Forget about the religious ceremony: A bar or bat mitzvah is an opportunity for the family to show off its riches, with lavish parties in fancy hotels and enough food to feed a small town. Right?
Well, at least that’s how I remember it, growing up in Rio in the 1990’s.
Every weekend there would be two or three bar mitzvahs, and parents who knew each other too well in such a small community (composed of mostly Ashkenazi Reform Jews) would ostentatiously compete to see who could serve the most expensive champagne; who could hire the most popular band; who could book the swankiest venue.
Then, in those years before the mass adoption of digital photography and video, bar and bat mitzvah parties began to feature a usually embarrassing tradition (for the boy or girl): A “surprise” slideshow for all guests to see, right before dinner was served, featuring embarrassing childhood pictures. There would be those classic shots of you as a naked baby trying to lick your own feet and of you as a toddler during a potty training session; or a photo of your mom with a weird hairdo from the 80’s holding you as you blow the candles on your first birthday cake. But that was about it, and everybody marveled at the time at the corny PowerPoint effects.
Being far from bar and bat mitzvah parties (and from Rio for that matter) for a while, I was surprised last week when my Facebook timeline got crammed with multiple posts linking to a video from Brazil named “Nissim Ourfali’s Bar Mitzvah.” Who was this kid and why was there a video — of his bar mitzvah, I presumed — trending like crazy on social media?
Well, it turns out that the slideshow tradition in bar and bat mitzvahs has evolved to the point where families now hire a video production company to put together a short “video clip” of the kid, lip synching to some teen pop hit parody in which he talks about his life.
And that’s what Nissim Ourfali, an upper middle class Sephardic boy from Sao Paulo, does in his video — which is almost up to three million hits on YouTube.
Visibly shy, Nissim appears in the three minute video singing a parody version of “What makes you beautiful,” by British boy band One Direction, gesticulating with his skinny arms and hands and dancing. “Eu sou o Nissim Ourfali” (“I am Nissim Ourfali”) replaced the chorus (“what makes you beautiful”) and is repeated a dozen times during the song. Behind him flows a sequence of photomontages of him, his parents and siblings and photos of the family’s trips around the world.
One Direction, “What Makes You Beautiful”
The video has been mocked in every possible way, while dozens of covers, memes and animated gifs have been created and spread across the web. There’s even a Tumblr where people can upload their own version of the most infamous moment of the video, when Nissim sings “The best part is when we go to the whale” — meaning the Whale Beach (Praia da Baleia), in Sao Paulo’s northern coast — and a surreal montage of the boy on top of a killer whale appears.
Noemy Lobel, the video producer hired by Nissim’s parents, told a Brazilian newspaper that the family is “in shock” over the video’s reception, and decided to take down the original YouTube video. Nissim, however, is not suffering any kind of bullying at school — his friends “loved” the video, said Lobel.