Rabbi David Wolpe — a Los Angeles pulpit leader currently ranked No. 3 most Newsweek-y rabbi – came out against 13-year-old Sam Horowitz’s burlesque Bar Mitzvah video, calling “egregious, licentious and thoroughly awful.”
Quoting Wolpe in his Washington Post Op-Ed published August 15:
Poor Sammy. I say this with no irony. What remains to him of the small triumphs of life? When he struggles with math and earns a ‘B’ when before he could never do better than a ‘C’ will they purchase an island to mark the occasion? Will he take Air Force One to his prom? This young boy been so extravagantly recompensed at 13 as to make all future victories hollow…
For better or for worse, it bears noting that Sam Horowitz and his parents aren’t the standard-bearers of over-the-top bar/bat mitzvah celebrations.
That distinction arguably belongs to David H. Brooks. In 2005, the then-CEO of a military equipment defense contractor threw his daughter, Elizabeth, a $10 million bat mitzvah celebration featuring appearances by Tom Petty, the Eagles, Aerosmith, 50 Cent and Kenny G. Two years after the party, Brooks was arrested for multi-million dollar fraud.
Coincidentally, hours before the Wolpe Op-Ed ran online, Brooks was sentenced to 17 years in prison for his role in said fraud and for obstruction of justice. While the press release from the FBI’s New York field office did not reference his daughter’s all-star bat mitzvah party, the announcement cited another example of Brooks’ extravagant spending habits: the $40,000 leather-bound invitations for his son’s bar mitzvah.
FBI Assistant Director in Charge Venizelos stated, “David Brooks repeatedly stole from his company, stole from investors, lied to auditors and regulators, and traded on inside information. He did all this to finance an obscenely lavish lifestyle paid for by his victims. Today’s sentencing is the justice the government has been seeking.”
Back to Rabbi Wolpe’s objection, he isn’t solely concerned with spending, but also the disconnect with tradition and the message the burlesque dancers:
To turn a ceremony of spiritual maturation into a Vegas showgirl parade teaches a child sexualization of spirit. Apparently nothing in our society militates against the narcissistic display of short skirted dancers ushering an adolescent into unearned stardom…
Again, to put things in perspective — though not necessarily to defend the Horowitz family — Sam’s dance was hardly the worst example of a hyper-sexualized bar or bat mitzvah parties. In 1992, young “Adam” from Los Angeles was caught oggling a go-go dancer at bra-level by photographer Lauren Greenfield.
Greenfield, a Jewish L.A. native, later published a book of her photos examining extravagant child lifestyles in Los Angeles. A 1997 review by the L.A. Jewish Journal shared Greenfield’s take on what she observed through the lens:
“I grew up in a community with a lot of Jews, and I’m familiar with these people,” she said. “But as this book goes out into the world, I hope people who live in other places will not view these as stereotypes.”
Her main objective is not to take easy potshots at kids, no matter which side of the tracks they live on. “If readers sense a critical perspective in my pictures,” she writes in the preface, “it is a criticism of the culture and its values, not the children or parents who adapt to it.”
One more point about Sam Horowitz. While Wolpe suggests that the boy may not have achieved “stardom” prior to his breakout YouTube sensation, Sam has earned his acting stripes.
As JTA’s Talia Lavin gleaned from an interview with Sam’s mom, Angela, the young man has a talent agent. Sam’s resume boasts numerous JCC plays and a role in a Barney and Friends music video for the song “Laugh With Me,” where he played the role of “Pogo Stick Kid.” After seeing the Barney video on YouTube, Lavin quipped “before he had backup dancers, he was a backup dancer.”