February 21st, 2013
09:31 AM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
Atlanta (CNN) – According to Jewish tradition, a boy becomes a man at 13, when he's called before his community to read from the Torah and become a bar mitzvah, meaning “son of the commandments.”
In the case of Daniel Blumen, who will make this rite of passage in May, this homestretch of childhood has suddenly become a viral event.
Rather than send out simple save-the-date cards or e-mail announcements, Daniel busted out and did something different. A fan of rap music, this only child and “clever little guy,” as described by his father, made a music video – for which he wrote most of his own lyrics – playing off Jermaine Dupri's “Welcome to Atlanta," featuring Ludacris.
The video features Daniel plugging landmark sites across the city – Turner Field, the Olympic rings, the Georgia Aquarium – and includes a smattering of celebs. Ne-Yo holds up a sign in a photo: "To My Lil Rapper D Mazel Tov!" In another image, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley sit at the TNT Halftime Report desk, where Daniel also appears.
The final product was intended for friends and family and went out two weeks ago. But on Tuesday, a staff writer at Tablet magazine, Adam Chandler, saw it on Facebook after a friend of a friend shared it. He wrote a quick piece for the online Jewish publication, and social media took over – landing Daniel in the spotlight and on national TV.
“I've never done anything even closely related to this,” said Daniel, who explained that he and his mom were inspired by a save-the-date video that a kid from New York made a couple of years ago, playing off Jay-Z's “Empire State of Mind.” “It was really good, but we wanted to do something funnier that had to do with Atlanta.”
The reviews from friends and family have been great. And plenty of strangers are loving it, too, including Frank Ski, an Atlanta radio and TV personality.
Ski, who appeared in the original Jermaine Dupri and Ludacris video, was one of a handful of local celebs to make cameo appearances in Daniel's. He has a son in Daniel's school and a friend who practices law in the same firm as Daniel's parents. So when the friend approached him about the project, he couldn't resist. Daniel went to Frank Ski's Restaurant & Lounge, and after 15 minutes in the DJ booth together they had what they needed.
“It was pretty simple and painless,” Ski said. As for the final product: “Very creative,” he said. “Hilarious.”
Another fan is Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who also made an appearance after Daniel's mom sent a request to the mayor's office.
"Mayor Reed has an extremely busy schedule, but he has a soft spot for kids and this seemed like a fun, easy thing to do. ... It only took a few minutes," spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs wrote in an e-mail. "We did not know it would go viral. We think it is very cute."
Not everyone who's come across the video is pleased, however. There are plenty of oys and ughs, claims that this is an insult to a faith and a people, and other sweeping generalizations about what the video represents. One woman wrote on Facebook: "Gag. This would be cute if it weren't so excessive. I'm embarrassed on behalf of The Temple (the synagogue Daniel's family attends), my home city and southern Jewry."
The thing is, beyond the kid in New York who inspired the idea, Daniel is far from alone in doing this. Do a quick YouTube search, and there are oodles of less compelling save-the-date videos.
The criticisms are mind-blowing to Rabbi Peter Berg of The Temple, who agreed to a quick cameo himself. He said he knows countless synagogues that release playful videos, including raps, to ramp up High Holy Day attendance. And it's not as if this is Daniel's actual bar mitzvah, a ceremony the boy is taking very seriously.
“This is just a kid's save-the-date that he's sending to Aunt Sylvia,” said Berg. “He's a good kid. He's excited about his bar mitzvah, and I think it's a shame people are being critical.”
Even the headline to the Tablet story made a little dig: “Bar Mitzvah Video Eclipses GDP of Small Nations.”
That, too, is laughable to those who were involved. Berg said no one was paid to be in the video. It was shot in a day (other than quick cameos) and edited by a recent college grad, 21-year-old Gabi Chennisi, with the help of her boyfriend. Chennisi, who freelances around Atlanta and does work for CNN sister network HLN, said she got no more than $2,000 for the job – one she couldn't have enjoyed more.
“I want people to look for the spirit in the video,” she said. “He was not taking himself too seriously. The family wanted to have a good time with it, and he had a blast.”
And for those who complain that Daniel's parents, Rick Blumen and Liz Price, have nothing better to do with their money?
“This cost much less than the printed invitations (to the bar mitzvah), which aren't lavish either,” Daniel's dad said. “We'll have a normal service and normal party afterward. We're not looking to top any lists or do anything spectacular.”
But the fact that Daniel was inspired enough to do this video is pretty spectacular, said Clark Howard, an Atlanta-based syndicated consumer expert who appears on radio and TV, including HLN.
Howard doesn't know Daniel's parents, but when they reached out to one of his producers and he heard about what Daniel was doing, he was in. Something about a boy being pumped for his bar mitzvah got to him.
“It can be a brutal path,” Howard said.
He should know. He didn't have his bar mitzvah until 11 years ago, when he was 46. He decided to do it when his oldest daughter was studying for – and complaining about – her coming-of-age ceremony.
“She said, 'Dad, why do I have to do this when you never did it?' I said, 'You're right,'” Howard remembered. “She thought I was going to say 'quit.' … I said, 'Why don't I do it, too.'”
For two years he studied. He'd take breaks from a book tour to return to Atlanta and have lessons with his rabbi. He had no idea how hard it would be. Come the big day, which included a joint service with his daughter, Howard choked.
“She nailed it,” he said. “I was completely pathetic.”
Daniel, said those who know him, is bound to shine. He's working hard, according to his rabbi. He's conscientious and getting straight As, said his dad. The boy was racing off to Hebrew lessons, which he has twice a week, when CNN reached him Wednesday evening.
Fred Assaf, the head of Daniel's school, Pace Academy, and also a video cameo star, said there's a lesson in all of this – especially for those who grumble about “kids these days.”
“The world changes,” he said. “We're trying to get kids to take leadership positions and create a new world and not be stuck in the past. We encourage critical thinking and creativity. If these young kids can't be smarter than us, we're in trouble.”
If a child is having fun and is excited about an important milestone in his life, that's great news, he said.
“And a kid who's put himself out there regarding his faith, good for him,” Assaf said. “Who can complain?”
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.