The father of a recent bar mitzvah celebrant takes issue with a recent column by Mira Sucharov on the bar and bat mitzvah experience.
We recently celebrated our youngest son’s bar mitzvah. This wonderful and memorable simcha took place at Ottawa Torah Centre Chabad in Barrhaven.
By all accounts, Noah gave a stellar performance by flawlessly laining the maftir from Parashat Vayeira, beautifully chanting the Haftarah, and masterfully delivering the d’var Torah.
The verdict was unanimous: “Noah was “awesome!”
Indeed, my wife Kim and I are exceedingly proud of our son.
So, what explains this success?
It is not the result of a gift for Torah study. The successful outcome of Noah’s simcha was the result of many months of preparation. However, the groundwork leading to this happy event began years before when our sons began attending shul as toddlers. As the boys matured, their level of participation in prayer, holy day observances, and other community-based activities also increased.
But, the most significant contributor to my sons’ Jewish journeys was, and remains, my fears.
An explanation is in order.
The recent Pew Research Center Survey of U.S. Jews indicates that 32 per cent of American Jews born after 1980 do not identify as Jewish by religion and 58 per cent of intermarried couples are not raising their children as Jews. This peril to Jewish continuity is not new. Declining birth rates – except in Orthodox communities – over the past 50 years has greatly compounded the problem.
In her column headlined “Rethinking the bar and bat mitzvah experience (Values, Ethics, Community, October 28, 2013), Mira Sucharov suggests that Texas bar mitzvah boy Sam Horowitz’s YouTube video of what [I think] is a lavish and salacious production was “laudable.”
To have such an ostentatious affair, where money is no object, and some of the content is sexually suggestive, is symptomatic of disconnect between a growing number of Jews and what Judaism is and should be about.
“Something is broken in our Jewish soul,” said Rabbi David Wolpe of Los Angeles in his comments about the values represented by the video.
Personally, I see the detachment from core Jewish teachings as the result of [religious] practice shaped to appeal to a politically correct view of the world, reacting to ideological persuasions that are a flavour-of-the-month type of thing. It is akin to boutique-type designer religion.
Although the boy donated a large sum of money from his bar mitzvah windfall, though commendable, tzedakah without involving Torah and faith in God leads to a life of narcissistic display.
The Ten Commandments which summarize God’s code of moral ethics, begins with “I am Your God.” Why? Because as the Lubavitcher Rebbe (of blessed memory) stated, “Without the acceptance that morality is derived from God, morality – and, therefore, education – is guided by nothing more than human whim and conscience.”
My son, like most kids, was not thrilled about dedicating an hour a day to Torah study. But, as we began to discuss the stories in Vayeira and their moral connection in our contemporary age, the kaleidoscopic pieces fell into their proper place.
Noah increasingly understood what the status of bar mitzvah entailed – that it is a celebration of maturity and responsibility to himself, his family, the community, and above all, to God.
“On the day of your bar mitzvah” I explained, “all ears will turn to you. But remember, your most important listener is Hashem. It is to Him that you must appeal from the depth of your soul.”
Noah, like our first-born son, has learned to appreciate an existence that is greater than himself.
Sam Horowitz’s pricey Las Vegas-type shtick projects many things, none of which reflect awareness of Jewish values. We should be concerned. Jewish leaders and lay people alike are alarmed by the destructive nature of the many influences eclipsing our daily lives. I, too, share those fears.
My fear has been the singular driving force behind our sons’ success. It compels us to seek greater Yiddishkeit and closeness to Hashem. We hope they will follow the path bequeathed to them by our prophets.
Critics who argue that Judaism is an ancient matrix, a relic leftover by desert tribes, must be rebuked. We follow a religion for all seasons expressed through the Torah delivered on Mount Sinai to be a treasured possession for all time.