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.
Welcome to Atlanta where the playas play,
Hope you can make my bar mitzvah day.
Thirteen years since I was born,
And the party won't stop till Sunday mornin'.
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.
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“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.”
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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?”
Well, he's had his 15 minutes of fame. And it was 16 minutes too long.
Wow thats almost as terrible as the palestinean children dying every day...how is this news again?
I think people need to chill out. 1. If his family can afford it, then it's no one's business what it cost. 2. It's just a kid trying to be creative and have fun. 3. He's 13! No one likes good music at that age. :)
Seriously, go complain about something else. You know you want to :)
He has choosen some poor role models, he is a walking, talking, trendy stereotype. It's nice when kids learn what's important in life early, rap, money and looking foolish (love the sideways hat so cool). Kudos kid, and just so you know you're not a man at 13 only Jewish people would believe something so outdated a concept. Maybe in 976BC a kid was a man at 13 because life expectancy was 25. In 2013 no one will take you seriously at 13 whether you call yourself a man or not, you will see. Jewish people are as blind and obtuse as Christians. And now...
AND GIVE ME YOUR MONEY, ERR UMM I MEAN DONATIONS!!!!!!
Amen brother/sister! I thought Judaism was extinct and now this little kid! Lordy, when will it end? What's that, Lord? Nothing? You have nothing to say? I figured as much. You never do.
I think the video was kinda fun. Just a shame it was drenched in religious propaganda and delusion. Otherwise just a kid being a kid with some help from other people to make a fun video. Who cares if he spent $2000 on it. If I were rich I'd soak my kid in cash at every opportunity.
How very materialistic of you. You're just as bad as the religionists except that your god appears to be money.
You must not live in the U.S. You've heard this rumour that our country is capitalist? It is structured to compel us to earn money. Some have figured out how to make more than others. Your jealousy is pathetic.
Just another OBNOXIOUS AMERICAN punk. This kid is NOT funny on any level.
I cannot believe i wasted a few minutes of my life on this. Guess if i was Jewish I might find this semi entertaining.........
That was cool. I'm 14 and don't like rap but that was pretty cool. I have tried to write my own songs but is kinda hard. I think most people are just jealous.
Sofa king stupid I almost can't believe it.
Not sure why anyone would say anything other than this is a cute kid having fun. Sure it sounds like his parents have connections and some money to spend, but you know what? How is that his fault? He's a kid, let him be. They did this for family. And if you complain about it being rep, well you come off as a racist. You do, sorry but if it were any other music people would say "I hate that song". But to hammer a kid on his music choice...just shows how ridiculous you are.
Happy Bar Mitzvah Danial, from Texas
"music chioce"?? I just think he is talentless and his rap is wack – but I have no problem with rap in general/
Wow, $2K to make a save the date video? I can only imagine the price tag for the event itself.
I have the original NY video that I believe this plays off of. If Jessica would like to email me that would be great. Thank you
Please do email it to me! I'd love to see it and link to it... Thanks, Joe!
Oops...my email address would help: email@example.com
Yeah, thanks for doing all the hard work for her, joe! She gets the big buks you get the lipschitz. Chump.
Seriously, Schneerson? As far as I can tell that video wasn't posted on YouTube. Believe me, I looked! And Daniel's family never saved it... It was emailed to them about two years ago. If Joe happens to have it, I'd be thrilled to see it. But it was never crucial to my story - a story I had an afternoon to write, by the way.
My favorite Bar Mitzvah/Halloween song will always be "Warewulf Bar Mitzvah."
Whatever happened to Doc Mo She aka "The Hannukah Homeboy?"
I just wasn't feeling it. I vote no.
I find all things religious to be quite funny, but also quite sad.
It is adorable. Anyone that thinks it is not, needs to relax...pull the pole out of your butt!
Good job Daniel!!
Shut up, Daniel's mom!
I applaud Daniel for putting this together. I didn't make it all the way through, but it seemed to be well thought out. Next time, he just has to bring the swagger.
I would have liked anything better than rap. Maybe something a little more cultured like an Opera perhaps... Rap is just to thug ghetto trap for my exquisite tastes... Coming from Pace Academy I would expect something in a higher level of taste and culture. Even still, I hope he has a great party and enjoys his special day!
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.