Erica Brown’s critique of the contemporary bar/bat mitzvah celebration (“Not Another Video, Please,” Jan. 2) is on target. However, her analysis misses the mark. Bar/bat mitzvah is and should be primarily a very personal affair. The Inquisition, the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel and various manifestations of tikkun olam have their place in communal consciousness and Jewish education. They are not appropriate bar/bat mitzvah centerpieces — but family videos certainly are.
Not videos of last summer’s vacation, perhaps, but videos of the celebrant’s siddur party; not a picture of Ben-Gurion, but photos of the child’s model seder in school. This is not the time for a photographic lecture about things he/she should have learned in a Jewish school, home, or community. The celebration should highlight what the event is all about: the spiritual growth of a child, his/her Jewish development as he/she was prepared to assume the responsibility of mitzvot.
Sadly, for many celebrants, such videos and photos are not part of the educational or spiritual record of many families. However, flashing photos of great Jewish heroes or stirring events will not compensate for the absence of experience and education. One wishes, along with Erica Brown, that there could be a cinematographic quick fix for the failures of family and community. Regrettably, in this case a picture will not replace 1,000 words of religious teaching and practice.
Emeritus Professor of Jewish History Brooklyn College, CUNY