As you’d expect, the 13-year-old boy was more than a little embarrassed by his father’s boisterous celebration.
The father was shouting, calling anyone within earshot to join an impromptu party. It was an irresistible invitation, and soon strangers were dancing in the family circle, learning that it didn’t really matter if you knew all the right dance steps.
It was simply important to dance.
The boy could not hide, though it appeared at times he would very much like to disappear. And shy though he was, he certainly could not refuse to dance on the busy city street.
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After all, he was the reason his dad was celebrating!
We were in Jerusalem’s Old City a week or so ago and a Bar Mitzvah celebration had interrupted our lunch. A band of musicians led the march, and family members of all ages were dancing in the parade. They were dressed in white and snapping photos as fast as their cell phones would record the moments. We snapped photos, too, and danced as if we were part of the party. The family applauded our enthusiasm and then paraded off to find more strangers who would join in their celebration.
All because a gangly boy in their midst had managed to turn 13 years old.
I’ve long been intrigued by the concept of Bar (or Bat) Mitzvah. At its heart, it is a religious ceremony. The boy in the center of our parade had studied for months for his first public reading of the Torah. By the time he finished his parade, he would be wrapped in religious attire and surrounded by older men as he read the ancient words.
Even so, Bar Mitzvah is far more than an exercise of faith. It is an exercise of family!
When a boy or girl turns 13 in the Jewish community, older siblings proudly claim kinship with their younger siblings. Younger siblings look up in admiration. Aunts and uncles shower them with gifts. As long as he lives, the boy or girl in the middle of the parade will never forget the day he or she turned 13!
Why bring this up to a largely non-Jewish audience on Father’s Day weekend?
Because this is also about good parenting and about good community.
If you want to know why Jewish people — with far less than 1 percent of the world’s population — have managed to win more than 20 percent of the world’s Nobel prizes, look no further than your nearest Bar Mitzvah ceremony.
If you were ever to marvel at the incredibly low rate of imprisonment for Jewish people, then also marvel at the 13-year-old boy on the shoulders of his father, his brothers and his uncles.
Give a child a good father, and he or she has got a chance to accomplish great things. Let a gawky 13-year-old know that his dad is proud of him, and he’s much less likely to look for support in a gang. He’s much more likely to respect authority. She’s much more likely to choose success over failure.
Can things go wrong in such a supportive atmosphere? Of course they can!
But the odds for success go way up when a teenager knows he’s got the support of family. Do you remember what it feels like to be caught somewhere between childhood and adulthood? Would it have made a difference then if the adults around you had acted as if they were proud of you?
If you’re a dad, find a way to celebrate your children through every stage of life. When they enter the turbulent waters of adolescence, double your efforts! They’ll take every ounce of encouragement you have for them.
Even if you’re not a dad, this concept of encouragement at such a critical stage of life is still your responsibility. No doubt, there are some fatherless children around you. God hasn’t put you in your place by accident. He expects you to pick up the mantle — whether or not those children carry your family name.
This Father’s Day weekend, invent a reason to brag on a 13-year-old. Be loud about it. Make it embarrassingly loud! If you feel like it, start a dance with strangers and put the kid in the middle of the parade!
OK, maybe that’s a little over the top. Still, there’s a teenager around you who needs to know that someone older believes in him or her this weekend.
So be a believer. Be an encourager. Be a father to the fatherless.
And by all means, enjoy the dance!
Andy Cook lives in Peach County and is the founder of Experience Israel Now.