If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine the impact the thousands of audio-visual pictures in a film can have on the minds and imaginations of impressionable children in Yeshivos and Day Schools throughout North America. Now Rabbi Yehoshua Leib Hill – better known as “Rebbee Hill” to the thousands of young (and not-so-young) fans worldwide of his thirty-plus audio dramatizations of parsha, historia, and inspiring Jewish stories – has partnered with Torah Umesorah to bring you his most professional, compelling film to date – Berel and the Bus Driver.
“We’re constantly on the lookout for innovative approaches to learning,” says Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz, the National Director of Torah Umesorah
Meeting professional standards in film production to create a film synonymous with Torah ideals would demand an enormous outlay of talent, expertise, and effort, most of which would be breaking new ground throughout.
Rebbee Hill says, “Our world has become so much more frenetic, full of dangerous influences and distractions. I realized the time had come for a film crafted with the combined efforts of professional talent and mechanchim that could enflame and inspire with unparalleled immediacy and power.”
Rebbee Hill began work on The Legend of the Klei Yakar, writing, directing, and performing the story of the great sage. For Berel and the Bus Driver, caravans, deserts, and camels of the Klei Yakar story faded away, to be replaced with their modern-day counterparts: bikers, bears, airplanes, and a host of hilarious characters.
The partnership between Torah Umesorah began at a Torah Umesorah School Shabbaton in Dallas, Texas. As a proven and well-loved entertainer and educator—statistics suggest that a Rebbee Hill CD is replayed more than twenty times, on average—Hill was a natural choice for the event. Also present at the Shabbaton were Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz and Rabbi Avrohom Fruchthandler, National Director and Member of the Presidium of Torah Umesorah, respectively. They watched as Rebbee Hill mesmerized the crowd with eight enthusiastic presentations for both the adults and children attendees. By the end of the weekend, Rabbi Nojowitz proposed that Hill and Torah Umesorah collaborate on further projects.
About a week before Succos, Rabbi Zvi Bloom, Executive Director of Torah Umesorah, informed Rebbee Hill that Torah Umesorah would partner in the enterprise, both in financing Berel and the Bus Driver and releasing the final film to schools and communities across North America.
Thanks to Torah Umesorah, Rebbee Hill now had the opportunity. Within two weeks after Yom Tov, the script had been locked, they had a film crew together, and they were ready to start eight intense days of shooting.
Lakewood Committeeman Meir Lichtenstein arranged for Hill’s crew, actors, and equipment to have the entire town of Lakewood at their disposal, while local businesses gladly opened their doors; after noted mechanech Rabbi Yisroel Gelbwachs reviewed the script and saw its tremendous potential, he graciously allowed some of the film to be shot on the grounds of his school, Yeshiva Tiferes Torah. Production headquarters and many of the indoor sets shared the same roof, a vacant house offered by friend Moshe Mendlowitz for the duration of the project. Mr. Spiro provided the most unusual item, the star of the show: a fully-operational ice cream truck. Nearly all of the actors were friends of Hill’s and fellow Lakewood residents.
The most important preparation of all did not involve actual equipment or script, however. In preparation, he learned many seforim on Kedushas Shabbos–particularly Rabbi Shimshon Pincus’s Sefer Nefesh Shimon–numerous times before beginning the film. Additionally, the script was reviewed and revised by a well respected mechanech before any footage was shot.
Thanks to Torah Umesorah, the distribution scheme for the film represents a refreshingly new approach as well. Instead of being shipped directly to stores for purchase, the film will be released over Chanukah to hundreds of schools nationally.
Rabbi Zvi Bloom notes, “What we’re doing is giving every Torah Umesorah school across the country the opportunity to provide enthralling entertainment to their students and communities by selling very reasonably-priced tickets to their viewers… and then giving a percentage of ticket sales back to the schools themselves.” It’s a win-win situation where everyone benefits both financially and spiritually: parents won’t have to spend excessively for their children’s activities, while schools will have a potent tool for further discussion and learning.”
Hill agrees. “It’s an excellent innovative tool to be added to the chinuch field,” he says. If the sneak preview shown to this reporter is any indication, he may well be right. This Chanukah may prove to be a watershed event indeed.
Schools and communities interested in premiering Berel and the Bus Driver may contact Torah Umesorah at [email protected]
(YWN Desk – NYC)