Q: What do these performers have in common: Kirk Douglas, Paula Abdul and Krusty the Klown?
A: They all celebrated their (high profile) bar or bat mitzvahs as adults.
The bar mitzvah is not only a rite of passage, it is also a favourite Hollywood staple. And since showbiz regulars don’t usually shy away from the spotlight, it’s possible to shep nachas (celebrate) with them online.
Could we have a TV show to thank for the modern trend for adults to celebrate bar mitzvahs? Way back in 1966, a Jewish character on the popular situation comedy, the Dick Van Dyke Show, decided that since he never had a bar mitzvah ceremony as a child, better late than never. On the show, Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) tries to keep his Torah lessons hush hush, but that leads his friend Rob to think he’s having an affair, forcing Buddy to own up:
Buddy: I’m taking bar mitzvah lessons.
Rob: Oh Buddy, it’s bad enough. Don’t be blasphemous.
Buddy: I couldn’t be that. I don’t even know what it means.
Comedy ensues – as does a heartwarming ending when Buddy is called up to the Torah. The entire episode can be viewed on YouTube.
Back in 1966, Buddy’s bar mitzvah was a modest ceremony. Things have certainly changed in the almost half-century since then. Hollywood took aim at that excess in 2006 with the film Keeping Up with the Steins in which parents of an about-to-be bar mitzvah decide to outdo their friend’s son’s Titanic-themed affair aboard a cruise ship. The late Roger Ebert gave the movie a thumbs-up, calling it “a fresh and lovable comedy about a dysfunctional Jewish family.” You can get a taste of of the film from the trailer.
Perhaps the most famous TV bar mitzvah boy is none other than the Simpson’s Krusty the Klown. In the episode “Today, I am a Clown,” Krusty is distraught to find out that he can’t get a star on his town’s Jewish Walk of Fame because he never had a bar mitzvah and (according to the show’s writers) is not Jewish. Well, Jackie Mason reprises his role as Krusty’s father, Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, some zaniness follows… and things end well for Krusty, the bar mitzvah boy.
Anyone who has even been a bar or bat mitzvah – or who has ever attended a ceremony – owes a debt of gratitude to Rick Moranis. On his gem of an album, “My Mother’s Brisket and Other Love Songs,” he has included a segment titled “Belated Haftorah.” Chanting in the same pseudo-melodic strains as a haftorah (including “flubs”), Moranis explains what it’s like to have finally made it since he didn’t get bar mitzvah’d the first time around.
“It was my parents/ They were Commies/ And they wooooouldn’t set foot in the shul/ And they thought the post-war Diaspora middle class were just appeasing their parents but in cynical bourgeois aspirations./
But thank God for my wiiiiife, Shelley…/ And she talked me into doing this so I wound up taking lessons at 46./ And I got this new suit./ Also a 46./ Portly.”
A few years ago, Kirk Douglas appeared on the program Touched by an Angel as a grandfather who had no use for religion. Eventually he embraced his Jewish heritage and wanted to be “bar mitzvah’d” along with his grandson. In a case of life coinciding with art, Douglas celebrated his own second bar mitzvah when he turned 83. He reflected on his stroke and on a serious helicopter crash that he had survived but had taken lives of two other passengers.
Here are some other high profile coming-of-agers…
• David Arquette – At the age of 40, the actor (Scream series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc.) celebrated a belated bar mitzvah at the Western Wall as documented with shots of him in tefillin and holding a Torah.
• Paula Abdul – The 51-year-old TV personality had also planned to mark her coming-of-age ceremony at the Kotel but instead had a private service in the mystical city of Tzfat.
She tweeted: #Israel I LOVE YOU! This has been an enlightening and phenomenal experience! xoP @PaulaAbdul
But none of those celebrations hold a candle to another showbiz regular. Although his name may not be as familiar as David Arquette or Paula Abdul, Branko Lustig is a two-time Oscar winner for producing Schindler’s List (1993) and Gladiator (2001). In May 2011, Lustig returned to Auschwitz where he had been deported at the age of 12 from Croatia. Back in front of barrack No. 24, the 78-year-old finally celebrated his bar mitzvah during a March of the Living tour for high school students.
“The message I want to share today is the most important one I learned from my years in the concentration camp. It’s the message of tolerance. We must all get along. We must strive to respect and love one another so that the horrific days of the Holocaust will never visit us again. Tolerance is my bar mitzvah wish today. And ‘Never Again’ is my hope and dream for always. Thank you.”