Local rabbis give liturgy a 'voice-over'

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Nine local rabbis worked with producers from BimBam to create short videos explaining Jewish liturgy.

We've all heard the one about when a rabbi walks into a bar, but what happens when nine rabbis walk into a recording studio?

Nine Chicago-area rabbis convened to record voiceovers for BimBam's Rabbi Writers Lab in October. BimBam, formerly G-dcast, is a San Francisco-based nonprofit media studio that produces introductory-level videos explaining Jewish texts, holidays, traditions, and other aspects of Judaism for both kids and adults.

"We don't have a rabbi or Jewish educator working fulltime on our staff, so we have traditionally reached out on an ad-hoc basis to rabbis," said Sarah Lefton, founding director of BimBam. 

"[We chose Chicago because] we happened to know a lot of rabbis in Chicago, and an anonymous foundation stepped up and asked how we can do some local work in Chicago."

Rabbis Danya Ruttenberg, Josh Feigelson, Jordan Bendat-Appell, Wendi Geffen, Michael Balinsky, David Wolkenfeld, Lizzi Heydemann, Reni Dickman, and David Russo participated. Each rabbi recorded a video explaining a different part of the liturgy, ranging from Ashrei to the Amidah.

"Liturgy is a topic we haven't covered yet," Lefton said. "We have three major areas of interest on our website-one of those is Judaism 101, the 'how do I, why do I' section. This is one of those things we've been hearing that people want forever."

As a pluralistic organization, BimBam purposefully chose rabbis representing diverse perspectives, from non-denominational to Orthodox.

"We each have unique voices and unique ways of saying things," said Ruttenberg, the rabbi-in-residence at Avodah: The Jewish Service Corps. "Rabbi Lizzi's piece on the Shema is very poetic and meditative, while my piece on Kaddish is more historical."

Each rabbi was asked to prepare a script. Before recording the voice-overs for the animated videos, the rabbis workshopped their pieces with their peers.

 "The best part was when we each read our script [to each other]," said Michael Balinsky, executive vice president of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. "We worked together on each other's scripts, and there was really great sense of trust and collegial working together. That sense of collaboration and producing good educational material is a model."  

Four of the videos will be released in December, while others will be published in early spring. To learn more about BimBam, visit bimbam.com.

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