Berel Solomon was assaulted during a drug deal that went bad. He got kicked out of a Jewish camp for being drunk a month short of his 18th birthday. He dated many women but it caused nothing but heartbreak.
In his fascinating and inspiring documentary “Orthodoxed,” which can be seen on YouTube and has garnered more nearly 480,000 views, Solomon tells the tale of how he grew up having pork chops on Friday night with his family for Shabbat dinner and lived the party life at a nightclub. He even booked the famous Jewish rapper, Drake, and felt that by bringing many youths to a Montreal nightclub, he had found his calling.
But when the premiere for a pilot episode of his reality television show aired at a party with paparazzi, he felt empty. Money from the club-promoting life allowed him to stop dealing marijuana, but when he felt spiritually lost, he searched for spirituality in all religions and found it in Judaism.
He describes a positive feeling when he walked to shul for Shabbat, and being impressed by the singing of the cantor. In the film, for some reason they use a track of someone singing “Kol Nidre,” but we will let that slide. There is a great segment where Cantor Boaz Davidoff sings while playing guitar. Davidoff apparently told him to speak to G-d in the forest and Solomon “thought the guy was mental” but still took the advice. He also went to the Ohel, the resting place of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, where Solomon says, he felt greatly inspired after he poured out his heart and wrote a letter and felt “a light like I never experienced before.”
He also loved to come for Shabbat lunch to the home of Rabbi Ronnie Fine, who took him to the Ohel. The film is dedicated to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The opening scene is an interesting juxtaposition of fingers rolling a marijuana joint and then lighting a Havdalah candle to show his spiritual progression. The documentary is light on details for how exactly Solomon helped his father’s business, but it’s not so crucial. What is important is Solomon decided to go to yeshiva.
“We thought it was a brainwashing operation,” his father says in the film, but Solomon’s parents eventually let him go to learn for a year in Jerusalem. He took videos of different places on his journey in Israel. He says he was one of the best students in his yeshiva, whereas he was one of the worst students when he went to high school. After yeshiva, he was embarrassed about his beard and some in his father’s office said he might not be the right person to send to make a business deal in New Mexico. The CEO of that company was Mike Weinstein and Solomon recounts that he put tefillin on Weinstein for his first time and told him “Mazel Tov, you just had your bar mitzvah.” He said it was the largest deal in the history of his father’s company.
“I went as a Jew and I came back as a Jew, proud,” Solomon says.
Solomon then went on shidduch dates, and he says he’d been in 20 relationships with women that were akin to being in 20 divorces even though he was never married. He went out with matches that didn’t work out and he worried he might not find his bashert, until he saw a profile of a woman named Eliana. Despite that the fact that she lived in Panama and he’d never been to Latin America, he was not discouraged. He flew out to see her and after several dates, they knew they were meant for each other.
“We just clicked; I didn’t have to try,” his wife Eliana says.
Rabbi Levi Raskin, of Chabad House of Cote St. Luc, says Solomon and his wife have been “true partners” to the work they do with teenagers.
In a world of media where recent shows or films feature people leaving religion, Solomon’s is a fine counterbalance. While Solomon and his wife are critical of the Netflix show “My Unorthodox Life,” they should be praised for not simply complaining but rather making a documentary showing their experience.
Solomon says people told him that wearing a yarmulke would limit his business opportunities, but he says the result was the opposite.
The 29-year-old executive business coach and entrepreneur started numerous companies and founded Wealthy Commercials. He clearly has a fire in his heart. Let’s hope he can follow up this movie with a reality series. The documentary is a tight 56 minutes and there is no doubt there’s a lot more material Solomon can use: Perhaps a fresh interview with Drake and more details about his coaching business. Perhaps in-depth scenes showing how he gives of his time by going back to his old high school and inspiring people to want to pray every day. He clearly kept the film short to pack a punch.
While it is more common than one would think to go from one extreme to the other, it is not common for someone to put themselves out to the public and openly admit to things they regret.
Solomon appears to have definitely had an energy or protein shake before filming, and sustains his excitement throughout. He comes off as hopeful for others without being arrogant. He is clearly a powerhouse who has done good things and has many more to do. Filled with passion, humor and authenticity, this is a rare film that praises being religious and it is one to be proud of. If Solomon chooses to make a series, I’d like to see where some of his struggles might be, be it davening every day or becoming strictly kosher.
We know then when people are troubled in their youth there is not always a fairy-tale ending – a person secure in his heart with religious belief, able to build a family, have a good job and inspire others. Finally, here is a film with a positive ending. Thankfully, Solomon doesn’t slam his worldview in the face of the viewer but rather invitingly opens the door to let his unique journey be seen.