This story was published on Thursday, April 15, 2004.

School project morphs into award-winning film

by Eric Fingerhut
Staff Writer

Thirty-six Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy eighth-graders started by drawing a picture of what Israel meant to them. About 900 drawings later, they had an award-winning video.

The animated production, titled Israel, won first place in the middle school instructional video category at the Montgomery County Schools Media Festival last month. That came as a pleasant surprise to many of the participating students, now ninth-graders at the school.

"I was shocked, I didn't know it was entered in the contest," said Debbie Kobrin, who said that the finished product turned out "a lot better than I expected" it would when the group created the video last spring.

The video project was part of the Rockville school's "Israel Week," an annual Yom Ha'atzmaut event during which both the secular and Judaic studies curricula focus on the Jewish state -- from reading Israeli literature in English class to using statistics about Israel during math.

Working with the school's Deborah Lerner Gross Jewish Cultural Arts Center, artist-in-residence Leila Cabib said that after the students drew their representations of Israel, she looked at the pictures they created and tried to figure out possible ways the drawings could connect to each other.

Each student then was asked to do at least 30 to 40 more drawings -- Cabib said some did double that -- to "morph" their picture into the next. And using a camera and a tool called the Video LunchBox Sync, Cabib made the art into a animated video.

Becky Silberman said it was "really cool the way it [was] all put together."

Silberman, who drew bees and a jar of milk to represent Israel as the "land of milk and honey," said she is "not that great of an artist," but "after [looking at] the finished product, it looks like one person did the whole thing."

Dasi Fruchter said that the process was, at times, tedious, but said that the more pictures one drew, the better the film looked.

"It gets a little choppy" when there are not enough drawings in the morphing process, she said, but "we all helped each other."

Fruchter -- who drew a man floating in the Dead Sea that morphed into a dove on a peace branch -- said the finished video, encompassing three dozen academy students' views of Israel, was "really inspirational." She explained that it was filled with interpretations of the Jewish state -- from Abraham in a tent to the destruction of the Temple -- that did not come to her mind when she thought of Israel.

And she said it was "awesome" to see the video shown in a place like the American Film Institute Silver Theater in Silver Spring, where the award ceremony took place.

Rena Fruchter, Dasi's mother and director of the academy's cultural arts center, said the project was effective because the students were taking a subject they have learned about for years and were "giving it a new life ... injecting a little bit of ruach [spirit] ... absorbing Israel images in a new way."

Cabib, a freelance illustrator and instructor who works in other Montgomery County schools, said she already has a new animation theme -- featuring Hebrew letters -- picked out for "Israel Week" at the academy later this month.

Kobrin, who drew one raindrop to symbolize the small amount of precipitation Israel receives and 65 more pictures that were used to morph it into a cactus plant, said that after being part of the effort that went into making a two-minute video, it is "mind-boggling" to imagine how much work is necessary to produce a half-hour cartoon on television.

Suzanne Mazel had a similar reaction, saying she now understands why a show like The Simpsons might take months to produce.

"I see how hard animators have to work," she said.

The video Israel will be shown on Montgomery County Cable Channel 21 frequently in the next few weeks, including today at 5:30 p.m., April 17 at 2:30 p.m., April 26 at 6 p.m., April 30 at 7 p.m. and May 2 at 10:30 a.m.