The Bar/Bat Mitvah: Expensive Parties Give Way to Meaningful Rituals

In 2012, a video of Sam Horowitz’s over-the-top Bar Mitzvah party went viral.

Here is this 13 year-old boy, opening his Bar Mitzvah party in a Vegas-like performance, dancing with showgirls in a fully-produced stage setting. The video flooded Facebook feeds, blogs and finally caught the attention of mass media.

Everyone was asking the same question: “Is this what Bar Mitzvahs have become?”

Obviously, there are a lot of strong opinions about the “major party” Bar Mitzvah. Minneapolis mom of two, Alissa Abelson, weighs in. “The ritual of the B’nai Mitzvah is a holy one for the individual and for the family. It used to signify the child becoming an adult within the Jewish community. I feel that has been somewhat lost with these crazy, expensive parties some people put on. The thing that should be celebrated is the fact that now, my daughter(s) will be able to read from the Torah on any given Shabbat, can lead worship, and can take pride in the fact.”

Dissenters say, Why can’t kids like Sam live out their dream of being on stage and have a little fun in the bargain?

So while the hype of the “Bar Mitzvah Boy Who Went Viral” has certainly died down, its impact on the Jewish community has anything but.

While we’re not ones to advocate against a celebration, we love the ways in which a new breed of Bar and Bat Mitzvahs are countering the over-the-top party, with mindful approaches that bring new meaning to this rite of passage.

Mitzvah Projects: Many synagogue’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah curriculum are requiring youth to choose a social-action focused project that aligns with their interests and/or Torah portion in order to learn about giving back and raising funds for a good cause. The result has been positive, as TC local Josh Awend notes, “…really its just dumb that Bar Mitzvahs got that out of control. I am more in favor of these ‘Alt Mitzvahs’ that are happening which focus on kind acts and social change rather than huge parties.”

Tailor-Made Ceremonies: In addition to the ritual aspects of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah ceremonies, some synagogues are welcoming the personalization of this rite of passage with their own music, song and interpretation of prayer.

Making it a Family Affair: In an era of highly-involved parents, it’s no surprise that many families are working to instill greater meaning in the ceremony by participating in the preparation along with their children. Anything from learning (or re-learning) Hebrew to discussing the philosophical meaning of the Torah portion is now being adopted by parents. This method shifts the responsibility away from just the Bar/Bat Mitzvah, to the entire family. Many parents are also taking their child’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah as an opportunity to brush up on their Hebrew school past by studying for the ceremony right alongside the child!

The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution: An initiative of the Reform movement built in response to the mass exodus from Jewish life that often occurs after the ceremony,  The B’nai Mitzvah Revolution empowers congregations to design their own Bar/Bat Mitzvah programs focused on community, meaning and authentic Jewish learning. The hope is that this paradigm shift will bring about a new understanding of the Bar/Bat Mitzvah and inspire families and their children to continue their Jewish education well-beyond the ceremony.

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