An illustration from Shabbos Schmabbos?
An illustration from Shabbos Schmabbos?

That Shabbat feeling

David Filmore describes Shabbat as the perfect day to separate oneself from the hassles of the regular week. But as a kid, he wanted to do more on Shabbat than sit in synagogue. He wanted to go on adventures. So, he wrote a book about how to embrace Shabbat and the adventurous spirit. Jessica Abelsohn spoke to the filmmaker and author about Shabbos Schmabbos?

Melbourne-born, US-based David Filmore loves Shabbat. While he originally attended Yeshivah College, his family moved to Warrandyte in Melbourne’s East when Filmore was 10. But, he explained, the family were still active in the Jewish community in St Kilda, often visiting for yom tov. To this day though, he admits, that while he loved Shabbat as a child, he was often “bored out of my mind”.

“I was always obsessed with action and adventure movies like Indiana Jones and Star Wars, and I think they kind of reset my base entertainment level to an impossibly high standard,” he told The AJN.

So, it’s no surprise that he ended up in America to pursue a career in film and television. While he worked mainly on documentaries and live action, he eventually expanded into animation. His latest animated project, Pancake Picnic, has been selected for 20 film festivals around the world, including an Oscar-qualifying festival, and won three awards. Filmore describes it as a “Looney Tunes-type comedy with a non-linear narrative”.

But, back to Shabbat.

When recalling how he coped with Shabbat as a child, Filmore explained that he needed to be active and adventurous all the time.

“You could say that I had Death Star-level shpilkes. I wanted to be out playing Jedi and climbing buildings,” he said. “I loved that Shabbos provided the time to do all the things that I wanted to do. Having a day that is a deliberate separation from all the hassles of the regular week is a genius concept. I just didn’t want to be told how I should be spending that time.”

So, together with his mother, Maria Leonard, he wrote a book for children who may be struggling like he did.

“The main character in our book Shabbos Schmabbos? is essentially me,” Filmore explained. “She finds herself stuck at home and bored on Shabbos. All she wants to do is have fun and explore the world. So together with her friends, she goes on an adventure, and uses her creativity to learn how wonderful Shabbos can be.”

Filmore explained that creating the book took a number of years. Filmmaking keeps him quite busy and Maria is a full-time artist so it became a passion project that was worked on after hours.

While Filmore took care of the narrative, Maria took on the illustrations.

“I did countless drafts of the story before it reached a point where we were happy with it. After we had that foundation, we started on the illustrations. I treated it a bit like making a movie. I storyboarded the whole book with broad sketches detailing the main story points. And then broke it down further into its three distinct acts,” Filmore recalled.

“The final illustrations were definitely the hardest part, seeing that I live in Los Angeles, and my mum lives in Melbourne. We more-or-less did all the drawings via email. My mother sketched everything with ink and watercolours, and then sent me scans of her work.”

Each new version of the drawings was marked up and sent back and forth. And, he said, it helped that like every “nice Jewish boy” he called his mother every week after Shabbat to check in. It proved to be the perfect time to chat about the book as well.

When asked if he could share any anecdotes about the writing process, Filmore was pretty adamant in saying “always listen to your mother”.

“Oftentimes if we were stuck with a story point, or drawing, my mum would come up with the perfect solution,” he said, explaining that readers may notice a little teddy bear sitting on the couch on page three. He actually wasn’t part of the original book.

“When we were illustrating that page, I mentioned that the couch looked kind of empty, and needed something extra. Immediately, my mother drew in that little bear, and he fit perfectly. After that, every page seemed empty without our new fuzzy little friend getting into some kind of shenanigans. He steals every scene that he is in, and every page that he visits instantly comes alive.”

The pair have even received feedback that little readers are constantly on the lookout for the teddy bear and he has become their favourite character in the whole book.

Ultimately, the aim for the book is to create a story that families can enjoy together, and of course, to cultivate a love of Shabbat.

“There are a lot of rules around exactly how to do Shabbos. But I wanted to emphasise that even if you can’t do Shabbos ‘perfectly’, there is immense value in doing it your way. You can make Shabbos your own, while still honouring the spirit and intent of Shabbos at the same time,” he said. “Since the book was released, we have received lots of supportive emails and comments from readers around the world. Parents have told us their kids are more excited about Shabbos and look forward to lighting candles on Friday night. Another common theme is parents telling us that our book helped inspire their kids to go outside and play, instead of looking at the internet or cell phone all day. We weren’t expecting to hear that, but it is a wonderful reward to receive.”

Shabbos Schmabbos? is available to purchase via Amazon:

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