Forgive Us for Clicking on Sam Horowitz's Bar Mitzvah Drama

We All Played Some Small Role in Helping It Go Viral

Proud Moment? Sam Horowitz may have enjoyed the 15 minutes of fame (or infamy) sparked by his gaudy bar mitzvah video. But truth be told, we all played a role in making it go viral.
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Proud Moment? Sam Horowitz may have enjoyed the 15 minutes of fame (or infamy) sparked by his gaudy bar mitzvah video. But truth be told, we all played a role in making it go viral.

By Jordana Horn

Published August 23, 2013, issue of August 30, 2013.
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Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu, dibarnu dofi.

The words of the Vidui are familiar to most Jews as being part of the Yom Kippur collective confessional. When we recite the Vidui, we all stand — as congregants, as people, as Jews — and confess to sins. These sins to which we confess are ones that we ourselves may or may not have committed. We make a collective confession, however, so that people who have actually committed these sins will feel less self-conscious about admitting their failings — and perhaps to own that we have each, in some small way, committed some fragment of the wrongdoing mentioned.

We have become desolate, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken duplicitously.

In some small part, I fear that I helped the now-infamous Sam Horowitz bar mitzvah video along on its path from innocuous to viral. I was sent the link by a friend, and promptly posted it to my Facebook page. Among my Facebook friends are social media gurus, television producers, journalists and both amateur and professional yentas. Like a hot potato, the video jumped from person to person, culminating in a “Good Morning America” interview.

Rabbi David Wolpe wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in which, as a rabbi, he derided the ”egregious, licentious and thoroughly awful” video, which showed the young man dancing with scantily clad women in an elaborately choreographed extravaganza — and another later op-ed in which he apologized for anything he wrote which may have been hurtful to the boy and his family. Certainly there is an important discussion to be had about Jewish celebrations and the qualitative nature of those celebrations.

The avalanche of commentary on appropriate levels of expenditure and showiness associated with Jewish ritual was probably not what the family was looking for when they placed their bar mitzvah boy on a virtual world stage. Horowitz’s family is philanthropically active and is making a positive impact on the Jewish community in Dallas and in the world at large: The bar mitzvah raised, at the family’s request, more than $35k for a youth village in Israel. That being said, putting the video on YouTube — not password protected, not just for family viewings — invited comments.

It seems to me, though, that the video’s popularity says just as much about us, its viewers, as it does about the Horowitz family. Many were quick to judge the video and the spirit that motivated it. But this video’s popularity is actually nothing less than a window into the more salacious, tawdry and unfortunate parts of ourselves.

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky, in the context of a Facebook conversation on the topic, said: “We are the ones who made this video an Internet sensation. We are the ones that made it viral. We are the ones that use social media to talk about an individual (not a concept) — a young boy who just became a bar mitzvah. We are the ones who are in the wrong for publicly scorning, for publicly condemning. Humanity has an obsession with publicly criticizing one another. Social media has only encouraged such activity. Our faith teaches that public embarrassment is the equivalent of murder. Let us focus on Cheshbon Hanefesh [an accounting of the soul] in ourselves instead of being nit-picky about others.”


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