A decade after his Broadway-worthy burlesque-style bar mitzvah dance went internationally viral, Sam Horowitz — Sam the Man or Bar Mitzvah Boy back then — is in New York City studying fashion business at Parsons School of Design.
Browse his Instagram feed, where his chiseled features, glamorous wardrobe and self-assured poses in telegenic far-flung locales suggest he’s a model. But he says he’s just having fun.
The Parish Episcopal School alumnus now in his 20s comes across in conversation as humble, sweet, grounded. He loves his mom, Angela, and dad, Gary, and he is close with his younger siblings Sydney and Max.
Max, an aspiring Jewish rapper, according to Sam, performed at his own bar mitzvah last winter. A video with infectious potential is in post production. Sam says that if it happens to catch fire, his sib should enjoy the ride.
Because time flies, and Sam, for one, cannot believe he’s sitting here talking to us almost 10 years after his own appearances on Ellen and Good Morning America.
He has agreed to reminisce about his whirlwind fame, what he learned, what audiences were not told about the Horowitz family — their contributions to the Jewish community and Preston Hollow neighborhood — and how all of it plays into what the college senior is doing now and where he’s heading.
So, first, Max, your little brother — he performed at his recent bar mitzvah party and what?
You’ll probably hear about it. He had a big performance as well. So he’s kind of trying to work on editing his bar mitzvah video to post online.
Can you talk about what goes into actually preparing for the bar mitzvah itself?
The bar mitzvah ceremony is the coming of age, upon turning 13, for a Jewish boy. It’s bat mitzvah for a girl. We belong to Congregation Shearith Israel in Dallas, which is a conservative synagogue. I had a morning bar mitzvah service. That part was not seen by the world. Everyone saw there was this huge party — my family happens to do things a little bit larger — but I prepared for two years for the Saturday morning ceremony. I had to learn to read and speak Hebrew in order to read different portions from the Torah and all the prayers that go into the ceremony, and that is really important.
The bar mitzvah could be compared to, say, the quinceañera in the Hispanic community where religious custom is at the root of a larger celebration.
Did you have any inkling people would go so crazy over your bar mitzvah video?
I had no intention for this to become viral. It really wasn’t a thing then. We were all like, “what is it to be viral?” The video was originally produced and put online for family and friends so that they could see some of the highlights. We wanted them to feel like they were there with us.
How did you prepare for the celebration?
My mom and I sat down with our party planner Todd Fiscus — we call him my Uncle Todd. He’s a really dear friend of the family and an icon in the party planning industry, not only in Dallas, but around the U.S. I always wanted to do something big, a performance of some type. I ended up landing on dancing because I was inspired by the film Burlesque that had just come out at the time. I wanted a Burlesque theme with the dancers and, well …
My mom was instantly like, OK, “Let’s tone it down a little.”
It was a very mature environment for a group of kids, but it felt natural and fun and cool and unique — non-stereotypical — while in-line with the way society was changing.
The publicity and press that followed taught me a lot about overcoming adversity and learning to deal with criticism.
Yeah, talk about what you learned — especially looking back now that you’re a young adult?
It was a learning experience for all of us as we dealt with the publicity.
Believe it or not we are essentially private in the way we lead our lives. We are very involved in the Jewish community in Texas and Dallas and also internationally. That is where we focus a lot of our efforts.
We run a privately held family business, Stevens Transport — my grandfather started it 40 some years ago and my mom still works every day Monday through Saturday.
For them it was a shock because their names would be thrown into different articles, or I was referred to as “heir” to the company or other things that were inaccurate and irrelevant.
I remember there was this one kind of scandal where a rabbi from another congregation in a different city accused me of not fully understanding the whole importance, and he obviously did not know how I had prepared for the day.
I read a Daily Beast article about a Washington Post editorial about your rabbi (William Gershon) responding to that rabbi?
Yes. Yes, and also, for every negative comment, I can think of 10 amazing things people have said to me.
And in general the whole experience was the best time. Traveling around the states, going to TV interviews around the country — it was crazy and a lot of fun.
I was definitely distracted from anything negative by being on Ellen. She was a really positive force in my life during that time and somebody who taught me to keep my head up and to persevere. I still look up to her today.
It also, I think, was when I began to learn who I am.
I grew up loving to perform, acting both onstage and in film and TV commercials, playing a part. I definitely used acting as an outlet to express myself and to tap into my creativity, which I love, but one thing about that performance — the whole thing — I was being myself. And I was finding this power in being myself. I am performing, but not having to disguise myself as someone else.
In the clips from the bar mitzvah and the talk shows, you look so happy.
When I did it, I was doing it just out of pure enjoyment and celebration, but the independence and strength that came along with that has taught me so much and really helped me become the person I am today.
I don’t know if I knew at the time that it was a coming-to-terms with who I was. I was going into eighth grade in middle school at the time. Whether I knew that something profound was happening or not, it was.
So, who is the person you are today?
There are so many ways to answer that, but I can say that I think today I’m a proud, confident, creative, hard working individual.
In learning that it’s OK to be yourself and that you don’t have to play someone else, I was able to follow my love for fashion, pursue my dreams and work amazing internships. I was thrown into that world and I feel right at home there.
To be clear, you are not a fashion model?
Thank you. I am just living my best life. I am very fortunate to be connected to a great group of friends in New York City and around the world who work in fashion and who love a lot of the things that I do, and we get to go to some really fun and great events, sometimes with Dolce & Gabbana, sometimes with friends at home.
What would you say to kids who get bullied or ridiculed?
While I don’t see myself as a role model or anything, I do hope my story inspired other people who were growing up having different passions than what may be considered the norm for a 13-year-old boy. I am lucky to have my mom. If you have someone who supports you, you’re lucky. She is the one who taught me — and I would say this to others — there are always going to be critics, but if you are moving toward being the best version of yourself possible, those critics can take nothing from you.
One thing that came up after your bar mitzvah was that you used it to raise funds for a charity. Are you still involved in philanthropic work?
Oh yes. My siblings and I were always taught the importance of giving back to our community. We always do bar mitzvah service projects. For mine, I raised $36,000 for a charity that I work with in Israel, a youth facility for impoverished teens and boys.
Most of the charities I — and my family — work with are in Dallas, like the Jewish Community Center — the Aaron family name is on a building — that’s my mom’s name — Aaron Family Jewish Community Center.
The Legacy Senior Communities is another huge one for us. My grandmother Carol Aaron chaired the capital campaign for their new Midtown Park facilities which are gorgeous and absolutely incredible.
For her 80th birthday — she just turned 80 in July — my cousins and I, all her grandchildren, we are starting a new program in her honor to try to get seniors socializing with each other — we kind of came from a family of party planning so it’s perfect for us to get together a few times a year to try to bring the seniors and their families together to celebrate life and make their living situations in a retirement facility as normal and fun as possible.
I have to ask but will we ever see another Sam Horowitz performance?
I never say never. That is part of the lesson of everything, right? I never know what life could throw my way and what opportunities might arise, and I am not one to pass up something fun and exciting.
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