The road to Shalom Sesame has been rocky. The first Israeli version of Sesame Street ran in 1983. Who can forget the joint, 1998 Israeli-Palestinian Rechov Sumsum/Shara’a Simsim, which was designed to preach coexistence? Behind the scenes, the production devolved into heated arguments over the depictions of kaffiyehs and kippot, Palestinian and Israeli flags. According to Khalil Abu Arafeh, the head writer for the Palestinian show, “the issue of hummus and falafel was very heated,” since both sides considered these items “theirs.” Ultimately, the show split into two separate productions. And the American-Israeli co-production of Shalom Sumsum (recorded in 1986 and 1990) had a much smoother ride. It featured pretty music from Yitzhak Perlman and a guest appearance by Sarah Jessica Parker; it has sold more than a million copies on video and DVD.
This time, Grover will explore Jewish identity, history, and culture for the American Jewish preschool demographic. The show was filmed on location at several Israeli sites, and Jake Gyllenhaal, Christina Applegate, Debra Messing, and possibly Ben Stiller will make appearances. There’s an Ethiopian Israeli and a Russian immigrant in the cast, as well as an Arab-Israeli Muppet named Mahboub.
In this snippet, shared exclusively with Tablet Magazine, viewers learn about the famous rivalry between Hillel and Shammai, and hear the story of the guy who wanted to learn the Torah while standing on one foot. (When your three-year-old has finished watching it, teach him to read and then give him Joseph Telushkin’s new biography of Hillel, published by Nextbook Press.)
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.