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.