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Over the Top Bar Mitzvah Videos

Over the Top Bar Mitzvah Videos

What can we expect when so many Jews are denying their kids a serious Jewish education.

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Sam Horowitz’s bar mitzvah was nearly a year ago, but the video of his over-the-top coming of age celebration has only recently gone viral, viewed hundreds of thousands of times, even earning the thirteen year old and his mother a spot on Good Morning America.

In his video, Sam – dressed in a sharp white suite – descends from a ballroom ceiling in a large white chandelier, landing in the midst of a bevy of scantily-clad dancers wearing flapper-style miniskirts, and joins them in a Vegas-style dance number, the ceiling-high word “SAM” written in lights behind them.

Reaction to Sam’s video once it went viral was swift. One commentator wrote in the Washington Post that the excesses of Sam’s bar mitzvah party showed a lack of spirituality on the part of the bar mitzvah boy and his family – only to apologize a few days later in the paper, saying it is the Jewish community – rather than Sam himself – who deserves criticism.

Sam’s video is only one of several bar mitzvah videos to go viral in recent months. Daniel Blumen, the Atlanta pre-teen whose bar mitzvah invitation – featuring celebrity appearances by Mayor Kasim Reed, Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal and No-Yo – is also enjoying a viral moment. And a six-year-old video “Best Bar Mitzvah” speech – in which a jaded-sounding bar mitzvah boy admits he doesn’t believe in God or Bible stories – was gaining thousands of hits, too.

Unfortunately, these videos are easy to mock. Most of us instinctively recognize that marking a bar or bat mitzvah is a momentous event. And watching kids engage in over-the-top theatrics, or appearing to make fun of Judaism, seems somehow wrong at a time when they are meant to be celebrating their growing maturity and spiritual development. These videos are lavish, but ultimately empty.

Yet besides being easy targets for approbation, these videos have something else in common, too. They’re passionate. They’re creative. The kids who made them clearly were eager to comment on and mark their Judaism in some way.

Our kids are seeking creative ways to express their search for spirituality and fulfillment.

Their very existence speaks to a timeless Jewish concept: the pintele yid, or spark of spirituality that exists inside every Jew. This quality restlessly seeks to find meaning in life, to connect with its Creator. It drives us to try to grow, to fulfill the plans that God has for us, to give meaning to our lives, and to try to become the people that God meant for us to be. The pintele yid can be ignored. It can be neglected, covered up, hidden – but it will find a way to drive us to look for greater meaning in our lives.

Today, especially, when traditional Jewish education is a rarity in many circles, our kids are seeking creative ways to express their search for spirituality and fulfillment. After viewing the aforementioned video of the bar mitzvah boy who admits he can’t find meaning in the dry messages he was taught about Judaism in Sunday school, Aish.com’s Lori Palatnik pointed out “this kid is…saying the Judaism he knows is not inspiring or relevant or real,” and that he probably speaks for 90% of bar mitzvah kids today. But by talking about his struggles with Judaism – by putting his thoughts on the internet for all to see – he’s at least grappling with issues that are important to him.

Of course the showgirl-style dancing or overt materialism is not how we should be relating to bar mitzvahs these days. But what can we expect when so many Jews are denying their kids a serious Jewish education and the benefit of 4,000 years of Jewish wisdom.

Many of these kids mean well. Sam Horowitz asked guests and those who view his bar mitzvah video on-line to make a donation to the Ben Yakir Youth Village, a children’s home in Israel, and he turned over $36,000 of his bar mitzvah gifts to the center. In another viral bar mitzvah video, the bar mitzvah boy dedicated his bar mitzvah to the memory of a young boy who perished in the Holocaust. These kids are clearly trying to make a difference in the world.

Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection, a time to ask ourselves whether we’re doing all we can, and to make resolutions to do better. Certainly, we can and should seek a more serious form of spiritual engagement than the over-the-top antics of today’s crop of viral bar mitzvah videos. But at the same time, we can learn a lot from the passion and energy and attempts to do something good and lasting that many of the bar mitzvah kids in today’s viral videos display.

Published: August 31, 2013


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Visitor Comments: 12

(11) Anonymous, November 9, 2014 4:36 PM

Tasteful & Satisfying alternative

One alternative to these over the top Bar Mitzvah's is to celebrate it at the Kotel. It can satisfy a person's desire to "make a statement" but usually will not come off as gaudy and showy. There are also many opportunities while in Israel to learn more about our heritage and make the whole affair more meaningful. We can help at westernwallbarmitzvah.com

(10) eema23, September 8, 2013 3:48 PM

money puts people off

The expense of bar mitzvah parties puts less affluent parents in a bind. Some don't even bother with Hebrew school and shul membership because they know they won't have the $5,000 to $10,000 to put towards the party. We had people telling us we "had to have" big parties, photographers etc. We didn't but we now we have a reputation as eccentric. We also have two grown daughters who only date Jews and keep kosher.

(9) Anonymous, September 3, 2013 4:05 PM

Bye Bye Hebrew School

To Anonymous above, I agree that oftentimes these turned off Bar & Bat Mitzvah kids have to mature, and very often after a trip to Israel, going on Birthright, or just getting some direction,they can develop stronger feelings for Judaism. The bottom line is, it has to begin at home. The parents do not care about Hebrew school, they just know that without it their child cannot have a Bar Mitzvah, so they are resigned to sending them. For them, it is an extra expense and a pain. So, it is really like fighting a losing battle, and personally, I don't think Hebrew Schools will last too much longer.

(8) scott, September 3, 2013 2:58 PM

It's a party!

Look...there are many customs that Jews have borrowed from goyim during the diaspora. Look at the chasadim who dress like 17th century Polish Catholics while living in the desert. What kind of Jew dresses like that? Or the tzadikim who some Jews think have some sort of intercessory power like Catholic saints. Live among goyim long enough and their customs and values will rub off.

Is it a silly custom? Yes. Making an offensively big party with dancing and pop bands and drinking and whatnot that actually mocks traditional Jewish values to celebrate the time in your son's life that he becomes liable for their observance. That's like throwing a beer bash after attending an AA Meeting. Personally I don't understand why they don't simply save the money for their children's weddings, when that kind of foolishness might be more appropriate.

Fancy bar mitzvahs are simply Jews in diaspora recreating the fuss made by goyim over first communions and christenings and whatnot. Very expensive Chanakuah bushes. Like most Catholics that make that kind of fuss, these folks will return to being secular after the show. But then at least these people are trying to do something to celebrate their Jewishness. At least they haven't toddled down to the Unitarian Church and abandoned the whole thing.

A person once told me that the purpose of liberal Judaism was to at least keep the idea of Jewishness in people's minds. It preserves the hope that their kids may have a chance to return to actual Judaism. I think that's true. Especially in this case.

If they're going to spend the money anyway..Masel Tov! They should have a blast and get some value out of it. At least they are trying to be Jewish.

(7) Anonymous, September 3, 2013 11:09 AM

My son became a Bar Mitzvah back in 2004. We were determined to make it a very meaningful occasion and I think we succeeded on that front. To the person who taught in an after school Hebrew program, please do not give up hope. Adolescence is a difficult time for everyone, and your students were not receptive to learning at that point in time. This does not mean they will never be receptive to their Judaism. Perhaps in time some of them will have matured and will be curious enough to value the lessons you tried so hard to teach them.

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