Call me old-fashioned, but I was taught that upon receiving an invitation to a Bar Mitzvah, the ONLY thing one should respond with is "Mazal Tov!"
Over the past week, a certain YouTube video has gone viral on the Jewish net-waves and social media feeds. The video presumably was intended to serve as the "Save the Date" for the friends and family of a boy who will become Bar Mitzvah this Spring. I don't know the family or the boy, but I received a link to the video, presumably from someone else who doesn't know the family either, and they likely received it from someone else who doesn't know the family, etc. etc. The video has drawn much attention. Those on the positive side (I find myself in this camp - a minority from what I can read on the comment feeds) praise the child for finding a creative, fun way to discuss his upcoming experience. The video is "not all about the party" and even includes some footage at the family's synagogue as well as a cameo appearance of the congregation's rabbi. Those on the negative side (a clear majority from what I can read on the comment feeds) condemn the "clear lack of purpose or integrity," the "gross misappropriation of financial resources" by the family - funds "that could have been donated to charity," the fact that "the boy didn't even mention his Torah portion," and the list goes on, and on, and on, some even criticizing the child's lack of rhythm and mocking the lyrics to the rap performed by the child.
And to that, I ask: since when did it become acceptable for adults to speak so critically, negatively, no less publicly and permanently about a child? After all, this child is likely reading directly or being forwarded every snarky or judgmental remark ticking down on the feeds and websites of people he does not know and who he certainly did not invite to his family's upcoming simcha, but most of whom seem to feel justified in rendering an opinion or judgement about him and his family's decision about their save-the-date Bar Mitzvah notice. I'm sure a Bar Mitzvah boy can handle the fact that hundreds of people are standing in judgment over him and his video. He is, after all, the ripe, mature age of 12 or 13! NOT!
I don't know how the video spread so quickly, why the family did not designate better privacy settings on the video, or really what their intentions were. The truth is, I don't think any of that matters. How can responsible adults (some of whom are my fellow clergy) condemn loudly the devastating impact of youth cyber-bullying, but in the same breath become so blinded by their own judgmental stances on what is or is not "Bar Mitzvah Appropriate" that they themselves become cyber-bullies, freely condemning the actions of a child and his family? It is one thing to debate non-specifically choices and priorities for religious coming of age events, but it is something entirely different to air one's judgments so publicly and specifically in an arena that we all know can be cruel and where context can easily be lost. Even if the intention of the family was for the video to go viral, are any of us really willing to assert that this soon-to-be Jewish adult should actually be treated as a real adult and somehow expected to have the capacity to handle the potential "criticism" he could receive knowing that he "put it out there in the first place?" I would certainly hope not.
Here's what I'm really hoping won't happen, but what I fear will. What likely started off as a wonderfully positive way for a young boy and his family to engage creatively around an important, upcoming moment in his life will now likely become a tarnished, if not traumatic occurrence overshadowing not just his Bar Mitzvah, but his Jewish identity and development as well. Where's the win in that for this boy, his family, the Jewish people? Oh right, there isn't one.
Enough with the judgement and bashing. It is really easy to fall into the trap of passing judgment on others when their choices, both personal and in relation to Judaism, diverge from what we perceive we would do in the same situation. It is much harder to take a step back, accept that different people make different choices, and try to find the positive, raising up the good instead.
So, if you happen to see the video pop up in your twitter of FB feed or in your inbox, extend the boy and his family a hearty "Mazal Tov!" Praise him for his willingness to add his own creativity and community into the process. Let him know we are proud that he is going to be an adult in the Jewish world and we can't wait to see how he'll invest his talents and self after the big day has come and gone. Perhaps if enough of us put out positive energy, or at a minimum keep our negative opinions to ourselves, we might send a different, better, more enduring message, to the boy, his family, our own community, and the world.