Once upon a time, Paul Mones made his mark in Hollywood working with the likes of Patrick Swayze, Robert Downey Jr., Samuel L. Jackson, Steve Martin, Alec Baldwin, Helena Bonham Carter, Kevin Bacon, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, James Spader, Mickey Rourke, Willem Dafoe, Jean Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal, and other A-list actors and producers. He wrote a novel, A Song for Modern Man. He produced and directed original plays off-Broadway, one of which, The Beat, became his movie directorial debut, produced with Jon Kilik, Nick Wechsler, and Julia Phillips. The work led to a series of blockbuster and award-winning feature films, fame and fortune, and eventually, he says, “I was killing myself slowly with drinking.”
In 2002, Paul Mones left Hollywood for Jerusalem and began his journey back to his identity as Moshe Paul Mones. “I was always Moshe Mones and Paul Mones and was always searching for my connection with HaShem,” says the Newark, N.J. native and son of a Holocaust survivor mother from Romania. “I always believed. I was a rebellious teen but still was exploring all these paths.”
This month, Mones and executive producer Darren Schwartz – 26Entertainment – will debut their film, Dovid Meyer, at the Moondance International Film Festival in Mystic.
Their production company, named for the Gematria’s numerical equivalence for the Hebrew word HaShem – a name for God – combines Yiddishkeit and mass media for one sole purpose, Mones says. “Our mission is to open people up and let them know that when you live with a God-consciousness, everything takes on a magic quality, a holiness.”
The film tells the story of the Kalmans, a proper British, secular Jewish family, who hire an au pair for their two young children. Hoping for a real-life Mary Poppins, the family is in for a shock when the au pair who turns up on their doorstep is Dovid Meyer, a 13-year-old Chassidic Israeli orphan. The Kalmans agree to keep young Dovid for at least a few days, not knowing that he is about to turn their lives upside down and inside out. Dovid Meyer shows how one boy – full of life, humor, and faith – brings a Jewish and spiritual awakening to the Kalmans, unites two desperate families, and spreads his wisdom and wonder and magic into our world.
Since leaving Hollywood, Mones has become more open to the idea that God often has different plans for him. He became a teacher in upstate New York, creating Mythix, experiential learning programs for public and private schools. He started and ran a summer day camp at Woodstock Day School. After his first visit to Jerusalem, he dedicated himself to Jewish study, traveling the world to seek out rabbis and institutions. He started the Woodstocker Jewish Creative Center and a chavrusa (Jewish study group) in Woodstock, N.Y., where he now resides. In 2009, he received the lay title of Rabbi by the Krula Rebbe Moshe Gross (Brooklyn) and Rabbi Avraham Sender Goldberg z”l (Jerusalem). In 2010, Mones and a group of Woodstockers opened the Tinker Street Shul in the heart of Woodstock.
That year, Mones developed a serious illness and was forced to give up his rabbinical work. By 2011, he was bed-ridden and preparing for hospice. An English doctor appeared out of nowhere, landing in upstate New York after working for years in Saudi Arabia. Friends brought Mones to the physician, who pronounced that he could cure the rabbi of the Lyme Disease that had invaded his brain and neurological system.
Within a month, Mones was well, but had lost his shul and livelihood. “I was trying to figure out what to do; I was wondering why I had spent all that time in the movie business and studying to become a rabbi,” he says. That’s when the two vocations were brought together. Mones’s rabbi, Avraham Sender Goldberg, introduced him to Darren Schwartz, a successful businessman and philanthropist who had also returned to Judaism.
“We’re talking about job opportunities and all of a sudden Darren says, ‘I have a book for you to read,’ goes off somewhere, and brings back Dovid Meyer: The Orphan from Jerusalem. He says, ‘I always thought it would make a great movie.’”
Mones read the book and agreed – “It’s a postcard to Judaism,” he says – and Schwartz suggested that the two write a script.
“Talk about ‘from shamayim’ (from heaven)” Mones says: “all of a sudden I’m on a movie set, Darren’s learning how to put together the financing as executive producer; we’ve got an A-plus crew and cast of New York actors, and now we have a movie and are going out into the world with it. It was literally a blessing, a gift, a miracle – from start to finish.”
There’s an old joke Mones tells: The president of a temple complains to the rabbi that they have a mouse problem and the rabbi says, “Let me bar-mitzvah them.” The president thinks the rabbi is crazy, but is willing to try anything. The rabbi bar-mitzvahs all the mice, placing a tiny kippah and tallis on each. The mice leave the synagogue and never come back.
“I remember sitting in the shul where I grew up on Yom Kippur and not understanding,” he says. “They didn’t explain so much in those days in this particular shul and in many shuls what the heck was going on; there was no spiritual koach, strength, to it. I remember thinking, ‘God’s outside too, why am I sitting here with all these people being uncomfortable for so long?’ Unfortunately, there’s a very dry presentation of the Torah out there in the world that a lot of people, certainly in my generation, experienced.”
As an antidote, Mones hopes to share his love of Judaism with a mass audience through film. “There’s a lot of Jewish content in popular media today, but I’m not interested in things like Curb Your Enthusiasm or Schindler’s List, where Jews are schlemiels or victims,” he says. “It’s time we stand up and be proud; that’s what we’re supposed to be doing – being Jews in the world and being a light unto nations. We’re a people who have a different calling in life, whether we accept it or not. We are also warriors, we win Nobel Prizes, we create movements; we created the movie business. We’re storytellers with a lot of stories to tell, and I believe that we should celebrate our contributions and not feel ashamed.”
Dovid Meyer debuts at the Moondance International Film Festival in Mystic on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. For more information: moondancefilmfestival.com / (860)-245-8059
To view a trailer of Dovid Meyer: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/111727/Dovid%20Meyer%20Trailer.mov
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