Modern Mishpocha: When in doubt, Shaboom!

By Dara Lithwick

Near the start of the school year, during the 10 days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we received an email from our son’s Grade 2 teacher explaining there had been a few incidents of children not treating each other with respect. Teachers were working with the students to “reinforce positive relationship building and kindness at school,” including modeling positive social interactions and role playing challenging social situations. They encouraged parents to talk with their kids about respect and kindness at home.

My partner Marci and I were taken aback as our children’s school exudes warmth and respect. But we were also heartened the school was treating these incidents as teachable moments and transformative opportunities.

The day we received the email, we had a great sit-down with our kids (our daughter just started junior kindergarten) after dinner about being an ally to any kids who need help, respecting each other, and saying “sorry” when we make mistakes. We talked about being aware when something is awry in class or the playground, and knowing how to step in and be a leader and helper by showing kindness and respect to fellow classmates, and getting a grownup when their help is needed.

That night, I thought about how the timing of the incidents at school meshed well with themes of the High Holidays – about the importance of treating each other well and engaging in teshuvah (heartfelt repentance) when we do something wrong or miss the mark. I wanted to put what had happened in a Jewish frame, as I felt that what was happening could also help show how relevant Judaism is to figuring out how to live and get along.

But I did not quite know where to start.

I turned to my first source of help, “Rabbi” Google, and typed a few words – “teshuvah,” “children,” “respect,” “sorry” – into the search field.

Google nailed the response. One of the first results was a YouTubechannel called BimBam for a series of cartoon shorts titled “Shaboom.”

I was delighted. “Shaboom!” is an animated series geared to four-to-seven-year-olds that combines Jewish wisdom with high quality programming. It is musical, fast paced, sweet, contemporary, addressing universal values through a Jewish lens. It includes 10 episodes plus Passover and Chanukah specials all focused on fixing the world through meaningful acts of loving kindness.

The series stars two magical “sparks,” Gabi and Rafael, who live in a playhouse in the clouds. The reference to “sparks” is intentional, as are their names. In Jewish mystical tradition, following the work of Rabbi Isaac Luria in the 16th century and elaborated through Chasidism, holy sparks are essentially God’s light that shattered into sparks or vessels in the creation of the world. When we engage in acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world), we help redeem the sparks to connect the light back to God, healing God in the process.

The names Gabi and Rafael are also quite meaningful. Rabbinic literature identifies Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael as the four chief angels who surround the divine throne, each of whom has particular attributes. The Hebrew root in the name Gabriel (Gabi) means strength of God, while Raphael means God’s healer.

Gabi and Rafael have different colour skin, and both take the lead in teaching key concepts. Together they accurately represent the gender and racial diversity of what it means to be Jewish.

The next day I showed two episodes to our kids, and they loved them. They found the situations relevant to their lives. They loved the pacing and the characters, and especially loved learning the Hebrew words. I loved how the episodes are also entertaining and educational for me, and serve as great launching points to talk to my children about the issues that are addressed in the videos.

Since then we have watched episodes about welcoming guests, and visiting the sick, and our kids look forward to more.

Of note, digital studio BimBam, that created “Shaboom,” ended active operations in April after 11 years of creating Jewish content online. At that time, became the steward for all digital storytelling content produced by BimBam, including “Shaboom,” many parenting resources, a library of “Judaism 101” content for young adults, animation of the Torah including a new King David series, totalling more than 400 original videos. Family resources can be found by clicking here

When in doubt, Shaboom!