Shalom Sesame is a co-production between Sesame Street and its Israeli counterpart, Rechov Sumsum. The series was conceived as an attempt to bring Israeli life and Jewish culture to American audiences, and had a long gestation period. The brainchild of Lewis Bernstein, who had been instrumental in developing Rechov Sumsum, the series began with a 20 minute pilot, funded by a Revson Foundation grant. The pilot featured Mandy Patinkin and Mary Tyler Moore, contrasting their different levels of awareness about the culture, as they explored the language and customs of Israel with Jewish and non-Jewish children. Later installments would feature location shooting dominating over studio skits, and more exploration of the physical geography of Israel as well as its social and linguistic map. The first and to date only adaptation of an international co-production for English-speaking audiences, the series was targeted at an older age group than either Rechov Sumsum or Sesame Street, approximately 6 to 12.
The series starred porcupine Kippi Ben Kippod, and Moishe Oofnik, the Israeli counterparts, respectively, to Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. Benz, Arik, and Kermit Tzefarde, the Hebrew versions of Bert, Ernie and Kermit the Frog, were also highlighted and classic Bert and Ernie skits appeared in nearly every episode, but Jim Henson and Frank Oz never appeared as their characters in newly filmed material for the series. Big Bird, Oscar the Grouch and Grundgetta were the only American Muppets to appear in new material for Shalom Sesame. Violinist Itzhak Perlman was a frequent guest star. Other guest stars included American actors Sarah Jessica Parker, Jerry Stiller, Jeremy Miller, and Bonnie Franklin.
Both Hebrew and English were spoken on the program, and it was common to see American Muppet skits alternate between characters dubbed in Hebrew and speaking in the original English.
Initially, 26 episodes were planned in 1985, but only 5 full episodes were produced at that time. Although conceived for television, the initial episodes received video distributorship first. These first tapes were released by an unknown distributor, the only organization credited being The American Friends of Rechov Sumsum. The five episodes later made their TV debut in April 1988 in most markets. A second season of episodes was filmed in 1990 and debuted that year during Hanukkah, with video sales following. At this time, only three shows were produced. Several months later, a second half of episodes aired in 1991 around the Passover season. In a departure from the rest of the series, these final three shows were filmed in New York production facilites rather than in Tel Aviv, where the studio Rechov Sumsum was shot at was located. The series also aired on Israeli television, on EMTV, as Shalom Sumsum. Unlike the US version, there was no attempt at bilingualism. The Israeli puppeteers and performers re-looped their own dialogue in Hebrew, while the celebrity guests and other American performers were dubbed by local actors.
The first season of Shalom Sesame shows were first released on video in 1986. These five shows included the following:
- Show 1: The Land of Israel
- Show 2: Tel Aviv
- Show 3: Kibbutz
- Show 4: The People of Israel
- Show 5: Jerusalem
The second season of Shalom Sesame shows were produced in 1990. These six shows included the following:
- Show 6: Chanukah
- Show 7: Sing Around the Seasons
- Show 8: Journey to Secret Places
- Show 9: Aleph-Bet Telethon
- Show 10: Passover
- Show 11: Kids Sing Israel
The third season of shows were produced in 2009 and the first two episodes were released on DVD on October 5, 2010. Eric Jacobson performed Grover in this new set of shows and feature the Muppets from the 2006 revival of Rechov Sumsum. Anneliese van der Pol played the regular human co-star, with guests Christina Applegate, Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Stiller, Debra Messing, Greg Kinnear, Cedric the Entertainer, Debi Mazar, and Eva Longoria. Each DVD features a bonus feature, "Grover's Video Player." The shows are available in the United Kingdom by Wienerworld Ltd. in 2012.
- Show 1: Welcome to Israel
- Show 2: Chanukah: The Missing Menorah (with Debi Mazar)
- Show 3: Shabbat Shalom, Grover!
- Show 4: Grover Plants a Tree (with Greg Kinnear)
- Show 5: Mitzvah on the Street
- Show 6: Be Happy, It's Purim! (with Longoria Parker)
- Show 7: It's Passover, Grover! (with Jake Gyllenhaal)
- Show 8: Grover Learns Hebrew
- Show 9: Countdown to Shavuot
- Show 10: The Sticky Shofar
- Show 11: Monsters in the Sukkah
- Show 12: Adventures in Israel
- Anneliese, visiting from the United States
- Kobi, the antique shop owner
- Shoshana, owner of "Shoshana's Place", a coffee house
- Lemlem, a vegetable gardener
- Boris, who organizes sports and games
- ↑ Friedman, Thomas L. "U. S. May See Israeli Sesame Street." The New York Times. February 26, 1985
- ↑ Thomas, Jen "Big-name celebrities to appear on Jewish kids show." The Associated Press. August 26, 2009