale aftertaste.” 
In the responses from the community, we saw genuine sorrow expressed over the demise of BimBam. But we also noticed another emotion: anger. 
How it is that the Jewish community, locally and nationally, could not continue to support a universally celebrated organization that did such superb work on a comparatively tiny budget? 
Clearly, the Jewish communal world is not immune to the problem of wealth inequality. An organization such as BimBam might get by for years on the largesse of foundations, federations or individual philanthropists, and then suddenly find the rug pulled out when donor priorities shift. 
We would argue that innovators such as BimBam, which brought a fiery love of Judaism to countless numbers of kids, should always remain a priority. 
Luckily, BimBam content will live on. 
The Union for Reform Judaism will post on its website all BimBam videos, including its swan song: a compelling series for kids telling the story of King David and two dark, complex videos for adults on Masada and the Bar Kochba Revolt
Thank you, Sarah Lefton, executive director Jordan Gill and your brilliant team, for 11 years of providing unparalleled Jewish learning. 
We can’t wait to see what you’ll do next.
From Abq Jew

For more than nine years, blogger and webmaster Abq Jew has been the Duke City's "very own peripatetic historian, philosopher, scholar and mentsch."

Living a Jewish life on the West Bank of the Rio Grande, Abq Jew has provided the New Mexico Jewish community
  • a website (with a definitive Events Calendar and Class Schedule); 
  • a blog (with his own perspectives) and a weekly blog email; plus
  • a Facebook page and a Twitter feed; and even
  • an app (of blessed memory).
So, you may ask, what is Abq Jew's response to the announcement of BimBam's shutdown?

How can these statements both be true?

"BimBam has been the most creative and impactful Jewish educational innovation of the 21st century."

"There just isn’t a sustainable model for doing what we do, at this time."

If the global Jewish community cannot provide enough support to keep a world-class creative venture like BimBam in business, how long can Abq Jew keep going?

BimBam and Abq Jew are worlds apart in terms of impact, opportunity cost, and place along life's timeline. Yet, we're in the same business - trying to do something good and meaningful for our Jewish communities, and something good and sustainable for ourselves. So please -

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