Open Zion

08.21.13

Rethinking Sam Horowitz’s Bar Mitzvah

Last week I wrote about Sam Horowitz, the Bar Mitzvah boy who went viral via his Las Vegas style dance routine. In that piece, I was partly responding to Rabbi David Wolpe’s incensed takedown of the event. Now the plot has thickened, but to a rather disappointingly thin paste. Apparently spurred by a strongly chastising open letter penned by his colleague, Wolpe has come back in The Washington Post with a weak reconsideration.

“Rabbi William Gershon, the Horowitz [family]’s rabbi, took me to task not for the points I made, but for appearing to insult a child and those who love him. I am truly sorry for that, and apologize to Sam and his family for anything I said that was wounding,” Wolpe wrote.

Wolpe went on to continue to criticize the culture of ostentatiousness which he sees as increasingly defining segments of the Jewish community, particularly among his congregants, “half of [whom] are from Beverly Hills.”

It would be nice, though, if Wolpe was able to consider a more nuanced interpretation of this particular event and generalize from it. Equating this event with “lighting…cigars with dollar bills” misses the point. Yes, someone needs to call out excess and vulgar materialism, and who better to do it than someone whose congregants are evidently guilty, all too often, of throwing “lavish celebrations and over sexualized adolescent events” when it comes to marking the ultimate Jewish rite of passage.

But who is taking care to listen to the individual hopes and dreams of these Bar and Bat Mitzvah kids who are trying to etch their own course at what is one of the most confusing times in one’s life? Simply paring down the glitz and glamor of the parties won’t necessarily achieve this overlooked goal. Is a wooden recitation of a Torah portion whose Hebrew typically goes uncomprehended by the chanting child the only thing to be lauded at this key coming of age celebration?

Finally, I should add that an Open Zion commenter going by the name of Westmount_Place (ironically, perhaps, the name of one of Canada’s toniest neighborhoods) issued this criticism: “…Mira Sucharov's argument that this absolute dreck is entertaining, is a sad commentary on her lack of values.” Again, I must reiterate that the entertainment value of the video is not the point. Open Zion—and my role as a blogger within it—is not an entertainment magazine, but rather a forum for evaluating, critiquing and reimagining a Jewish future, both in Israel and in the Diaspora.

In a sense this Bar Mitzvah video represented an attempt by one Jewish boy to do just that—at least at the micro-level of personhood. One may hope that he took his Torah study as seriously as his dance moves, and reports have circulated that he asked for donations to a children’s charity in lieu of gifts, garnering  $36,000 for a youth village in Israel. That the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss thought to report this fact reveals yet another layer in the war of ideas and reimagined futures. But all this, again, is a bit beside the point of the story of Sam Horowitz and the personal—if showy—risk he took to express himself in a world where being heard above the din is not always easy.