Friday, March 18, 2016

A Lesson to Learn from a 13 Year Old

Nachliel Jacobs (Jew in the City)
One of the truly disturbing developments that has resulted from our successful integration into American culture is our obsession with showing it all off.  Many of our people tend to be in ‘upper bracket’ incomes. And they simply do not know what to do with all that wealth to prove that they have made it big.

It is also no secret that assimilation has caused far too many of us to shed our Judaism in favor of an a type of universal humanism that one might say is the hallmark of the American ethos. Obviously there is nothing wrong with many humanistic values - some of which are paralleled in Judaism. But humanism does not in any way require one to be a Jew. And that’s why so many American Jews are shedding that label. This gives them the freedom fulfill the promises of American dream in any way they choose without the restrictions their parents’ religion placed upon them -  if they just try hard enough. How do they then see themselves? Simply as Americans. Judaism was the culture of their ancestors and as irrelevant to their lives as gefilte fish. 

This is the challenge of our time. 

But in some cases there is still some residual Judaism in their blood. How does one combine that with their desire to show off their wealth? It’s call the Bar Mitzvah. Or the Bat Mitzvah. 

Unfortunately it is not longer news to find a Bar mitzvah ‘celebration’ of major proportion these days. If one has the money, and wants to show it off there is no better way than to throw a huge party, invite a lot pf people, and perhaps even get some media attention. If you are nominally Jewish and your child is the right age (12 for a girl and 13 for a boy) why not kill 2 birds with one stone? Spending hundreds of thousand of dollars on a party and calling it a Bar Mizvah is not all that uncommon anymore. 

And if your rich enough, spending millions of dollars on it may not be out of the question.You want Elton John to perform at your ‘Bar Mitzvah” Sure, No problem. Let’s see if he’s available. If not, maybe we can get Billy Joel.  Or even Lady Gaga. How about Beyonce?

You liked the movie Titanic? OK. Let’s lock in a date in the grand ballroom of a luxury hotel and build a mock ship that looks like the Titanic; and have the wait staff dress up in that period’s ship stewards. The father and Bar Mitzvah boy can wear the captain’s uniforms.

These Bar Mitzvahs have little if anything to do with Judaism. In fact non Jews, jealous of this excuse to throw a major party – and liking the idea of this ‘rite of passage’ have been known to throw Bar or Bat Mitzvahs for their own children.

Although obviously not to the same level, I often see opulent Bar Mitzvahs even in the Orthodox world. Across all Hashkafic lines. These of course do have religious content. But that is usually left for Shul on Shabbos. The party on another night does not have that much religious content, except for a possible speech or two. 

This is not the first time I have discussed this issue. Now people have a right to do whatever they wish with their wealth. No one has a right to that money but them. God bless them, if they earned that money honestly. But when it is done this particular way its it is not a good thing. It sends a terrible message to your children when you throw so much money at – and lavish so much honor to a 12 or 13 year old – as though they just solved a world crisis when in fact they did nothing except get older than they were just a day or two ago.

This is a consequence of the world we live in. A world that means keeping up with the Joneses... or the Cohens and Katzes, and to show the world that you’ve made it. We live in a culture that glorifies financial success.

But every once in awhile you find people who teach their children real values. Values those children put into use. As Allison Josephs describes
In some ways, Nachliel Jacobs is your average Orthodox Jewish twelve year old boy. He loves sports, music (he plays the drums) and hanging out with his three younger siblings. But there is something about this New York native which sets him apart from other pre-teens: instead of having a bar mitzvah party for just himself, he decided to raise money to throw a party for 300 complete strangers – bar and bat mitzvah-aged kids (and their families) in Israel who have cancer.
It’s not to say that Nachliel hasn’t enjoyed the fancy and lavish bar mitzvah affairs he’s attended, but several months ago while at such an event he got to thinking: All of this for just one night? Why so much wasted money? What could be done with the same amount of money but that would be lasting? It was then the idea for a bar mitzvah celebration to put smiles on the faces of kids who were suffering was born. 
This is the kind of Judaism we should be teaching our children. I of course do not want to minimize the importance of observing those Mitzvos that are ritual in nature. Keeping Shabbos and Kashrus and all other such Mitzvos is of vital importance to a Torah oriented Jew. These are commandments that we must follow. But all too often, lost in the shuffle are Mitzvos that are not as much ritualistic as they are humanistic. They are called Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chavero. Man’s interaction  with man. 

What values do we teach our children on this level? And how do we teach them? What is the best way to reach our children this way in the materialistic world we live in? I think the family described by Mrs. Josephs answers that question. In spades. Read it and learn.

I am so happy to report a Kiddush HaShem for change.