Jewish American widower channels post-Oct. 7 Israeli grief in new film

Influencer and producer Rob Mor reflects on loss, his Judaism and how to process death

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Filmmaker, influencer and widower Rob Mor in Israel while making a film about grief, in April 2024 (Courtesy)
Filmmaker, influencer and widower Rob Mor in Israel while making a film about grief, in April 2024 (Courtesy)

When producer Rob Mor’s Chabad rabbi emailed him about a solidarity trip to Israel in April, Mor signed up and packed his vlogging camera, not quite sure what would come of it.

What he did know was that as a widower and single father whose wife died of ovarian cancer, he wanted to find a way to share his thoughts and experiences about grief with those struggling with it in the aftermath of October 7.

The trip turned into “Echoes of Loss: Eight Days in Israel,” a 72-minute film produced by Tallboy and Rova Media, covering Mor’s travels and conversations with relatives of those killed in the massive Hamas attack, beginning with widows and widowers, and then expanding to grieving parents and siblings, with a trip to Tel Aviv’s Hostages Square as well.

The full feature premiered on May 14 on Mor’s YouTube channel.

“I was getting hit with the different colors of grief and the stages of grief,” said Mor, who wanted to frame the film through the lens of the Jewish mourning process, from the swift burial, moving into the seven days of shiva, the first thirty days of mourning, and then the eleven months that close out the first year of loss.

It was familiar territory for Mor, a Pasadena-based producer, video content maker and podcaster who has documented his journey as a widower and single dad for the last four years, since his wife Noel died in 2019 at 31.

That very personal social media journey hasn’t been particularly focused on Mor’s Jewish and Israeli heritage, but as the adopted son of an Israeli father, Mor’s childhood was steeped in annual visits to see their Israeli family, a deep connection that kept him glued to the news on October 7 and in its aftermath.

“All the intentions are so good around grief, and everyone wants to lift you up and lift themselves up because death is so unreal,” said Mor. “So I wanted to help even one person if possible, and I needed to go to Israel and see and understand the complexity.”

In his four years of widowhood, Mor said he’s found that sharing his grief over Noel’s death has been cathartic for him and for his followers, who end up experiencing emotions that don’t always get shared in society.

He has experienced the gamut of familial pain and joy in his own life. Mor was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to his Jewish mother and non-Jewish, “surfer dude” biological father, and the couple divorced when he was young.

Filmmaker Rob Mor (far right) with his father, mother and daughter, all part of his journey as a widow and single father (Courtesy)

His mother remarried, and the new couple adopted one another’s children and went on to have two more children, Rob’s younger brothers Yoni and Josh.

The family lived in Highland Park, Chicago, and Mor said his experience of Jewish and Israeli heritage began at age 10 with annual trips to Israel, a brief Hebrew school education and a bar mitzvah, all enough to teach him how to order his own shwarma in Hebrew, he joked.

Noel and Rob Mor and their young daughter when Noel was first sick, before her death in 2019 that led to Mor’s grief journey (Courtesy)

Mor became close to his Chabad rabbi during college at New York University, and his wife underwent an Orthodox conversion before they married. His daily life isn’t steeped in Jewish observance but he’s deeply connected to his local Pasadena Chabad rabbi.

Following the whirlwind trip to Israel in April that marked six months since October 7, Mor and his production team worked around the clock to complete the film in time for Israel’s Memorial Day, just as the anti-Israel campus demonstrations in the US began heating up.

Previously, Mor — an influencer with a presence on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok and YouTube — largely stuck to lighthearted, somewhat comedic content talking about grief and loss. But as he saw his feed being filled with anti-Israel content, he focused on his desire to lift up the Jewish people and Israelis.

Influencer Rob Mor (center) with two soldiers during his April 2024 trip to Israel (Courtesy)

He recalled visiting an army base with soldiers who had just exited Gaza, and being told by a soldier with a gun slung on his back that Mor’s “weapon” was his camera, and that it was stronger than a gun when it came to telling Israel’s story.

“It’s the best use of my energy,” said Mor. “It’s a film for people who ask, ‘What is going on?’ I’m Israeli and these are my people.”

It was a process that ultimately helped Mor, who thinks of filmmaking as his art and a catharsis, although he was spent and ill by the time he arrived home in the US.

“It was emotional and exhausting,” he said. “I have a tendency to try and take on some of their pain and it’s very taxing talking to the widows, I know exactly how they’re feeling, with the kids and the loneliness they feel at night.”

Filmmaker, influencer and widow Rob Mor in Israel to make a film about grief, in April 2024 (Courtesy)

It was a project that threw Mor into the thick of the experience in Israel, said Ellen Hayim Johnson, the film’s producer, who was very aware of the fact that the bereaved families didn’t know Rob, and weren’t familiar with him or his story before they met one another.

But somehow, this American-Israeli from Chicago and California was able to bridge those gaps, said Hayim Johnson, making connections that helped both Mor and those he met, who often wanted to set him up on dates as well.

“He aims to humanize grief,” said Hayim Johnson. “The grief of Israelis is discarded and politicized and he wanted to show that these are real people.”

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