Sisterhood Blog

Sam's Crazy Bar Mitzvah Draws Rabbi Rebuke

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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The final scene from Sam Horowitz’s epic Bar Mitzvah performance.

Who in America with a Facebook account hasn’t seen this D-cup of craziness? It’s Sam Horowitz’s big fat bar mitzvah dance number, replete with dancing girls clad in golden sequined mini-dresses shaking everything their mamas gave them to the Christina Aguilera song “Show Me How You Burlesque.”

In front of 15-foot-high letters spelling out Sam’s name in bright lights, the young Barry Manilow-in-the-making descends to the stage, hidden within a white cylinder of sparkly curtains. It lifts to reveal the boy, clad all in white, who makes his entrance surrounded by the gyrating dancers and shows off his own, fairly impressive moves.

The video — taken at his Dallas bar mitzvah last November — even earned young master Horowitz his own segment on Good Morning America on Wednesday and then a live demo of his dance skills (including the dancing girls and an interview with his proud mama) on the same program on Thursday.

Now the kid is, admittedly, adorable. No question about that.

But a bar or bat mitzvah celebration of this obvious expense and over-the-topness certainly proves the adage that money doesn’t buy taste. And it certainly doesn’t demonstrate good sense.

The esteemed and prolific Rabbi David Wolpe had a whole lot to say about it in an essay in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” blog on Thursday. He called the Horowitz bar mitzvah show “egregious, licentious and thoroughly awful” and “a travesty.”

Some excerpts:

To turn a ceremony of spiritual maturation into a Vegas showgirl parade teaches a child sexualization of spirit. Apparently nothing in our society militates against the narcissistic display of short skirted dancers ushering an adolescent into unearned stardom…the usual phrase set above the ark in a synagogue is ‘know before whom you stand.’ Perhaps it is time to change it to ‘Flesh Vincit Omnia.’ Rockette Ruach.

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.

Poor Sammy. I say this with no irony. What remains to him of the small triumphs of life? When he struggles with math and earns a ‘B’ when before he could never do better than a ‘C’ will they purchase an island to mark the occasion? Will he take Air Force One to his prom? This young boy been so extravagantly recompensed at 13 as to make all future victories hollow.

Kudos to Wolpe, whose Sinai Temple is located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, where the membership price for a reserved seat at the front of the sanctuary tops out at about $4,500. The rabbi is no stranger to controversy, as this recent New York Times article about his coming out in favor of same-sex marriage just before the U.S. Supreme Court knocked down DOMA illustrates. In his article about the Horowitz bar mitzvah, Wolpe forcefully and gracefully articulated what many of us were thinking when we saw this bar mitzvah extravaganza. Considering the wealth in his own community, that he made such strong statements is no small thing.

In a brief interview with the Sisterhood on Thursday night, Wolpe said he has gotten some pushback about his critique. “They said ‘This is the kid’s big moment, it’s very harsh to come down on him like that,’ that kind of thing. Some people were upset but what can you do?” he said. “One or two of the people said ‘if you allow same-sex marriage why wouldn’t you allow this?’ As if they’re comparable.”

One of his critics, in the comments below his essay, is Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, a controversial Orthodox rabbi in Teaneck, N.J., who accuses Wolpe of “intolerance masquerading as piety” because Wolpe is not Orthodox and has said that he doesn’t believe the Biblical Exodus occurred the way it is portrayed in Tanach.

“I can’t even take that seriously,” Wolpe said.

I asked Wolpe if he had seen anything like the Horowitz bar mitzvah in his own community. “In our community, even though it sounds surprising, there is an understood limit. I have not been to anything that approximated this, certainly. It’s very rare in our congregation. Not unheard of, but certainly rare.”

When he has become aware of over-the-top bar or bat mitzvah parties in his congregation, “I’ve spoken about it and once or twice talked to families long after the event.”

But, I asked, don’t you speak with families before the bar mitzvah?

“I don’t ask them about the party,” said Wolpe. “Perhaps I should.”


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