When Hampstead-born actor/comedian/producer TevyaHeller talks about being an atheist, he sounds almost apologetic. However, with his new reality television called Oh My God! about to premiere on ichannel Mondays, beginning December 5 (8:30 p.m.) and more than 10 markets around the world set to air the show within six months, he won’t be able to keep this a secret.
Raised in a devout Jewish household, Heller says he lost his religious faith as a teenager.
Produced for ichannel by Toronto-based Stornoway Productions Oh My God! follows Heller on a quest to reconnect with his own vanished faith by learning to see the world through the eyes of believers by embedding himself in the lives of young people from different Canadian faith communities – from Hindus to Muslims, Christians to Wiccans – and discovering firsthand how they experience God.
Asked why he chose ichannel, Canada’s political and social issues network, to air the show Heller told me that he had significant interest from much larger networks “but ichannel was the one which allowed me to proceed with the series exactly the way I want. In any case I believe this show is going to explode internationally.”
Here is a preview:
Heller grew up in Hampstead. “All of my family is Jewish,” he said, “and so were all of my friends growing up. I went to Jewish summer camp, had a year a half of bar mitzvah lessons and went to Hebrew School. I was raised in a very traditional home. Not only did my family believe in god, but they believed god was Jewish. I simply did not have exposure to any other view. The closest I got to Jewish was the caretaker at my high school.”
During his teen years Heller kept hearing his family’s wishes that he become a lawyer, doctor “or if I really wanted to push it, an engineer with an MBA. But I wanted to be a producer on the Jerry Springer Show. Needless to say, my parents were mortified that I wanted a career in show business. Well I followed a different path.”
Heller’s road to atheism was paved when he moved away from home. “I became exposed to a million different points of view,” he says. “It really kind of blew my mind and I then realized that I did not believe in any Jewish teachings. That being said, I mean no disrespect to the religion. I remain proud of my Jewish heritage. I am a proud Jewish atheist.”
In 2007, Heller established his production company called Go to Heller TV, creating and producing a number of TV and film projects. This included the Los Angeles real estate series Real Estate Stalker, where he snooped through the homes of super rich celebrities currently on the market for sale. In 2009, he developed Famewhore: The Tevya Heller Project , which chased him around the world causing havoc.
Heller has high hopes for Oh My God! While this is an atheist’s eye-view of faith, he takes pains to distance himself from the militant, religion-bashing school of atheism championed by the likes of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins.
“I’m an atheist who wants God to exist,” says Heller. “I think belief is a gift, and that people of faith are lucky. There’s such loneliness in being an atheist, because you’re not part of a community. So this show is really about an atheist’s search for a God he can believe in. It takes us deep inside communities that most of us wouldn’t otherwise have access to, and offers a pretty cool glimpse into worlds that viewers don’t often get to see.”
One of the episodes of Oh My God! has Heller embedded with an orthodox Jewish family. “They even made a bar mitzvah for me,” he says. “When I finally told the rabbi that I was an atheist, his heart was broken. This particular episode was taped eight months ago and I still get an email from him every day with an invitation to dinner. He has not given up.”
Heller describes the show as The Simple Life meets Touched by An Angel.
For more information log on to www. ichannel .ca.