LOS ANGELES (JTA) — Is “Never Say Never,” the biographical documentary and concert film that recounts the rise of Justin Bieber, also a message film of “Hear O Israel”?
The film, which opens Feb. 11 in wide release, has a genuine Jewish backstory due to the onscreen presence and production involvement of Bieber’s Jewish manager, Scott Samuel “Scooter” Braun.
By all accounts Braun, who discovered Bieber on YouTube — a site where the teen sensation now has several songs with more than 100 million views — plays an important role in Bieber’s life both on stage and off.
“On the road I take responsibility for him,” Braun, 29, told JTA in a recent interview, relating that his Jewish background helps Bieber to maintain a sense of balance.
Off stage, Braun also is a presence — a kind of a Jewish road dad helping the 16-year-old Bieber face the challenges.
“The girls chase the car, they’re in the lobby,” Braun said. “They know where we’re going before we know.”
On stage, as reported by various sources, Braun, Bieber and some of the crew members say the Shema before beginning a concert.
“Originally Justin and the crew just did a prayer circle before the show that ended with Jesus Christ. I wasn’t into that,” said Braun, who grew up in Greenwich, Conn.
With another Jewish member of the crew, “we started saying the Shema. About the third time, Justin chimed in,” Braun recalls. “He had memorized it. Now others say it with us, too.
“When you’re about to step out on stage with 10,000 girls screaming, it’s good to have faith.”
The fact that the Shema, a prayer that is said with “all your heart,” has become part of Bieber’s ritual in itself represents a change in heart.
In December 2009, The New York Times reported that upon meeting Braun, Pattie Mallette, Justin’s mother, said, “God, I gave him to you. You could send me a Christian man. A Christian label.”
“She’s a protective mother,” explained Braun when asked about his first encounter with Mallette. “If someone called you up in the middle of the night and wanted to talk to you about taking your child on the road, what would you do?”
The scene with the Shema is in the film because Bieber’s mother wanted it there, said Braun.
“Originally it was left out and she said that’s not what we do,” he said.
As noted by Rabbi Jason Miller of Michigan, who writes at blog.rabbijason.com, “Based on the number of concerts at which Justin Bieber performs, I’m guessing that he’s actually said the most important statement of Jewish belief many more times in his life than the average 16-year-old Jewish youth.”
On April 14, Bieber is scheduled to bring the Shema to Israel.
“No matter what, we’re going,” Braun answered when asked about other performers like Elvis Costello who have canceled performances in Israel.
“Patti and Justin are looking forward to visiting Bethlehem,” he adds, “and my sister is in med school there.”
The Bieber group will be there for the first night of Passover, and Braun plans on having a seder.
“Justin wants to be part of the seder,” he said.
Braun figures “Never Say Never” will do well in South Florida; his grandmother lives in Boca Raton.
“Opening day, if you see a group of seniors in the theater in Boca,” said Braun, “that’s my grandmother with her 26 friends.”
His grandmother, a survivor of Auschwitz, has watched his career, he says, and “I know she will be proud when she sees my name on the screen.”