Kids action hero espouses Jewish values as well

los angeles | Eight-year-old Sruli Slodowitz likes dressing up as his favorite hero — not Batman, Superman or even Harry Potter — but Agent Emes, the 11-year-old protagonist in a new mystery adventure video series for Jewish children.

Agent Emes, “an ordinary kid with an extraordinary mission,” studies in yeshiva by day and battles the forces of evil at night. As a yeshiva student he wears black pants, a white shirt and a yarmulke. At night, as Agent Emes, he dons a trench coat, fedora, mustache and sunglasses and he heads down to the Tov Me’od (Hebrew for very good) Headquarters by way of a revolving bookcase and foils the evil plans of Dr. Lo-Tov (Hebrew for no good).

“Agent Emes” videos are the latest attempt to do what some educators and Jewish producers say is absolutely necessary in this visual age — to give children Jewish content in a language they understand: the media.

While the Christian community has managed not only to entertain their own, but infiltrate the mainstream children’s video and film markets with funny series like the 3-D animated “Veggie Tales” series, which teaches theology and values to kids, the Jewish community is still struggling to find the money and vision to produce videos, DVDs and television shows that Jewish children will watch because they want to, not just because they have to.

“Jewish educational videos and DVDs for use in schools, camps or in Jewish homes are a very important complement to the other kind of learning that Jewish children engage in,” said Sara S. Lee, director of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. “I think that the Jewish videos are good, but they can’t compete with the millions of dollars that are invested [in children’s shows] for PBS. That’s unrealistic.”

But people like Leibel Cohen, the Pittsburgh filmmaker who produces the “Agent Emes” series, or Jay Sanderson, CEO of the Jewish Television Network (JTN) and executive producer of JTN’s “Aleph … Bet … Blastoff” puppet series, which is broadcast on public television and sold as videos, think the Jewish community can produce programming of which they don’t have to be embarrassed.

So far there are two “Agent Emes” episodes: “The Fish Head,” where Agent Emes makes the world safe for shofar- blowing by preventing Dr. Lo-Tov from creating rotten rams horns, and “Rabbi Napped,” where Agent Emes retrieves his kidnapped rebbe. A third is in the works.

Cohen produced the videos for $20,000 each, and though they have a certain corny sweetness to them, it’s possible that children raised on visual diets of gargantuan budget productions like “Finding Nemo” or “Toy Story” will be unimpressed. Nevertheless, the nascent series is fast becoming a hit in Orthodox homes across America,.

Some Orthodox parents say their children watch the videos repeatedly, and the “Agent Emes” Web site guestbook has myriad testimonies from people all around the world who profess their love for the videos.

While “Agent Emes” is at the mid- to lower-budgetary scale of Jewish children’s entertainment and primarily aimed at Orthodox households, the “Aleph … Bet … Blastoff” series, which costs JTN about $100,000 an episode to produce, is on par with a program like “Sesame Street” and is specifically aimed at children who are less educated about their Jewish identity. In these videos, the Mitzvah Mouse sprinkles the puppet children with magical matzah meal and takes them on journeys to meet famous Jewish people, like Abraham and Maimonides, and teaches them lessons about why it is cool to be Jewish. Sanderson estimates the shows have been watched by millions of children, and thinks the community should be producing more of them.

“Who is going to reach those kids who sit in front of a TV? The Jewish community has been afraid and reticent to speak the language that kids want spoken, which is media and which will make them feel like their identity is important.”

Information on “Agent Emes” is available at To learn more about the Jewish Television Network, visit