Jennifer Love Hewitt with Jewish filmmaker.
(photo credit: Adam Segal/JTA)
NEW YORK - What was Elisabeth Moss, star of the AMC hit series “Mad Men”
and an avowed Scientologist, doing hanging out with a Lubavitcher Jew? They were
making a movie together to promote "tikkun olam," the Jewish value of repairing
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The product of their work, “A Buddy Story” -- a romantic drama
about a singer-songwriter who finds love on a weeklong trip with his neighbor --
is expected to make it to the silver screen next year.
It’s just one of
several films that Mark Erlbaum, an Orthodox "ba’al teshuvah," or returnee to
the faith, is making with Hollywood stars to promote positive messages to movie
“I am a religious person,” Erlbaum told JTA. “I very much
believe in tikkun olam and the core Jewish values of hope, self-sacrifice and
Aside from Moss, actors Jennifer Love Hewitt, Will
Ferrell and Jamie Kennedy are involved in film projects at Erlbaum’s production
company, Nationlight Productions.
“I adore Marc; he is such a wonderful
and funny man,” Moss told JTA in an interview. “He was the first interaction I
had with the Orthodox community. Although I was exposed to so many different
people growing up in New York, I didn’t know what to expect, but he is so cool
and funny. It was a terrific experience.”
The journey that brought
Erlbaum, 40, from the real estate business to independent filmmaking also had
something to do with the journey that transformed him from a casual Jew to an
Erlbaum discovered Orthodoxy during his college years, when
his father began bringing a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi to their Philadelphia home to
talk religion. Erlbaum hadn’t thought much about his Judaism, but he quickly
became captivated. The rabbi soon had a transformative effect on him and his two
In time he became strictly observant.
Erlbaum, along with his wife and family, embraced Orthodoxy.
worked at his family’s bridal chain and founded a Philadelphia real estate
agency before turning to writing. By 2005 he already had written, directed and
co-produced a short film.
In 2009, Erlbaum said, he decided to launch a film production
company “focused on creating inspiring, meaningful content for mainstream
audiences of all backgrounds and affiliations.” He sees his work as promoting
Erlbaum’s latest drama, “Cafe,” starring Hewitt and Kennedy, is
about a Philadelphia coffee shop where the stories of workers and customers
dealing with life challenges intersect to weave a web of spirituality. The film,
though not yet in wide release, was shown at the 2010 Philadelphia Film
“Although there is no explicit Jewish content in the film, the
values certainly guide the characters in their development,” Erlbaum
In addition to Moss, “A Buddy Story” features Orthodox Jewish
hip-hop star Matisyahu. The film was shot more than three years ago and is now
Erlbaum laments the fact
that Hollywood makes so few such films, and he recently started a Facebook
campaign to encourage studios to make more positive, family-oriented films with
uplifting messages. He also is starting a campaign he calls “Filmanthropy” to
encourage donors to support the production of films that promote the value of
“There is definitely a cynical edge to media, and we as a
society act accordingly, and that is too bad,” he said.
uplifting films, Erlbaum said, he hopes to increase the positivity that will
make people act more respectfully and kindly toward each other.
believe that everyone should be more thoughtful and giving,” he said. “We are
not here to push for Judaism. I believe that everybody can do something
significant for others, and I’m glad I have a medium like film to express that.”