A new show on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network called Belief, which examines the experiences of believers of different faiths, premiered on Sunday with the story of Orthodox bar mitzvah boy Mendel Hurwitz, and social media went nuts. After the episode aired, Oprah gave a personal shout-out to Mendel, prompting a trend on Twitter.
Hurwitz made his big TV debut on the first episode, “The Seekers.” In it, he prepares for his bar mitzvah in the Teleki Tér Shtiebel Budapest, the only existing synagogue following Hassidic/Sfard liturgical traditions in Hungary, where his father serves as the Rabbi. Mendel, a precocious 13-year-old, explains that the bar mitzvah is “a ceremony of when you become from child to an adult. It’s basically the bye-bye for being a child.” He then lists his new responsibilities, which involve some challenging life questions, like “Is God a person with a old white beard?” Mendel’s father, Rabbi Sholom Hurwitz, sheps some serious nachas over his son’s inquisitiveness, saying that “questioning is the heart of Judaism.”
The show was filmed two years ago, so an update on Mendel’s progress in his newfound adult life is in order. Luckily, an online component called “After Belief,” provides just that. Reflecting on his transition, Mendel said, “You think differently, you think more independently.” Mendel’s father, still glowing with pride, said he’s excited that “the story’s going to be there for such a large amount of people” and that he believes Mendel was chosen to be featured on the show because he brings “comic relief.”
Episode 2, “Love’s Story,” which aired on Tuesday night, follows preparations for a Hasidic Brooklyn wedding. Tune in tonight to embark on the monumental task of “discover[ing] the true meaning of faith,” or just to get your daily fix of heartwarming Jewish stories.
Hannah Vaitsblit is an intern at Tablet.