Posts Tagged ‘repentance and misconceptions’

            I noticed it first in a post by a colleague on the CCAR Facebook page – a closed community page only for Rabbis of the Reform movement.  It was a video of Sam Horowitz, a recent 13 year old bar mitzvah boy, doing a pre-choreographed dance at his lavish party at the Omni Hotel in Dallas, TX.  The dance routine began with scantily dressed girls dancing while a curtained round platform descends eventually revealing Sam.  You can see the whole routine at this link:


You have to admit that Sam is a very talented dancer.  The video went viral and Sam repeated the dance on GMA.  All of this provoked the usual outrage in rabbinic circles, many, many comments about the obscenity of overly lavish bar/bat mitzvah parties, questions about the values this transmits to the children, and laments over how this has become the way a sacred Jewish rite of passage is being represented in the media and the internet.  I agreed with most of the criticisms.

Then came a column by Rabbi David Wolpe, of a Beverly Hills congregation, blogging for the Washington Post.  In his vituperative column, Wolpe consistently referred to the young man sarcastically as “Sammy,” deriding him for the denigrating effect of his dance on the meaning of the bar mitzvah process.  Probably most striking was the tone of the insults he leveled at Sam writing, he “poorly approximated a pubescent Justin Timberlake.”  I do not know how many detected any irony in a Beverly Hills rabbi critiquing an over the top bar mitzvah party in Dallas, but Wolpe’s words about the young man were definitely harsh.

Even so, the reaction of most in my circles was a condemnation of the materialistic values that the dance represented and the seeming over indulgence by the parents.  Many wondered how much of a publicity hound Sam was because of his willingness to reenact the dance on TV.  No one paid much attention to the tone of Wolpe’s article until Sam’s rabbi, William Gershon, wrote a letter in response.

Rabbi Gershon did not argue with Rabbi Wolpe’s dismay over the rampant display of materialism.  He took him to task for his denigrating tone of the young man, saying such language describing one of God’s children was unbecoming of a rabbi.  He went on to give a lot of insight into Sam, his dedication to Jewish studies, his involvement in the congregation, and his love of learning the liturgy and leading the congregation in prayer.  He called Sam a “sensitive soul,” and lamented that Rabbi Wolpe had not looked beyond the surface of the dance routine to see the actual person.  To Rabbi Wolpe’s credit, he wrote a letter of apology to Sam that he posted on his blog site.  He admitted to writing the original post in anger, and that he was too quick to press the “send” button.

I do understand the angry reaction to Sam’s dance.  It does represent the worst excesses we see at so many Jewish celebrations that seem to stress the lavishness of the party instead of the holiness of the moment.  I also question why it was necessary for the Horowitz family to encourage the reenactment on Good Morning America.  The desire for publicity just feels a little wrong.  However, I do not have the mistaken belief that Sam is truly an “adult,” even though he has come to the age of responsibility in terms of Judaism.  I am very disturbed by the knee jerk reaction to Sam, as it resulted in very inappropriate words being directed at a child, and not just by Wolpe.  Too many of my colleagues jumped to conclusions.  Too many were ready to judge the young man strictly by what they saw on the video.  No one, in all the discussions I followed, asked for context (I am guilty of this too, by the way).  A lot of us got caught up in self righteousness.

It is poignant that all of this occurred during these weeks before the High Holidays, the month of Elul.  This is the time to search our souls for the repairs we need to make; to look at relationships that need to be mended.  All of this conveniently provides a lesson in the need for admission of wrong and apologies.  But I think something Rabbi Wolpe said in his apology needs a bit more examination.

He spoke about writing in anger, in reaction.  He spoke about being too quick to post his initial column on line.  Isn’t that what most of us do?  We are in a world of instant information, instant judgment, instant results, instant gratification, and instant reaction.  We are in a world in which our reaction can be instantly seen by countless numbers on the internet.  We are in a world in which our urge to click “send” too often overcomes our common sense.

What horrified me and so many colleagues was the rampant superficiality represented by the dance.  It seemed like the grossest caricature of what bar mitzvah in America has become.  To make it worse, it is just inappropriate for a 13 year old boy to be cavorting on a stage with a bunch of underdressed women.  But our reactions were superficial.  We reacted to a 3 minute U Tube video and failed to do what all of us urge others to do – look beneath the surface for the back story on Sam, to get context for this performance.  We assumed the family was Jewishly disconnected based on this video.  We assumed the worse about the boy.  We did everything we counsel our congregants not to do, beginning with pre-judgment.  We forgot there are ways to rebuke aspects of the behavior without denigrating the people or their motives.

I, for one, needed this reminder.

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