Lights, Cameras, Bar Mitzvah at Utah Synagogue
Hosting a Bar/Bat Mitzvah has been a regular occurrence at Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, Utah, since the synagogue opened its doors in 1976—but it’s not every day that there’s multiple cameras and millions watching at home. The synagogue’s chapel served as the location for Cyrus Goodman’s (played by actor Joshua Rush) Bar Mitzvah on an episode of Disney Channel’s popular show, Andi Mack, which first aired in February.
And it wasn’t just the chapel that made a TV appearance. Several members of the congregation were chosen to be extras and the congregation’s Executive Director Danny Burman served as the show’s consultant to ensure the Bar Mitzvah was portrayed accurately and was even asked to perform as the show’s rabbi.
“The show is filmed in and around Utah, so when they decided to do a Bar Mitzvah episode, we met with the director and site location crew and they seemed to love it here, so we worked out a contract,” Danny says. “When they came in late fall, there was a makeup crew that got everyone ready, a wardrobe crew that told us what outfits would work together and about 20 film trucks that were in our parking lot at 5 a.m. Everything was done extremely well and professional.”
Danny spread the word to congregants about the show needing extras for the full-day shoot and quickly had numerous members wanting to take part, including Amy Ireland and her son Ben. All extras—including Danny, who was a “featured” extra for his role as the rabbi—received compensation for their role. “It was fun to see what it’s like being a part of a show since it was my first time,” Ben says. “My favorite part was just being around the same characters we see on the TV.” Amy adds that the day of filming was perfect for bringing several members of the congregation together and gave her a chance to visit with everyone.
A big focus on the episode, titled “Cyrus’ Bash Mitzvah”, was on making sure the Bar Mitzvah scene was as accurate as possible. Danny met with Joshua, who had his Bar Mitzvah a few years prior in Israel, and his family a couple times before the shoot to give him some refreshers on reading the Torah. Congregation Kol Ami’s ark, Torah and bema were also featured on the show to maintain authenticity.
To Danny, the opportunity wasn’t just a fun experience for the congregants to take part in, but it also provided the perfect chance to share sacred Jewish culture with a wide audience. “There was a lot of motivation for the congregation to be involved once we knew it was to support a Bar Mitzvah on a Disney show,” he says. “It was a tremendously positive scenario because a Bar/Bat Mitzvah just doesn’t happen often on national television. To help put our culture out there, make it familiar and make it a positive experience is something we are very proud of.”
Did You Know?
- Congregation Kol Ami was featured in the 2008 movie Beau Jest and on a TV episode of Touched by an Angel.
- Keeping it kosher: vegetarian pastas, lasagna and roasted vegetables were served for lunch on the day of the shoot.
- 1.39 million viewers tuned in to watch the airing of the episode on February 23.
- The oldest congregant who served as an extra was 92 years old.
For more information on Congregation Kol Ami, click here.