Exhibition Features Selection of Television Clips Depicting Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

Still from”Black-ish” (ABC). Season 1, Episode 1: Pilot. 2014. Shown: Marsai Martin, Marcus Scribner, Anthony Anderson, Miles Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, Nick Carson.

Credit: ABC/Photofest © ABC

Release Date: June 17, 2021

Exhibition Features Selection of Television Clips Depicting Bar and Bat Mitzvahs

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Mazel Tov! Bar and Bat Mitzvahs on Television
June 17-November 8, 2021

New York, NY, June 17, 2021—American television frequently depicts bar and bat mitzvahs, its portrayals ranging from the sincere to the playful to the irreverent. The exhibition Mazel Tov! Bar and Bat Mitzvahs on Television, on view at the Jewish Museum from June 17 through November 8, 2021, brings together excerpts from television and streaming programs from 1966 to 2017, including shows such as The Wonder Years, Bob’s Burgers, BoJack Horseman, The Dick Van Dyke Show, 30 Rock, Younger, and Black-ish, among others. 

At the age of thirteen for boys and twelve for girls, a Jewish child becomes a bar or bat mitzvah, marking the transition to adulthood. In this rite of passage the bar or bat mitzvah traditionally recites the weekly Torah portion in synagogue and then gives a speech. A festive meal or party follows, at which the boy or girl usually receives a gift or money from each attendee. Bar and bat mitzvah celebrations have evolved considerably since Jews first immigrated to the United States. What had been a lowkey gathering of immediate family and congregants became an elaborate affair, a marker of status and affluence. While some bar and bat mitzvahs are interested in fulfilling an important ritual milestone, others are focused on being the center of attention at a big party. The event can be the perfect recipe for enjoyment and reflection or narcissism.

Contemporary television depicts diverse experiences of bar and bat mitzvahs, but nonetheless traffics in certain tropes: the speech in which the boy declares, “Today I am a man”; the lifting of the celebrant in a chair; and the discussion of gifts. The television excerpts shown in this exhibition reflect the evolution of attitudes toward the Jewish ritual over time, from the earnestness and nostalgia of The Wonder Years to the cynicism of Younger to the sharp observations about Jewish culture in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Television has been shaping and reflecting our perceptions since its rise as a mass medium in the 1930s. In 1981 the Jewish Museum established the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, a collection of television and radio materials related to the representation of Jewish experiences. At that time, it was a bold statement to align television with other art forms in a museum. The Archive is a record of how Jews have been portrayed and have portrayed themselves on television in the United States over the decades. Inspired by the Archive, Television and Beyond, one of the scenes that makes up the Jewish Museum’s collection exhibition Scenes from the Collection, draws on programs from several decades to explore these issues. 

Mazel Tov! Bar and Bat Mitzvahs on Television is organized by Aviva Weintraub, Director, New York Jewish Film Festival, The Jewish Museum.

Television and Beyond is made possible by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation.

Scenes from the Collection is made possible with leadership support from Amy and Jeffrey Silverman and the Eugene and Emily Grant Family Foundation, and through gifts from Audrey and Zygi Wilf, Jane and Mark Wilf, Debra Fine and Martin Schneider, Tracey and Robert Pruzan, Monica and Andrew Weinberg, gifts in honor of Regina Gruss, Jonathan and Darcie Crystal, Neubauer Family Foundation, Dr. William Pordy, Rhoda, Nolan and Harriet Rothkopf, the Knapp Family Foundation, the David Berg Foundation, Betty and John Levin, the Malinsky Family Charitable Trust and the Ira Waldbaum Family Foundation, Sara and Axel Schupf, the Stern Family Philanthropic Foundation, UOVO, the Gottesman Fund, and other generous donors.

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Press contacts

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