Todd Shotz-The Jewish Kevin Bacon

By Debra Rich Gettleman

Todd Shotz is like the Jewish Kevin Bacon. No matter who you are, if you’re Jewish, you are somehow connected to him in less than six degrees. We found shared connections with dear friends in La Jolla, after about 42 seconds.

Maybe his gift of creating community wherever he goes is because he’s just the warmest, most delightful fellow you’ll ever meet. You can literally imagine developing a lifelong friendship from colliding with his shopping cart in the supermarket or sitting next to him at a shiva minyan Smart. Funny. Hamish. that’s Todd Shotz in a nutshell.

And that’s just the surface. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find a wildly successful TV and film producer, Jewish educator, Hollywood consultant, and Bar Mitzvah businessman. He hobnobs with celebrities and was part of the production team behind “Recipe for Change: Standing Up to Antisemitism.” The YouTube special, which was recognized by the TV Academy with the Daytime Emmy, is hosted by Idina Menzel, Ilana Glazer & Moshe Kasher and brought together an impressive lineup of celebrities and thought leaders to discuss the rise of antisemitism and celebrate Jewish heritage, identity, & culture. If you haven’t seen it, here’s the link. You’re very welcome.

I spoke to Todd while he was in Italy for a Bar Mitzvah for one of his students. Todd founded a company called “Hebrew Helpers,” a nationwide Jewish Studies program that provides personalized education to students of all backgrounds and affiliations. For their Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs, they pair students with local mentors who guide them through the B’nai Mitzvah process from start to finish. They can assist students in preparing for traditional synagogue services and also specialize in creating personalized private services all over the globe.

Hebrew Helpers can guide B’nai Mitzvah families in planning the details of the service, including structure and content. But that’s not all. They can supply the officiant (which often ends up being the mentor.) They can design personalized prayer books, help you pick an exotic venue, and even assist in hiring musicians. They also provide specialized learning for students who have not found success fitting into traditional B’nai Mitzvah training programs. They’re kind of like party planners, but with purpose. They are passionate about Hebrew language learning and working through the meaningful study and prep that comes with B’nai Mitzvah training. But, at the same time, they can set you up for a service anywhere in the world. They’ve already created meaningful services for families in Prague, London, Venice, Hawaii, and Tahoe to name a few hot spots.

So how did all this begin? Well, Todd grew up in Elkins Park, right outside of Philadelphia. His earliest Hebrew school training included leaning trope. So, by the time he was 14, he was tutoring younger kids. They also had a Torah Club at his synagogue that believed in building a community of Torah readers and he snagged his first paid position there.

Flash forward to New York City where Todd worked on Broadway as a company manager. And while he loved theatre, it wasn’t quite footing his bills.  Trying to find a way to make ends meet, Todd recounts, “My mom kept saying to me, ‘You have this skill that no one has. You can teach trope and Torah.’”

Like all good Jewish boys, Todd actually listened to his mother and started teaching on the side. He got so busy, he had to hire other teachers and without realizing it, his company began to form.

Well, you can take the boy out of the theatre. But you can never take theatre out of the boy and when Todd was offered the role of tour manager for “Kiss Me Kate” a 55 week tour that hit 27 cities across the US, He couldn’t refuse. “It was great,” he shares. “And it opened my eyes to the rest of the country.” At 27 years old Todd had traveled a bit with his parents. But he recognized, “I knew what New Yorkers were like. And I was just going to live in New York for the rest of my life. It was that sort of tunnel vision. But I really loved so many of these other cities.”

After two months in LA, Todd knew he’d been bitten by the Hollywood bug. At the urging of his brother, who was there pursuing a film and television career, Todd decided to move to LA.

He took his time to find the right position. He used his networking prowess to learn about the biz and started applying for jobs in film and TV. He simultaneously put a small ad in the Jewish Journal touting his Bar Mitzvah lessons. He got calls. Word of mouth spread, and Todd’s visibility grew.

He also landed a great job at Bruce Willis’s Production Company. It helped land the job when he interviewed the President of the company who turned out to be a friend of a friend. Their 20-minute tête-à-tête went on for an hour and a half during which they kibbitzed in Hebrew and made plans to go to services together. I’m telling you; this guy is a born connector.

“I love a small world story,” Todd tells me. “And I think it’s comforting to know that you basically can meet family wherever you go. Whatever that means to you. You’re mishpocha, you know? The extended mishpocha.”

And the crazy thing is that Todd Shotz made me feel like I was part of his family during our hour-long interview.  I had originally set aside 20 minutes. But neither of us wanted to end the conversation.  So, on we went.

He told me about Rabbi Sharon Brous, who had founded the leading-edge congregation of IKAR in Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, Todd grew up with her husband in Philadelphia. She asked him to create IKAR’s Bar Mitzvah program. Todd’s schedule was already overloaded so he started hiring people and Hebrew Helpers was born.

Hebrew Helpers is not your systematic B’nai Mitzvah program. Mentors don’t just teach you to memorize your Torah portion and say a few prayers. It’s a holistic learning program that meets young people where they are. Todd insists mentors dig deep to know their students in a personal way.

“For us,” he relates, “We’re reinventing the system every time we meet a new family. Of course, we have standards and of course we do have certain benchmarks.” But it’s not just about memorizing and showing up on the big day. “We do really good quality education.” Todd asserts, “It’s a very thoughtful process.”

Todd Shotz most recently produced a Hollywood feature film, “The Grotto,” written and directed by Tony Award-winning actress Joanna Gleason. In 2019 he produced the documentary “Latter Day Jew” about a gay Mormon comedian who converted to Judaism after beating cancer. He also produced “Lazy Eye,” written and directed by his partner in LA-based production company T42 Entertainment, Tim Kirkman. “Lazy Eye” brought Todd the qFlix Producer Award and screened at top LGBTQ+ film festivals around the country.

If you think you don’t know the global film producer/Hebrew Helper, Todd Shotz, think again. He’s a cousin or a friend, or he went to school with your brother-in-law, or he’s that guy you met at a theatre convention back in the day. Google him. Follow him. Make him part of your mishpacha.








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