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Crowd Funding for Jews

January 8, 2013


A Jewish superhero may be coming back soon.


A few weeks before Hanukkah, a press release stated that the sequel to the Hanukkah movie, The Hebrew Hammer, was in the funding stage. The original Hebrew Hammer is about an Orthodox Jew named Mordechai Jefferson Carver (played by Adam Goldberg) who goes on a quest to save Hanukkah from Santa Claus’s evil son, Damian (played by Andy Dick.) The movie, featuring one of the few Jewish “superheroes” in movies, had its premiere in 2003 at the Sundance Film Festival but didn’t do well at the domestic box office. Yet, it started finding an audience on Comedy Central over the next few Hanukkahs, gaining acceptance and taking on “cult status” in the decade since.


 Writer/director Jonathan Kesselman received feedback from fans over the last decade, asking him if he was ever going to make another Hammer movie. “For the last ten years, on every job I ever got, everything I’ve ever done, fans are constantly telling me how much they love the movie,” he says. A few weeks ago, a kid came up to him and wanted to meet him because he said he was “inspired” by Kesselman.  So finally, this past fall, he bought out the movie rights and decided to finance and make the sequel himself.


Nearly ten years after the original film, Kesselman wrote a script called “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler,” The sequel takes place a decade later when Mordechai is no longer the Jewish superman that the kids on the block looked up to when he walked the streets of Brooklyn, wearing a long leather coat and a feather-topped fedora over his payis. Now he has a job selling trees to Israel for the Jewish Justice League in order to support his expecting wife. Mordechai is still neurotic and upset by everything, especially kids admiring the “Semitic Jewish Man” – another neighborhood hero whose name, Hammer kvetches, is not an alliteration or an acronym for anything!


When a plan goes kaput to send the Semitic Jewish Man to kill Hitler in a time-traveling Sukkah, it gives Hammer and the “Shaft”-like Mohammed Ali Paula Abdul Rahim, (also from the original movie,) a chance to travel through Jewish history and meet a who’s-who of historical characters, including Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Jesus, Anne Frank and Hitler.


To help fund what Kesselman calls “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure meets History of the World, which is my favorite Mel Brooks movie of all time,” he launched a crowd-sourcing campaign on the new, asking for $200,000 of the projected $1.5 million budget for “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler.” Various levels of funding, anywhere from $5 to $10,000, are suggested, including the Chai package, the Triple Chai, the Talmud, the Big Macher, Watch the Mohel Work, Dance the Hora, and the Mitzvah. Various levels feature incentives for those who donate, including signed scripts and DVDs, meeting the actors and director, spending a day on the set, and being involved in the making of the movie.


What is Jewcer? It is a crowd-funding platform, similar to Kickstarter, “that promotes collaboration and trust both within and around our community to develop and implement projects linked to the Jewish people and/or Israel.” Jewcer is open to hosting projects created by individuals as well as established organizations and synagogues and is designed to help finance innovative ideas through small pledges collected from many funders (jewcers.) Projects can come from any field — cultural, technological, secular or spiritual, a small business, a personal project or an advocacy campaign — as long as a positive link to the Jewish or Israel community is created. The network of jewcers and friends can track the impact of their small donations and follow the progress of the project they helped spark. Jewcer’s projects request either an all-or-nothing model for a specific monetary goal or a donation model. “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler” is looking for a minimum of $50,000 of its requested $200,000 by the end of January, 2013.


Jewcer was created by Amir Give’on, “a professional geek,” whose drive “stems from his passion for Israel advocacy and connecting Israelis with Jewish Americans” and Naomi Leight, Jewcer’s “resident diplomat,” who presents the site to media outlets, educators, professionals, and entrepreneurs in the Jewish and Israeli community. Jewcer began in March, 2012 and has raised more than $100,000 in contributions so far, tiny compared to Kickstarter. Yet, the site is beginning to be recognized in the Jewish community, partly because of the many worldwide fans of The Hebrew Hammer.


Writer/director Kesselman said it was tough getting funding for the first movie which helped steer him toward Jewcer this time around. “Everybody kept saying it was funny,” he recalled, “but too Jewish.” Kesselman wanted to make a Hammer sequel for a few years but had so much frustration with Hollywood that he spent much of the last decade, writing screenplays for numerous studios, directing commercials, and handling the creative advertising for the yogurt company, Red Mango.


Now, Kesselman believes his biggest contribution to the world is through laughter. “With all the insanity going on the world, I believe it’s important for things like ‘The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler’ to get made. It offers a loving look at American Jewish culture that connects with all audiences and ages. Laughter brings people together and makes the world feel a little less heavy.”  


ImageKesselman doesn’t shy away from controversy, all in the name of laughing at our preconceptions, making fun of stereotypes. His next “Jewxploitation” film is aimed for laughter while fulfilling revenge fantasy against Hitler, kind of a hyped-up comical Inglourious Basterds. His three-and-a-half minute fund-raising video on Jewcer shows his fearless, irreverent humor. “We will take Christian money, we will take Muslim money. Bernie Madoff, you wanna make good with the Jewish people? This is a start, give us money!” And the video concludes, ‘What, We Should Beg?’”


The crowd-funding platform Kesselman chose is not just for financing fictional films. Jewcer has successfully funded two documentaries, “Hummus Wars” and “The Strength to Tell,” as well as games for families in bomb shelters, an Israel comedy tour, the Jewish Family Channel, Embracing Wholiness for Jewish youth, the Israel Ambassador program for teens, and a web series called, “Dude, Where’s my Chutzpah? These are just a handful of the programs that have successfully raised their funding goals on Jewcer.


Today, many programs are trying to get funding on Jewcer, including “Hebrew Name Registry,” a Passover Bingo game, “Operation Pillar of Support” which helps “those most affected by Hamas terror,” and many more.


As the Jewcer website claims, “It’s Not Donation, It’s Participation!” Jewish crowd-funding is important for the Jewish and Israel community because it gives all sorts of Jewish innovators a chance to raise money without going through arduous legal or tax-exempt documentation. Jewcer claims that “each campaign you pledge money to, you are not just giving but you are receiving.”


Jewcer seeks to decrease the six-degrees of separation to one degree by linking Jews around the world and in Israel through innovative ideas. This is certainly timely and worth embracing. As Kesselman reitererates, can donating to Jewcer projects such as “The Hebrew Hammer vs. Hitler” make “the world feel a little less heavy?” Why not? It certainly cannot hurt.


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