Sam Horowitz video: Bar Mitzvah battles go viral

<iframe width=”584″ height=”329″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/g-ByhUDUllM?feature=oembed” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe> How much is “too much”? What is the definition of appropriate celebration for a … Continued

<iframe width=”584″ height=”329″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/g-ByhUDUllM?feature=oembed” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

How much is “too much”? What is the definition of appropriate celebration for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah party? Where is line and when has been crossed? These are the questions being raised, sometimes gently and sometimes with remarkable anger and hostility, in connection with the going viral video of Sam Horowitz’ Bar Mitzvah party.

Of course, these are hardly new questions. In fact, these are questions that have been asked for at least the past 100 years, especially in the United States and Western Europe, where the ceremonial coming of age has included a formal party. So perhaps both the detractors and the defenders could simply slow down and take a breath before rushing to their competing analyses, which mostly add nothing new or interesting to the conversation.

So what’s in the video? It shows numerous dancers putting on a pretty seductive show, something akin to a Las Vegas review number but one in which all dancers keep their tops on, leading up to little Sam’s appearance on stage, where he shows us his own moves and clearly, the kid can dance.

Virtually all of the comments and conversations about this video in particular and the questions it raises more generally, break in one of two ways: Either people — and this applies to both the defenders and the detractors — confuse what is appropriate for them and/or their community with the fact that what works for them may not be appropriate for others, or they retreat behind the wall of “who am I, or anyone else for that matter, to judge?”

The first position is narcissistic, and the second is irresponsible. We are all making judgments all of the time. It’s part of being human. That said, the making of judgments needs to be about more than simply equating whatever it is we like with what is essentially and eternally the right and good thing to do. That is especially true in the case of a ceremony like Bar/Bat Mitzvah which, relative to the 3,000-plus-year-old Jewish tradition, is quite new.

Rather than continuing to battle about the boundaries of appropriateness when it comes to how people celebrate this or any other ceremony, I would suggest three animating principles which could help us celebrate with greater meaning, regardless of how we choose to celebrate.

First, choose integration over segregation. Don’t think of the “religious part” of the celebration as separate from “the party.” Simply think of both as expressions of the values and the person being celebrated, and if whatever you do at the event truly reflects that, then while it may not work for others, it seems to me to be pretty healthy and appropriate.

I can’t answer for the Horowitzes, and neither can anyone else but them, but if the dance show actually reflects who they are and who they want Sam to be, then it is the right thing for them to do. If however, they imagine that the party is “just” a party and not a reflection of the values they claim to hold, then they are kidding themselves.

Given the remarkable talent that Sam seems to have, let alone the obvious joy that performing brings him and the time that he just as clearly spent working on his act, it seems to me that this really reflects some deeply important piece of who he is and what he wants to celebrate. It doesn’t work for me, and it would not work for my family, but that’s the point I am not Sam, nor am I his parent. Whether I approve is not the point.

Second, while every moment is meaningful and anything as splashy as Sam’s dance number is especially so, no celebration should be reduced to any single part of the whole. The video, upon which all this debate is based, captures less than three minutes of a much larger party and none of the religious service all of which together made up Sam’s Bar Mitzvah.

It’s not that I am opposed to making judgments, but how can people judge an entire event based on a tiny portion of the whole? Reminds me of the four blind men touching the elephant while each appreciates some essential truth about the elephant, none of them actually understands what the elephant really is.

Third, remember that great celebrations need to work both in the moment and for the future. Parties, especially those celebrating major life transitions, are not simply about the moment when the party happens, they also about creating memories that both you, and your guests, will have for many years to come.

Whether it’s a Bar Mitzvah, a wedding, or any other significant event, it’s worth thinking about more than the moment at hand, and trying to imagine how you might one day look back on what was done to celebrate that moment. In some cases, that might mean dialing the whole thing back a notch or two, recognizing that with the passage of time, what seemed like a great idea today may seem like a bit much tomorrow.

Of course, it might also mean that all of the energy expended on questioning the appropriateness of any one part of the party of debates about what is and is not “legitimate” or “in keeping with a religious celebration” will pale in comparison with the genuine joy seen on the face of a little boy as he had the time of his life.

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About

Brad Hirschfield An acclaimed author, lecturer, rabbi, and commentator on religion, society and pop culture, Brad Hirschfield offers a unique perspective on the American spiritual landscape and political and social trends to audiences nationwide.
  • Lois Rubin Gross

    In this particular case, I must disagree with you on so many levels. this video shows an over-the-top celebration with inappropriately dressed women for any 13 year old boy’s celebration, be it Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist. The fact that it IS a Jewish celebration is going to perpetuate many stereotypes in some viewers’ minds of Jews as a tribe of excessive, rich, gaudy people. the thing that seriously surprises me is that the rabbi of this family’s congregation did not sit them down and tell them that this was not an appropriate display for their child becoming a b’nai mitzvoth. If Sam wants to be a Las Vegas star, I’m sure there are venues for that in Dallas that do not include tying it into his celebration of becoming an adult in the eyes of his community or of his honoring the commandments. Is one of the 15 that Mel Brooks dropped off the mountain, “Thou shalt make a travesty of a ceremony that is supposed to be serious?” There was a time when a boy was called to the Torah on Saturday morning, and the total of his “celebration” consisted in a Kiddush in the social hall provided by his parents. The really, really sad thing is that, with social media, this has become a national shanda and other families will try to one-up it with their own kid, like the ridiculous wedding dances that were a fad, not too long ago. I can only hope that the parents, in the spirit of tzedakah, made an equivalent contribution to the cost of this circus, to a worthy charity.

  • stevebromberg

    I’ll be very happy to pass judgment. You could feed a Third World nation with the money this kid’s idiot parents spent on his 13th birthday party. Among other things, it fits perfectly into a very ugly stereotype. Shame on them.

  • WashingtonDame

    Sadly, I must agree with this. Young Sam is being taught a very bad lesson about values.

  • wrlord

    Mr. Hirschfield’s opinion that one cannot judge the entirety of the even by these four minutes has a superficial appeal, but ultimately is wrong. This is an occasion where a boy becomes a contributing member of the Jewish community. The joy comes in the strengthening of the community, not in his own aggrandizement. These four minutes had NO place in any such celebration.

  • WmarkW

    Most of the ways we spend money in America, wouldn’t pass the “feeding Africans” test.

    The comparison for its worth, is the spender’s value system.

  • lbw128

    Point 1: Although I am not Jewish, my understanding is that a party following the Bar Mitzvah ceremony is simply a celebration marking the religious implications of the the newly-designated “man” beginning his lifetime of learning, study and participation in the Jewish community; in this context, how could such a spectacle be appropriate? Sad to say, but this is just another example of the over-the-top one-upmanship promulgated by the media in our country . . . and accepted by so-called “adults” who seem to have totally lost any semblance of common sense (or decorum). Point 2: I sure hope this kid is home schooled . . . .

  • Kentjo

    To quote the great Max Bialystock: “That’s it, baby! When you got it, flaunt it, flaunt it!”
    What a fun way to stimulate the economy! Showgirls, stagehands, and no doubt wait staff, D.J., etc. all benefited from Sam’s parents.

  • Zeus

    If it weren’t for Bar Mitzvas and Jewish weddings, there’d hardly be a live musician left in America today. Mind your own business, and leave the kid and his parents alone. Go and give better parties, with live entertainment, yourselves.

    Mazil Tov, Sammy!! May this be a fitting start to your life as a man.

  • Shaggy247365

    There was nothing inherently wrong with this celebration. The boy had a memorable occasion and he was able to share that with his friends, and he did it in an adult style which is symbolic of becoming a man. What I am more worried about is the bar mitzvah speech where the young man said he didn’t believe in G-d. That is much more troublesome than this dance where the young man had to work very hard at learning and effecting the routine.

  • Shaggy247365

    There was nothing wrong with this dance routine. It is simply a way the young man had of sharing his joy with his friends and family. He had to work extremely hard to memorize and effect this routine so flawlessly, and that is what growing up and becoming a man is all about: learning to do things with finesse and dignity while, at the same time, having a great time in life. What I am more worried about is the link at the end of this story where a young man giving his bar mitzvah speech says he does not believe (that mush) in G-d. Such a speech undermines the significance and spirituality of and behind a bar/bat mitzvah.

  • PIA9

    So, how much do you give at a Bar Mitzvah like this ?

  • neve

    I retreat behind the position “Who the heck am I to judge?” If the parents can afford it, if the kid and those who attend enjoy it. Then who cares? Nobody was hurt, no crime was committed and everyone seemed to be having a good time. The kid clearly was having a blast

    I am assuming that the event occurred in the United states, if so perhaps we should remember this:

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed;

    We are all entitled to our opinions, just as his family is entitled to celebrate whatever they wish, however they wish so long as it is legal and that nobody gets hurt in the process.

  • neve

    I am assuming that you do not posses, a TV, Smartphone, computer or other things that cost quite a bit of money and which really are not a necessary and are sending all that extra money to those who are starving in Third world countries.

    For all we know the family could be actively working in third world countries and donating large amount of money to charity.

    This money that you complain about belongs to this family, they either earned it, or inherited it and it is theirs to do as they choose, and if they wish to spend it making their kid happy then that is their choice to make. If they wish to take it to a field and make a bonfire out of it that is their choice as well.

  • OKgirl

    Only in Dallas!!!!

  • commpro

    I can understand why people say the appropriateness of this party is nobody’s business but the Horowitzes, however I disagree. This kind of spectacle sends terrible messages to impressionable kids. Surely, having scantily clad women dancing on stage with the 13 year old is not what Judaism is all about. The Bar Mitzvah is the celebration of a young man’s entry into adult-hood. This party would seem to suggest that narcissism and hedonism are virtues, that money rules, and it’s fine for a 13-year old to want to be a male dancer in a Las Vegas Revue.

    I have lots of Jewish relatives and have been to a number of Bar Mitzvahs over the years. I can assure you, the Horowitzes are not alone in planning over-the-top spectacles for their sons. I remember one in which the rabbi in his sermon encouraged the boy to show modesty and humility in how he lived his life, and to always remember the world is full of people of all types, and it’s not all about him. Well, the party that followed the ceremony would have made Nero blush. Another Bar Mitzvah party had five or six attractive, very scantily clad women doing sexually suggestive dances to rap music, while two very imposing-looking black men wearing sun glasses were there pretending to be pimps. Ugh. Of course, the kids loved it.

    I ask parents who are planning such extravagant parties for their kids: Who are you doing this for – the kid or you? And what are you doing to instill solid values in your child? Will blowing fifty grand on a Bar Mitzvah party make him a better, wiser, kinder, more thoughtful person? Or just more popular with his friends? Again, what values does an event like this teach?

  • cmfnfwtx

    Perhaps you don’t realize celebrations like this employ Americans working in America. The parents don’t need to give that money to feed hungry Africans. It’s feeding, paying the mortgages and car notes of folks right here in this country. I built the chandelier young Sam rode in on as well as the the 16′ high S, A and M. At least 80% of our vendors we purchase materials and services from are small to midsized locally owned American businesses. The money these folks spend is a direct injection into working class American pockets. Not foreign owned conglomerates or far away stockholders (not that there is anything wrong with that). I urge you to reconsider your position. Many skilled American craftsmen and their families depend on this “largesse” to make an honest living.

  • Weilone

    Well said.

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