Monday, August 19, 2013
Viral video of Dallas boy’s bar mitzvah raises questions about being materialistic
The boy's rabbi has also criticized another rabbi who "mocked and humiliated" the boy.
Sam Horowitz - Live at the Omni Hotel in Dallas
DALLAS Sam Horowitz became a man (well …) in November. He became a media sensation last week, after video from his bar mitzvah wingding at the downtown Omni hit Kveller and on its way to every website in the history of the Internet (from The Jewish Daily Forward to … E!, oy) and finally Good Morning America.
And, somehow, the kid’s show-stopping, J. Lo-scored, Vegas-flavored, name-in-lights routine has become the subject of much hand-wringing and soul-searching amongst those who think the spectacle “egregious, licentious and thoroughly awful.” At least, that’s how Los Angeles rabbi and Why Faith Matters author David Wolpe summed it up in The Washington Post last week, beneath the headline “Have we forgotten what Bar Mitzvahs are all about?” Though, of course, this wasn’t actually Sam’s bar mitzvah, which took place earlier in the day at Congregation Shearith Israel. Wrote Wolpe:
I am leery of being too maudlin but really, our ancestors struggled and suffered and fasted and prayed so Sammy could cavort? There is an historical outrage here. The Bar Mitzvah (which is a stage a child reaches, not the name of a ceremony) is important because one becomes responsible for the mitzvot, not because one poorly approximates a pubescent Justin Timberlake. Bar Mitzvah means something and however beautiful his religious ceremony may have been, and however sincere the Judaism of his family (I don’t know and cannot judge) it is drowned out by the cymbal crash of hip grinding libertinism.
And now Sam’s rabbi, Shearith’s William Gershon, has responded to Wolpe in a letter posted to the synagogue’s website and sent via email to congregants over the weekend. He is, for starters, not terribly amused by Wolpe’s “mocking” use of “Sammy.”
Gershon agrees with Wolpe on one thing: The dance routine, he writes, may be a little, well, “questionable.” But, he says, that snapshot moment “hardly portrays a complete picture of who Sam is or his core values.” An excerpt:
I have no problem with a rabbi railing against materialism, misplaced values, or exhorting the community to understand the sacred nature of Bar Mitzvah and its meaning. I have written and spoken about such issues for years in my own community. My issue, David, with what you wrote has to do with the vituperative tone of your words — the way they mock and humiliate one of the children of my synagogue in the public forum. Sam is not an object. He is a Tzelem Elohim, an image of God, who happens to have a passion for performing and acting and singing.
I would have understood had you critiqued the nature of bar and bat mitzvah celebrations in all of our communities, yours included. I would have welcomed your criticism of the media’s misappropriation of “Bar Mitzvah” and the sensationalism that has followed. But your words play right into that sensationalism and buttress the real travesty of this matter — the egregious and hateful words directed at a child of God, which have now gone viral on the Internet and blogosphere.
Sam’s Bar Mitzvah - A Look Back
Wolpe’s assistant says he’s posting a response to the response, likely by late today; we’ll add when it’s available. Until then Gershon’s entire missive follows.