This week, I joined fellow Jewish educators, tweens, and countless other Jews and Jew-curious Netflix binge-watchers, and entered into the world of middle-school drama and coming-of-age angst encapsulated in “You’re So Not Invited to My Bat Mitzvah.” Adam Sandler’s latest movie, which has rightly been described as his most Jewish yet, is a window into teen angst, the urgency of conflicts that feel like the biggest deal in the world, and, most importantly for me, a glimpse into a Jewish utopia. When I sat and wondered why this film seems to have so touched a nerve with the Jewish community at this moment, the same realization kept coming up, as loud and clear as DJ Schmuley’s playlist: This movie is the Jewish life we crave for our teens.
Put aside the opulence of the b’nai mitzvot that we get to attend as viewers of the film. Instead, I’m calling on us to focus on the ubiquitous nature of the Jewish experience: Everyone is Jewish. The Jewish community in the film is beautifully diverse. Not only is looking Jewish not limited by race, gender or sexual orientation in this idyllic world, but at no point do the tween protagonists have to consider bifurcating their identities or what it means to show up Jewishly versus hiding their Judaism to fit in. The hot guy in middle school wears a Jewish star. The cool kids spend time comparing notes on their mitzvah projects. The one non-Jewish friend is somehow a madrich for younger kids, teaching them how to make challah because “I go to church every Sunday. May as well fill the other six days with some, you know, holiness, too.” In a moment where young Jews have to intentionally make the choice about whether or not to share this part of their identities—let alone to highlight it—against a backdrop of rising antisemitism, a world where a multifaceted, diverse Jewish community goes without saying is a dream come true. Nothing has to be explained; everyone is on the same page about haftarah portions, mitzvah projects and the seminal milestone of the b’nai mitzvah experience.
Synagogue, the Jewish communal space, is where real life happens. The synagogue, and the microcosm of the religious-school classroom, is not separate from the most pressing elements of the lives of the tween stars. Synagogue is comfortable. It’s familiar. It’s a place where Rabbi Rebecca is on hand to answer questions about acne while dispensing biblical wisdom, and even, scandalously, where first kisses happen. Rather than a world where it’s not abnormal to hear a teen say they do Jewish things in Jewish places and what happens outside of those walls is the rest of their “real” lives, we are in a place where the Jewish is the real and the real is the Jewish. As educators, we talk about the importance of teaching the whole student. If there’s anything more whole than the complexities of interrupting a first kiss (literally, inside the ark), I haven’t found it yet.
Everyone is bought in. Stacy, the eponymous bat mitzvah girl, may not be particularly worried about practicing her Torah portion, especially when compared with the pressures of having the perfect theme and the dream dress, but there’s no question that the Jewish ritual is central to her, her parents, her friends and her community. While Rabbi Rebecca may be tasked with keeping her tween students focused and Dad Adam Sandler has a particularly iconic one-liner about the theme of his own bar mitzvah being “being Jewish,” by the time we join the story, the foundational work has been done—and done well. The Jewish calendar is understood, Jewish rituals are prioritized, and the whole community shows up to honor each other at each service (and party).
We can see ourselves. It is understood that representation in media is critical for minority groups; we love to see ourselves portrayed well on screen and in print. And after a summer of controversy about what Judaism looks like in contemporary media (see Bradley Cooper’s prosthetic nose when playing Leonard Cohen, and Helen Mirren as Golda Meir), this is a glimpse of a Jewish world that is a joy to behold. Jews of every color and every age, finding the Jewish joy that we all crave. It’s a window into our own idealized lives that we can point to and say—that imperfect, loving family? Those flawed best friends? That quirky rabbi/educator? That’s us. We know them, and we are them. They’re our dream Jewish community, mojito bar and all.