Special needs and the Jewish community

Special needs and the Jewish community

Sinai hopes animated feature will go viral

A cel from the new Sinai Schools new animated video.

The more than 850 people who attended the Sinai Schools dinner this past Sunday witnessed the launch of the school’s new animation campaign.

According to managing director Sam Fishman – whose front-row seat enabled him to watch the faces of guests viewing the animated story – reaction to the piece was “overwhelmingly positive.”

“At first, they didn’t know what to make of it,” he said, noting that the feature – something he had dreamed of making for a long time – depicts the journey of a child from despair to hope. Held back by learning disabilities, the force of stigma, and the high costs of special education, he ultimately finds Sinai, here personified by an adult character with a strong resemblance to Dean Yisrael Rothwachs.

(That is no coincidence, joked Fishman, who admitted that he showed a Jewish Standard photograph of the rabbi to the animator when they were making the feature. He also concedes that he may well have used his own son, a former Sinai student, as the model for the child.)

“The boy’s progress is choreographed to the music,” which, he said, is alternately haunting, tranquil, soaring, daunting, and foreboding. “Visually, we use a ball and chain to depict the weight of learning disabilities. The sound effects are intense.”

In addition, he said, “We use gale force winds to depict stigma, because stigma is an invisible, yet insidious and powerful force. A padlocked door depicts the reality that many children are shut out of receiving a Jewish special education because of high costs.”

It is Fishman’s hope that the animated feature, which can be viewed at sinaischools.org/story, will go viral, raising awareness of the need for, and high costs of, Jewish special education. To that end, the school has created a Facebook incentive campaign.

Anyone who shares, likes, or posts a link to the film on his or her Facebook page will automatically be entered into a raffle for an Apple iPad2. In addition, said Fishman, an anonymous donor has pledged to give a dollar to Sinai every time someone “likes” the feature on Facebook.

“Just click the button on our website to ‘like’ it,” he said, adding that videos have always been an important part of how Sinai communicates its message to the community.

Films telling the stories of selected students and their families are traditionally screened at the group’s annual dinner and “have always had a powerful impact on our audience.” The school’s most recent videos, screened on Sunday, are available on its website.

The animation campaign has already had its first success, said Fishman.

“I received a call from a prospective parent who saw the animation. She said that she has known about Sinai for years and has always been afraid to call us because of the high costs. But because of the animation, she followed up online and saw that we do award scholarships to 80 percent of our parents…. I was able to establish the beginning of a working relationship with her, and if it turns out that Sinai is educationally appropriate for her son, I am hopeful that we will be able to meet her financial needs and help her son.”

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