A dad shares - the 'magic' of Thirteen

My name is Anthony and Boaz is my son who was a participant in this year’s Thirteen Barmi program. For those of you that don’t know me, I have several children. This this year was the second time that our family had the privilege of participating in the programme, having completed it with our son Zaro last year.

I wanted to start by sharing a few words with you: see, learn, opportunity, impact, confronting, challenging, experience, empowered, grateful and privileged.

These are not my words but those that I heard over and over as I listened to the boys’ speeches at this year’s closing ceremony just a few weeks ago.

It's fair to say that these are not words we often hear from 12-year-old boys, but such is the magic of this programme that your child’s eyes will be opened to a whole new world. A world that is not always fair, not always perfect, not always comfortable but more than anything else is very real.

I am not sure about you but as a parent I am always trying to connect with my kids on a level that engages them and speaks to them but is not in the form of a screen. Thirteen Barmi allowed me to do this with Boaz, and helped my wife and I pass on to him the importance we place on tzedakah/charity. It also allowed us to demonstrate together the concept of giving of one’s self, through effort, kindness and compassion rather than merely through money.

One of the best things my kids gained from the programme is the ability to see that there is much beyond the bubble and, surprisingly, it is not far from where we live. One of the things that stands out for me from my experience in the programme with Boaz this year is a session that we did with C-Care. After packing what seemed like a mountain of food, we were each given our parcels to deliver. What immediately struck both Boaz and I was that all our deliveries were in East St Kilda and Windsor- only minutes away from our home and Boaz’s school.

c care barmitzvah boys volunteering
Boaz (left) and a friend prepare meals for delivery to Jewish people in need

Then we were given one simple directive: If the person to whom you are delivering a meal offers you something, please take it. I actually stopped for a moment and thought I had misunderstood. Weren’t they getting this all the wrong way around? But our workshop leader went on to stress the importance of this and explained how much joy it gives some of the people to simply have a weekly visit, receive the much-needed meals and also to then be able to give something back.

I walked away scratching my head but sure enough after several challenging deliveries to families and elderly people we reached our second last stop which was on the 4th floor of the housing commission flats in Windsor. We knocked on the door as instructed and waited. Eventually we were invited into the living room by a small elderly lady with a thick eastern European accent. To say that she was thrilled to see us would be a massive understatement. After grilling Boaz about his family, life, education, friends and interests and insisting on giving him a big hug, she then told us about her sons, one of whom had passed in tragic circumstances some years ago.

As we were about to leave, she stopped us, went to her tiny cupboard and grabbed a packet of dark chocolate bars. As she handed them to Boaz, he could not refuse the gift and the smile on her face when Boaz graciously accepted them was priceless.

As I stepped out of that living room, I felt like I had just gone back in time and stepped out of my late grandmothers’ home. I once again felt the warmth and love of an eastern European immigrant who did not need much to make her happy and just loved to be able to share what little she had. Best of all, I got to experience and feel this with Boaz who was equally as touched by the moment.

So – why do the program?

As a parent there is no better way to demonstrate your commitment to an ideal than by leading by example. Roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, use your imagination and let your kids see it.

As for the kids the opportunity that the programme provides is unparalleled. To be able to work with top notch professional organisations such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation, Helping Hoops, C-Care and the Royal Children’s Hospital and to make a small difference to the lives of people less fortunate and often in dire need, is a step on the way to building a better person with core values that have always been integral to our community.

For all of us the Barmi/Batmi year is a crazy busy time; lessons, programs, parties not to mention school, footy, tennis, mates. It’s all happening, but I can honestly say that we never had to push our boys to attend - they were very keen.

Whilst the sessions were sometimes confronting, we always ended up finding on element of calmness and reflection. The sessions provoked many discussions between us on levels that we could not have engaged in without the experiences we shared.

Having been through the Thirteen Barmi programme twice with our sons, my wife Sharon and I are very much looking forward to participating in the Twelve Batmi program with our daughter Jemima next year and I encourage you all to join us on the journey.

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