5 Top Bar and Bat Mitzvah Moments Through Television | MitzvahMarket

5 Top Bar and Bat Mitzvah Moments that Made Better Living Through Television


The Top 5 Bar and Bat Mitzvah Moments that Made Better Living Through Television

5 Top Bar and Bat Mitzvah Moments that Made Better Living Through Television

By Drew Kramer

Although the Jewish population makes up only .2% of the 8 billion people on the planet, representations of Jewish life appear regularly in mainstream pop culture. This can be credited to the important role that Jewish people played in the history of show business in the United States. As the American entertainment industry emerged from theater to screen in the 1920s, the industry once ridiculed as indecent became a haven for upwardly mobile Jewish performers who could make a living though slapstick comedy on the vaudeville circuit and then later in film. Whether on stage or the silver screen, Jewish performers and writers created a uniquely Jewish style of storytelling and an industry that supported its production. As television became mainstream in the 1950s, the medium brought stories that featured Jewish customs and ritual to the American living room, in particular – the bar mitzvah. 

By 2023, the internet is rich with roundups of the best B’nei Mitzvah content in television history, including on this site.  The following listicle considers the television B’nei Mitzvah episodes from a [hopefully] fresh lens. Below represents my top 5 TV B’nei Mitzvah moments that made Jewish Life better through Television.

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Families can enjoy programs that have their faith written into the script


Dick Van Dyke: Season 5, Episode 22 – Buddy Sorrell: Man and Boy (1966)


The Dick Van Dyke show created one of the first overtly Jewish characters on television. In 1966, the show’s character, Buddy Sorrell, a Jewish TV writer, secretly planned his own adult bar mitzvah. Suspicious of their colleague, his writing partners went on a crusade to understand if he was secretly seeing a shrink or having an affair. In 1966, this hit television show gave its mainstream audience a rare peek inside a synagogue, including prayers and rituals never before seen on television at that time.  


Wonder Years: Season 2; Episode 13 – Birthday Boy (1989) 


Fast forward to 1989, the ABC sitcom The Wonder Years devoted an episode to the Bar Mitzvah ritual. The episode focused on its main character Kevin Arnold’s jealousy that his best friend’s bar mitzvah overshadowed his own birthday. In a series known for its nostalgia for growing up in the 1960s and 70s, an era fraught with conflict over rights and representation, the lead character comes to see the tradition as a milestone of his own. The common experience of the passage of time and rise to adulthood makes the ritual feel universal. 


Sex and the City, Season 3, Episode 15 – Hot Child in the City (2000)


In Y2K, Sex and the City steered the country to ease social mores with the presentation of powerful single women owning their sexuality. In the third season, the girls revisited the horrors of puberty, facing braces and bat mitzvahs with a very different lens. Public Relations executive Samantha Jones is hired to promote the bat mitzvah of the year. Assertive and confident Samantha must confront conceptions of mean girls and privilege, feeling insecure and perhaps jealous of this child’s rise to womanhood. In the episode, the show challenges the excess of B’nei Mitzvah celebrations, while also reminding the viewer that the all-powerful, mean girl tween is but a child after all. 

Television has evolve through the years on the stories that are shared concerning the Jewish faith

The Mindy Project, Season 5, Episode 9 – Bat Mitzvah (2017)


The brilliant Mindy Kaling brings B’nei Mitzvah into her story when her character dates a Jewish divorced man with a daughter celebrating the milestone. Too soon in the relationship to be the dad’s plus one, Mindy crashes the interracial Bat Mitzvah celebration, claiming to be a rabbi herself. This hilarious episode demonstrates the diversity of the Jewish experience. 


Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Season 2, Episode 10 – Will Scarsdale Like Josh’s Shayna Punim (2017)


In Season 2 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the central character, Rebecca Bunch, returns to her hometown of Scarsdale, NY to attend her cousin’s Bat Mitzvah. In the episode, the show challenges numerous stereotypes of being Jewish, confronting the Jewish people’s need to acknowledge their centuries of suffering in an incredible musical number. It is a rare scene that confronts the Jewish people’s relationship to their history. 


In the 57 years since the first television bar mitzvah aired, we have come a long way. Beginning with a secret bar mitzvah in 1966 to an interracial bat mitzvah in 2017, American audiences are invited to observe the ritual that has evolved with its people. In doing so, they observe what it means to be Jewish, and, as Kevin Arnold experienced, share the tradition that celebrates the commonality of growing from childhood to adulthood.

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