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Judaism In Cartoons And iPhone Apps

Jan 19 2014, 8:51am CST | by

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Judaism In Cartoons And iPhone Apps
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Judaism In Cartoons And iPhone Apps

Teaching young people – and millennials – about religion can be a chore, not to mention sometimes boring or confusing for the students. One tech firm in San Francisco may have an answer for those young followers of the Jewish faith: G-dcast.

Founded by Sarah Lefton in 2008, G-dcast builds apps that deal in the 5 eBooks of Moses, old testament-style mobile games and instructions for children on how to make challah bread. The company also offers short animated videos outlining stories from the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, among others. Other videos focus on prophets and holidays like Passover and Yom Kippur. Says Lefton: “I hatched this idea for a schoolhouse rock for this generation of Jewish kids.”

So far the company has enjoyed 1.5 million views of its videos since 2008, 20,000 iTunes downloads and 30,000 eScapegoat users. G-dcast’s mailing list of 5,000 includes many classes where one “view” equals about 30 kids, says Lefton.

A non-profit, G-dcast operates on about $1 million a year, paid for mostly by Lefton’s efforts in raising capital from foundations and the philanthropic rich. Donors have included the DCF, The Rainbow Foundation and Natan.

Lefton, 40, is a veteran of two tech booms. She enrolled in New York University ’s interactive telecommunication program as the internet was beginning to grow into the force it is today. “It was hard to be in school full time because everyone was trying to hire us,” says Lefton.

Eschewing tech for journalism, she took a position as a web producer for the New York Times before being lured away by the monetary promise of the business world, taking a position building and managing websites for Gray Advertising. After the dotcom collapse in 2000, Lefton founder self in her late 20s and unemployed, so she switched coasts, settling in San Francisco. “With the skills I had, today I would have been hired in an instant but there was nothing doing in 2001.”

She took a marketing position at Camp Tawonga—a long-running Jewish summer camp based in Yosemite. While there, she contemplated a need – a pain point – among the younger members of the country’s Jewish community. “Overwhelmingly, American Jewish kids are being raised to feel proud of who they are and proud to identify as Jewish, but oftentimes that didn’t get much further for them than ‘I saw Prince of Egypt, I like bagels, I like klezmer music,’” she remembers.

Raising about $175,000 in 2007 from an angel investor based on a $1,000 pilot she had produced with an animator, Lefton launched the company with the idea to cartoonify the Torah. Initially a concept for those in their 20s, the project evolved when she found out that Sunday schools were using the content to teach children. Embracing the new audience, Lefton decided to rethink the sophistication level for younger audiences. What developed was a platform to give a crash course in Jewish customs and stories to kids, teens and 20-somethings. “I wanted to make a resource for people that was fun, accessible and online,” says Lefton, who is a mother of two.

Around the corner are a handful of new applications for iPhone (an app for Android – Wake Up World, narrated by Randi Zuckerberg –  yielded meager results). “We’re going to be doubling down on parents of young children,” Lefton says. Still in stealth mode, the new products include a program that shows 25 one-minute introductory videos to Jewish time. “This is going to be the biggest, richest Jewish app out there.”

Follow me on Twitter @KarstenStrauss

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Source: Forbes


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