From “Shabot 6000” the Jewish robot to lessons in 20 ways to use matzah besides eating it and spoofs of popular songs like “Tequila” and “Da Club,” William Levin’s viral videos have been around and around the virtual block. Having credited most of these to a pseudonym for years, however (“Ben Baruch”), Levin himself is a somewhat anonymous guy.
William Levin — and yes, that is his real name — is a quite real person: He’s around 40, lives in the Park Slope area of Brooklyn, NY with his wife, and besides making the funny videos he’s best-known for, he’s also a busy writer and animator — mostly for children’s television (whereas his viral videos are decidedly NOT intended for children).
How Levin mostly describes himself at the moment, however, is as a wannabe dad.
“It’s something my wife and I both wish for and dream about and talk about and think about all the time,” says Levin. “We would really love to become parents. We may actually be the only non-parents and non-pregnant people to have visited so many potential schools. We’ve gotten used to announcing it in advance, the fact that we don’t actually have kids yet and are not yet expecting.”
Thinking seriously about starting a family is a big focus in his personal life, but given that he works mostly in children’s television, Levin says his wish for children impacts his work as well.
“I think about the way my father and I share a sense of humor,” Levin continues, “and in turn I’ve always assumed that, one day, when I have my own children, they will share a similar sense of humor with me. I keep that in mind while I’m writing and animating content for kids, betting that these hypothetical future children of mine will one day laugh at and learn from the things I’m creating. Therefore, looking toward being a father one day, I suppose I have a stronger desire to stay true to my own creative visions.”
Levin’s long-term goal for his work in children’s programming is to bring more truth and reality into the mix. “I would like to develop content around themes that most American children’s programs shy away from, such as sexuality, abuse, injury and death. This may seem shocking or morbid, but I have observed that many parents consider these important topics too taboo to discuss with young children, so those children may develop a skewed perspective on such matters as they grow up. I think that perhaps if these issues were presented to children more casually and at a younger age, instead of with such reserve and with the notion that kids aren’t mature enough to handle it, they’d grow up feeling more confident and adjusted.
“Children’s content today, sadly, seems more P.C. than what I grew up watching. I’m not sure if increasingly sheltering our children is an improvement. I had a pretty liberal parentage; I was allowed to watch TV without a lot of censorship. Of course, I had a very free childhood.”
Levin had a somewhat unusually idyllic upbringing on the Jewish Alliance of Vineland, South New Jersey. An interesting footnote in American history, the Alliance was one of the first Jewish agricultural colonies in the U.S., founded in the late 1800s by some forty families that fled the pogroms of Russia with the help of French and Belgian philanthropists.
“Both my parents being children of farmers, I grew up with a lot of nature. My favorite thing to do growing up, actually, was fishing with my dad at the Alliance beach. My dad would let me keep whatever fish I caught. Even if I caught a catfish or eel which was inedible [because of kosher dietary restrictions], I could take it home.
“My childhood was filled with endless walks along creeks, picking up snakes and turtles. I know that my own kids’ relationship to nature will be slightly different, since it’s our goal to stay here in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We’d like to find a place to live close to Prospect Park, though, which makes for a fine introduction to nature and the outdoors. It’s like having a 585-acre backyard, with trails and streams and a variety of wildlife!”
“I remember one particularly memorable time from childhood when I was fishing with my dad and he cut his foot. He drove himself to the hospital with his foot hanging out the window because it was bleeding so much. My dad is elderly now, but I have a lot of pleasant memories — even though many of them involve injuries,” Levin punctuates this declaration with laughter, and then a long pause. “My dad was always saving us.”