Toronto boy’s bar mitzvah video goes viral

Jorel Hoffert’s video titled “Jorel rocks his bar mitzvah!” has been on YouTube since February 18, 2013.

The video shows Jorel, 12, doing his own lyrics and dance versions of “We are the Champions” by the band Queen, and of “Gangam Style” from Psy. It attracted attention from major news organizations like Global, the CBC, NBC and the Washington Post.

The Toronto student teamed up with his producer father, David Hoffert, to create the video. It now has over 400,000 views. In it, Jorel plays the piano, sings, dresses up in his prayer shawl in a synagogue, sits on a toilet, and mentions getting money, among other scenes, as a way to invite people to his upcoming celebration.

Hoffert said he and his family never expected so many people to watch the video, which was only intended for family and friends.

“Jorel and I wanted to do something special for the bar mitzvah and something unique,” Hoffert said in a telephone interview. “Because I’m in the television industry and Jorel likes to make videos himself, we thought it would be a great idea if we collaborated on a video invitation for our friends and family.”

They hoped the guests would think it was “funny and fun”, but also that it would capture the flavour of a bar mitzvah, Hoffert continued.

While most of the comments on YouTube are largely positive, there have been a few negative ones, mostly targeting Jorel’s mixed race background. His mother is Asian.

“Technically once you uploaded this to youtube we are allowed to make fun of you (see the unwritten internet rules ) If you did not want to be made fun of, which is obviously very easy in this case…Do Not Upload shit to the internet!…”, wrote a YouTube user called Shootsbraw.

Hoffert responded, under the username dpop1, warning viewers to keep the hurtful comments to themselves.

“We can handle being made fun of. We will not tolerate racist or homophobic comments,” he wrote.

The video has also been seen by some of Toronto’s Jewish community members, including the senior rabbi of Beth Tzedec Congregation, Baruch Frydman-Kohl.

“We are beginning to see more social media being used to highlight family celebrations,” Rabbi Frydman-Kohl acknowledged, calling the video “very creative”.

Rabbi Frydman-Kohl
Rabbi Frydman-Kohl (Courtesy Beth Tzedec Synagogue)

He was puzzled, though, about a particular part of the production.

“I think at the end, he sort of hands in his yarmulke, his skullcap. I wasn’t sure what the significance of that was, unless it was kind of a statement, ‘I’m done with the bar mitzvah, here’s my skullcap now.’ It wasn’t so clear to me what the significance of that was,” the rabbi said.

The rabbi at Markham’s Shaar Shalom synagogue, Martin Berman liked the video, too, and found it “basically inoffensive”.

Rabbi Martin Berman
Rabbi Martin Berman (Courtesy Shaar Shalom Synagogue)

“This production number that the youngster did with his family is obviously a kind-of phenomenon. But, I’m sure the actual celebration itself is not going to be any different than it would have been otherwise,” Rabbi Berman said. “I’m sure the synagogue service, wherever the synagogue is, has nothing to do with social media. I imagine the party they’re going to have has very little to do with it as well, except obviously there’s some publicity that comes out of it.”

At the Canadian Jewish News, assignment editor and reporter Cara Stern liked the unique invitation but warned people who might want to copy the idea to not reveal too many details about the event, to avoid dealing with uninvited guests, especially if they make the video public on YouTube.

“Bar mitzvahs have always had a social aspect, so I don’t know why this kind of social media is an issue to people,” Stern said.

Toronto event planner Sarah Cherry, who also thought the video was “amazing”, suggested not everyone might appreciate the concept, especially older people.

Cherry said sometimes the old fashioned way is the best way to invite people, such as by sending cards in the mail.

“YouTube can be very dangerous, as we all know. You don’t know who’s surfing the web. So there is that precaution; you have to be careful,” said Cherry, who is co owner of Cherry and Baker Event Planners, in Thornhill.