TV sitcoms are not generally known for their political content, a fact that makes Emmy-winning TV producer David Sacks' mission to support Israel and Judaism through his work all the more surprising. The Emmy-winning writer and producer of The Simpsons, Murphy Brown and Malcolm in the Middle has spent the last several months creating a number of short films, many comic in tone, that strive to do just that.
"What we would love to see," Sacks said during an appearance at Jerusalem's Lab theater last week, "is all the talented Jews in the world using their gifts on behalf of the Jewish people and for Israel. I think we have a great case and could do better to get it across to the world. By forging connections with people and being open, we can create a movement to use the media more effectively."
Shofar So Good is one of more than 20 films Sacks and his colleagues have produced in their quest to blend Jewish activism with quality production. The film starts with a man driving up to his garage door and trying desperately to open it with a remote control. He's about to give up when a Haredi man drives up beside him, blows his shofar, and the door magically opens. "In these high holy days, stick with what works," viewers read on the screen.
Among the other shorts is MLK, a brief documentary about Martin Luther King, Jr.'s support for Zionism and Israel, and 72 Virgins in which a terrorist "martyr" reaches heaven and is shocked by the appearance of a 72-year-old virgin rather than the 72 young women promised to some Islamic suicide bombers by their handlers. The short ends with a caption that reads, "Terrorism: It's ugly."
"I don't just want to make people laugh," Sacks said. "I want them to laugh [because they're gaining something from my work] ... I want to go to work to bring the world a little bit closer to completion."
Now in his mid-forties, Sacks said that Judaism has played an important role in both his personal life and career since he started keeping kosher in his twenties. "I think all artists are drawing down inspiration from above, and we're just a little more conscious about it than others," he said, referring to his colleagues at Jewish Impact Films, an organization he founded to spread positive messages about Israel and Judaism through creative media. Other members includes David N. Weiss, a co-writer of Shrek 2, Michael Borkow, a veteran of Friends and Roseanne, and Jason Venokur, an executive producer of Emmy-winning sitcom Third Rock from the Sun.
Sacks began his career in comedy as a college student, serving as an editor of the Harvard Lampoon, the college's famed humor magazine, while he pursued a degree in government. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation to write for television, later winning an Emmy for The Simpsons. He is now a producer of Malcolm in the Middle and a senior lecturer at The Happy Minyan, a prayer group in Los Angeles.
Jewish Impact Films posts members' projects on its website and offers a fellowship for young filmmakers interested in promoting Judaism and Zionism. Sacks sees the project as an important step toward modernizing Jewish and pro-Israel advocacy. "We've entered into a new age that can only be compared to the invention of the printing press," he said. "Things that used to take up a whole room are now available on a disk."
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