By COLlive reporter
Before there was YouTube, there was Itche Kadoozy.
The wonderfully wacky web video series features a cast of puppets that includes a gray-bearded rabbi, a dysfunctional but lovable college student, and a talking gefilte fish. The series was released on Chabad.org in 2004 and continues to entertain and educate children and adults around the world.
“Back then, even before YouTube, the internet created the opportunity to share video with the world, but there was really very little quality Jewish video content out there,” says Rabbi Dovid Taub who produced the shows with his friend Jonathan Goorvich.
“We had this great idea, we made the videos, and people would email them to their friends and that was how they were passed around,” he explains.
As the show gained a faithful audience and evolved, the cast grew to include a fictitious lawyer named Larry Goldstein (who ends every statement with an open-mouthed “Ha!”), some friendly monsters, and a slew of other zany but instantly memorable characters.
For example, in “Jono and the Whale” Jono wins a pet whale in a sweepstake after purchasing 75 magazines he did not need (he could not resist because he was “pre-selected as a winner”). After arguing over whether bajillion and bazillion were proper numbers, Jono and the rabbi discover that the whale—too big for even six bathtubs—was being shipped to them in a “very large” cardboard box. Jono soon learns that a whale needs more water than could be provided by a 24-pack of spring-water bottles. The lesson: Jews need to be immersed in Torah, which is compared to water, on a constant basis. The show concludes with Larry Goldstein being inspired by the rabbi’s lesson and volunteering to arrange to ship the whale back to the aquarium.
Starting in a miniscule conference-room-turned-studio in the Chabad.org offices in Brooklyn, N.Y., the filming and editing progressed along with the technological advances of the era, as did the facilities. Yet, the nonstop laughs and intermittent Jewish teachings remained a constant.
In a 2007 feature on the show’s meteoric rise to fame and fandom, the Forward reported that “part of the [show’s] appeal seems to be the quirky characters and original, witty plots.” The article went on to explain that the disparate characters of Itche and Jono allow every Jew to see some of themselves in the show and relate to its message.
Coming full circle, the scripts and select images from many of the most popular episodes of the show are now being released in the form of an oversized, soft-cover 408-page book.
“More than a decade since Itche Kadoozy first appeared on Chabad.org, we still have thousands of kids and adults watching these videos every day,” reports Rabbi Shmuel Lifshitz, editor of Jewish.tv, Chabad.org’s video site. “From the steady stream of comments, it is clear that it is still hitting a spot and generating as many laughs as ever.”
Among the thousands of reader comments sent in over the years, Tim in Forest, Va., wrote that “This is great. It reaches kids and adults alike. It was a bright spot in my day and made me laugh out loud.”
“This manages to be utterly hilarious and surreal whilst also being very touching,” wrote another viewer from New York. “Astoundingly good—please keep up the amazing work so I can keep flooding my relatives’ inboxes!”
“We’re at a slumber party for our class,” wrote the sixth grade of Bais Yaakov of Boston, “and we just are going on the computer for fun, and we watched this (and also the Chanukah song by Jono) and we decided we agree [with the commenters who are asking for even more IKS videos].”
Over the past few years, the Chabad.org team has been adding closed captions to many of the videos, making them accessible to even more people.
“I first learned about Itche Kadoozy from my kids,” says Rabbi Zalman Goldstein, who produced the book, which is being released by The Jewish Learning Group, in conjunction with Chabad.org. “They would laugh hysterically and watch the shows over and over. I got curious and discovered that it was quite appealing to adults as well!”
Goldstein explains that the book, which includes many of the show’s most beloved episodes, is perfect reading for all ages, especially on long, summer Shabbat afternoons, when computers and similar devices are off-limits by Jewish law. He explains that the book can also be used in the classroom and in camps, with children taking turns acting out the various characters using the scripts in the book as their guide.
Goldstein was able to assemble some parts of the book from scraps of original scripts that Taub stored away years ago and resurrected from ancient hard-drives. But the majority had to be painstakingly transcribed from the actual videos. The book also contains some historical photos and background information that will be of special interest to Itche aficionados.
“Itche Kadoozy was born and developed on the internet,” reflects Taub. “Thanks to Rabbi Goldstein’s hard work, it is now going to live in the world of print media as well—and that’s wasome!”
The Itche Kadoozy Show (softcover; 8.25 x 9.5; ISBN 9781891293610; 408 pages; $24.95) book is published by the Jewish Learning Group and distributed by Feldheim Publishers. Available at Jewish bookstores and online at jewishlearninggroup.com