It’s the over-the-top bar mitzvah video that has sparked thousands of heated conversations about splashy Jewish coming-of-age rituals.
There can't be many people left who haven’t seen the video, which was shot in the ballroom of the Omni Hotel in Dallas in November 2012, but only recently made its way through social media into high profile outlets such as the Huffington Post and the Washington Post.
A group of professional dancers in yellow flapper dresses with feathers in their hair, dance and writhe across chairs burlesque-style to the wails of singer Christina Aguilera. Then, bar mitzvah boy Sam Horowitz is lowered to the stage from the ceiling, encased in a shining white lampshade, after which he skillfully shows off his professional moves as he boogies with the dancers to the strains of Jennifer Lopez’s Dance Again.
In the background, giant gold letters spell out S-A-M.
The video has turned Horowitz into a celebrity: he recreated his performance on a national television morning show, Good Morning America, where the clearly thrilled, star-struck teenager said that he rehearsed for three hours with a choreographer every week over the course of a month to prepare.
It turns out that the bar mitzvah boy not only dances against a gold background, but also has a heart of gold. While Sam and his family clearly like to put on a show, they also were willing to share their riches with some less fortunate bar mitzvah boys.
According to the Jewish Agency, Sam’s parents asked all the guests at the event to make contributions to the Ben Yakir Youth Village in lieu of gifts, and raised $36,000. The youth village is one of four boarding schools funded by their organization. Sam’s online fans are also being asked to do the same.
The Jewish Agency youth villages were first founded to house and educate Jewish refugee children who fled from Nazi Germany and have served various waves of immigration throughout Israel’s history, providing youth at risk with remedial education and secure living accommodations.
The Ben Yakir village hosts 120 boys aged 12-18, predominately Ethiopian immigrants to Israel. In addition to the core state curriculum, they receive enrichment programs, including bar mitzvah preparation that culminates in a ceremony at the Western Wall. The Agency says that even after graduation, alumni receive ongoing services, such as help preparing for college entrance exams, scholarships and guidance on employment and finances.
While this information surely won’t quell the online buzz around the hit YouTube video, where reaction has ranged from well-meaning “mazel tov” wishes and compliments on Sam’s talent, to criticism and nasty remarks calling the event and his performance “vulgar” and “ostentatious.”