When crisps are not kosher

28th February 1997 at 00:00
Pathways of Belief: Judaism BBC2 Mondays 9.30-9.45am Age range: 7-9

Gary is not your average 12 or 13-year-old, much as he might try to present himself as a football-playing, bike-riding kind of guy. Come to think of it, Jeremy and Sarah aren't that normal either. They're all a bit too chirpy, cheerful, wholesome and keen, the combination of which will probably induce a fair bit of sniggering among the very people with whom they are attempting to communicate.

But once they get into their stride, the content overtakes the wrapping. Gary, Jeremy and Sarah are the presenters of a three-part series on Judaism for BBC Education's Pathways of Belief and the story they have to tell should be compelling enough for even the most skittish and sceptical of seven to nine-year-olds.

Gary's brief is God, which is a pretty big subject for such a young chap. But the young Scottish Jew handles it admirably, with a little help from an animation of Abraham, mama's Shabbat cooking and even old grandpa, who gamely listens as Gary and his dad sing "Bye Bye Love" to a synthesizer in an old people's home as an illustration of "mitzva", or good deed. If that's a good deed, I'd like to see the punishment.

The second programme looks at the Torah. Jeremy is not quite as cringingly earnest. Maybe it's because he is about to be Bar Mitzva and has bigger gefilte fish to fry. He narrates the process of this most important rite of passage, as we watch him variously rehearse with his rabbi, comically rebel against trying on suits with his bossy mum and, finally and movingly, read out his passage of the Torah in the presence of family and friends.

Thankfully, a girl gets a crack at things in the final programme. Sarah presents the predictably soft issue of the family, although in the Jewish religion it is the foundation from which you engage with God and the laws of the Torah.

Sarah's is an interesting snapshot of the daily realities of Jewish observance. Her parents have a Guide to the Really Jewish Kitchen, for use when in doubt about what is, and is not, kosher. But there does not seem to be much doubt in her household. Two separate kitchens delineate dairy from meat, as laid down in Jewish law, although, oddly, the explanation of why they should be separate is omitted.

A jazzy song and animation give us the dos and don'ts: "You got to have a split hoof . . . The rabbit is a no-no . . . And so are pigs who play in mud."

As if the kosher laws were not enough, Sarah goes through the Passover story and dietary laws that further complicate observant Jews' lives (even crisps have to be specially kosher for Passover) but, as we see, give so much pleasure besides.

The animated story of the Jews' enslavement under Pharaoh and eventual exodus from Egypt to the Land of Israel studiously avoids references to modern Zionism, but leads elegantly to a look at Sarah's family tree, showing how her ancestors have been scattered across the world "because of difficulties".

This is a series that is the sum of its parts. The three young presenters who bring their own particular experiences and personalities to the programmes - however blindingly sunny at times - help to deconstruct the intricacies of Judaism in a way that is accessible and engaging for young audiences.

Teachers are given useful guidance in the thoughtfully designed teachers' notes written by Laurie Rosenberg of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Judaism will be repeated on Friday mornings at 10.45am from April 18

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