The DJN chats with the “Hebrew school celebrity” and former Animation Director at BimBam, a digital storytelling platform featuring interactive videos on Jewish topics for all ages.
1. Where did you grow up?
I was part of the B’nai Israel community and lived in West Bloomfield. My best friends growing up were Dan Horwitz (a rabbi in Metro Detroit) and Josh Foster who is now a rabbi in Cleveland. It’s funny to me how many friends I have who have gone on to become rabbis. I went to Hillel day school and my parents were always very involved in the community.
2. What were some of your early career moves?
I went to school at Syracuse University for illustration. I didn’t initially know where to go next, but knew people were doing animation out in LA, so I moved out there. Right out of college I was doing web design but I swore it off thinking, “I didn’t move out to LA to do web design!” The weekend I swore off doing web design I got two calls — one was from a web design company and another was for an animation company called acceptable.TV where I ended up working. Directly after that I did some animation internships. Then, for five years I worked as a title sequence designer and background painter, doing matte paintings for movies like Don’t Mess with the Zohan and Date Night.
3. What was your reaction when getting the job offer at BimBam?
Six years and nine months ago I got forwarded the job posting for BimBam (formerly called G-dcast). As part of the submission, they wanted a script proposal for Tisha B’av or Ruth. I instead sent in a video of me rapping about Tisha B’av that I made in an hour, and it turned out pretty well! Sarah Lefton, the founder, hired me on as an associate producer in 2012 in an effort to continue raising the bar of quality. I felt it was an overlap of all the things I’m good at.
4. What were some of the initial projects you delved into?
I was there for three months and Sarah was five or six months pregnant. She was essentially like, “Lead these projects now — I’m going to go have a baby.” That was really a cool step up right there of trust. The first few projects that I started on were four animated shorts about the Book of Judges, a competition about the Book of Psalms, and eScapegoat.
eScapegoat involved a digital goat collecting sins for Yom Kippur that ended up getting crazy coverage in the Wall Street Journal, CNN and NPR.
The second year the challenge was more lifecycle pieces — videos about birth, baby namings, and topics like, “What is a chupa?” I also created a Jewish Guide to Helping Your Friend in Mourning. That was a piece I was really proud of. The guide had three sequels and I formed close relationship with David Zinner, the executive director of the Gamliel Institute, an organization dedicated to helping people with burial, death and mourning. He was the first expert I worked with who really helped shape the piece and was instrumental in making them as quality as they were.
We did another 12 lifecycle pieces the next year, and the third year we transitioned to Judaism 101. Then we started getting into covering the holidays and formed that concept into a cohesive 50-part video set.
5. Directing Shaboom!, a Jewish kid’s series, was another transformative stage in your career. Tell us about that process:
We were going from making independent YouTube animations to creating a legitimate kids show. We had advisors from Pixar and Sesame Street, which was a huge ramp up right there.
I was always hesitant about Shaboom! as an idea, but Sarah was excited about it. I felt like, if I’m making something and I’m not the audience, I don’t know if it’s going to be good or bad and I don’t know if it’s going to work as a kids show. But it ended up going really well. I have friends who will show me videos of their kids singing songs from it, which is pretty cool.
6. You were there from the early stages at Bimbam until the non-profit closed just recently. What was it like toward the end of your time there?
Normally with a company coming to a close, there is a de-motivation, but that was not the feeling. It was a very much a race to the finish. Even though the company was sunsetting, all these projects we were working on were so exciting. The last week of the company we released seven of our pieces and they were seven of our best.
Six and a half years at a company is a long time and I stayed there for a big reason — I had a lot of creative control and it combined all of the things that I enjoyed doing. Over the course of BimBam we released 450 pieces, which is wild. It will live on and hopefully continue to inspire others to make bigger and better stuff and to create.
7. Is there anything you’d still like to finish?
I’ve made seven videos about Jewish history already, including How did Judaism get its Name? and How did Kabbalah Begin? I always had a vision that these would be part of a larger series, with one video for roughly every a hundred years of Jewish History similiar to those two. So in less than two hours, anyone could have a solid grasp of our history, answering questions like, “How did Anti-Semitism Begin?” Perhaps one day I’ll get this chance.
8. What’s next for you?
I’m really excited for what’s next. When I started, making things in the YouTube industry did not exist, and now it’s becoming a bigger industry. I’m going to continue that or keep going down the line of children’s animation — how many people can say they directed a children’s series?
How Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Judaism Began (written/narrated/directed by Jeremy Shuback)
Jeremy Shuback, 34, worked as the Animation Director and Video Producer at BimBam from 2012 to 2019. He directed over a hundred videos, which have been featured in many Jewish film festivals and seen in classrooms across the country. He also has taught workshops in over a hundred cities. He also has his own YouTube channel featuring Photoshop tutorials and more. You can email him at Jeremy@Shuback.me.
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