Students explore their family history and discover their families’ values and the roots of their own beliefs and principles.
Camila Grunberg June 25, 2016
Jack Flesher June 12, 2016
Raven Kaplan-Karlick May 21, 2016
Safia Singer-Pomerantz April 30, 2016
Alexander Kol Harris March 5, 2016
Julian Gerber January 9, 2016
Maya Mondlak Reuveni October 3, 2015
Sophia Singer September 27, 2015
Liana Hitts April 26, 2015
Austin Shatz November 22, 2014
Benjamin Bottner October 11, 2014
Liliana Franklin April 27, 2014
Samantha Streit April 5, 2014
Julian Keifetz October 13, 2013
Jolie Elins October 12, 2013
Caleb Klein September 29, 2013
Anna Young September 22, 2013
Alex Botwin September 21, 2013
Jordan Hallerman June 30, 2013
Adrianna Keller-Wyman June 15, 2013
Yelena Keller-Wyman June 15, 2013
Georgia Dahill-Fuchel June 9, 2013
Ruby Rayner-Haselkorn October 27, 2012
Olivia Alcabes November 17, 2012
James Ryan October 22, 2011
Nicky Young June 13, 2010
Alicia Blum May 8, 2010
Isaac Mann January 17, 2010
Ryan Kramer December 5, 2009
Emily Dyke October 25, 2009
Yoela Koplow May 23, 2009
Abigail Lienhard Cohen November 12, 2005
Alanna Olken November 5, 2004
Alex Rawitz February 23, 2008
Anschel Schaffer-Cohen June 3, 2006
Ben Farber May 12, 2007
Benjamin Sternhell June 17, 2006
Benjamin Weitz September 9, 2006
Danielle Nourok October 21, 2006
Gabe Zimmerman December 20, 2008
Jonah Garnick December 1, 2007
Jonah Lieberman Flint May 16, 2009
Kyra Zimmerman November 18, 2006
Each individual chooses values to hold important in their lives. Values can be inherited from family or simply chosen. Lately, I have been looking back at my family’s long and detailed history with an observant lens in order to find what my ancestors’ values were through the stories of their lives. I came to the conclusion that several family members, both past and present, share very similar values with me that have been passed along through many generations.
One value shared throughout my family is determination, or hech-leh-tee-yoot. Determination is not only a value but also a trait that has been preserved within my family for many generations. An example in my life where I am constantly determined to do better is with my dancing. Whenever I come home from a dance competition I am determined to do better next time. I am always proud of my performances but I want to continue to grow as a dancer and an individual.
Another value in my family as well as my own is the value of bettering the world, or tee-koon o-lahm. Someone in my family, who strongly believed in bettering the world, was my maternal grandmother’s stepmother, Rosa. She was a very committed Jew who devoted her life to helping women and children in Israel after she emigrated to Venezuela from Vienna, Austria.
She was the president of the Venezuelan branch of the Women’s Zionist Organization. Rosa went door-to-door collecting funds to support Issrael. She also organized many fundraisers along with the other members of the Women’s Zionist Organization.
Rosa was also very passionate about music, or moo-see-ka, which is another value of my family’s and my own. She used to express this value by playing her piano that stood in the living room of her house. After she died my maternal grandmother Ruth (Rosa’s stepdaughter) kept the piano for several years before donating it to the music program at the school that both my parents attended called Hebraica in Caracas, Venezuela. In the act of donating the piano in Rosa’s name, Ruth and Saul were not only honoring the value of music but also bettering the world. The piano was later used at many student concerts at Hebraica and it was very much appreciated by the students and the staff. I also inherited the value of music from my family. I am currently learning to play the violin, and have taken both piano and voice lessons in the past.
I enjoy expressing myself through creativity, or y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot, which is another value of mine. I use my creativity, other than by playing my violin and singing, by dancing, or ree-kood. I dance because it makes me feel good. I like that it’s a challenge that I can overcome with hard work. I currently dance lyrical/contemporary, jazz, ballet, and tap. In the past I have also taken several other styles of dance including hip hop, tumbling and various ballroom dances.
Dancing requires hard work, or a-vo-dah ka-shey, which is another value that is present in my family. My maternal grandmother, Ruth, worked very hard and became not only the first woman, but also the first Jew to be president of the Central Bank in Venezuela (which is the equivalent to the Federal Reserve in the US). She had the responsibility of signing the paper currency that everyone in Venezuela used. I still have a bill from a Monopoly game with Ruth’s signature, which she gave to me as a present when I was eight years old. I, along with my family, do my best to work hard so that I can be proud of my progress.
Education, or chee-nuch, is another important value in my family. My paternal grandfather was hardworking. He wanted to study to be a lawyer but wasn’t able to because he grew up during the Holocaust.
When the war was over and he was already living in Venezuela, he decided to study law while in he was in his forties. He then opened his own law firm. That took a lot of hard work and perseverance, or Akh-sha-noot which is another value I share with my family.
Family, or meesh-pah-cha, is an important value for my family and me. My parents have taught me that family is extremely important and should never be taken for granted. As I have grown older I have come to understand, more and more, just how important family is. Whenever I have school events, concerts, or dance performances, family members come to support me. That makes me feel empowered and strong. A lot of my family lives in Venezuela, Florida, California and France but being far away from them does not make us any less close. We make an effort to keep in touch with family members because family is such an important value.
Friendship, or cha-vey-root, is another value close to my heart. Over several years I have been lucky to have found friends who respect me as I respect them. I have met some of my friends in school, dance class and through family, and they all share similar values to my own. I know I can trust my friends, and I hope they know that they can trust me too. I am grateful for my friends for always being there for me.
My family has many values that have been passed along for many generations until they reached me. I make sure to honor these values and find out what they mean to me by thinking of them in my own life context. The same value can have different meanings to different people because it’s possible to interpret values in many ways. I also learned that a value isn’t something that is set in stone. Values may change over time. Values define who I am as a person. They motivate and guide my actions as well as the interactions that shape my personality and future. Since values are so important to one’s life, I will continue to make an effort to think about my values and why they are important to me.
To understand the values that my family holds, I interviewed multiple family members and learned their stories and what was important to them. I then looked at a list of values and fit the stories into the values that I thought the stories represented. I personally believe a value is a part of a code which people conduct their lives by. Each person has their own values which make up their own code.
Courage (O-metz lev) and Risk-taking (L’kee-khat see-koo-neem)
Check your privilege. Every single one of my great grandparents on my mother’s side were the first ones in their families to be born here in the United States. That means all of their parents and their older siblings left their country to arrive in the United States. For a year, my great great grandfather Joseph Mogelefsky slept on a park bench so that he could afford to send money to the rest of his family in Poland so that they could join him. Sometimes my stepdad sleeps for hours on the couch – so I think that I have a pretty good idea of my great great grandfather’s struggle.
Justice (Tzeh-dek) and Equality (Sheev-yon)
Another family value that is very important to my family is justice and equality. I have always had a strong sense of social justice inherited and taught from both of my parents and other family members. I’ve always been taught that gender, race, or sexuality shouldn’t play any role in the way a person is treated in their job or politically. I stayed up late to watch the vote when New York legalized same sex marriage. I put a rock down on the LGBT Holocaust memorial in Amsterdam, as I know that something similar to the Holocaust could and has happened again.
My father’s grandfather was a translator at Ellis Island at a time when immigrants had to be able to read in some language to be allowed to stay in the United States. Most of the Eastern European Jews were illiterate but religious, so he told them to hold their prayer books and recite some of the prayers which they knew by heart. This would make the officials think that they were literate, even though some of the immigrants held their prayer books upside down.
My family takes humor dead seriously. My great grandfather Nat had a very dry sense of humor, which I appear to have inherited. I’ve been told that my Grandpa Bob used to be bitingly sarcastic, which he may still be, although it’s hard to tell. I have done stand-up comedy at school and my mom used to do improv. My stepfather Bruce thinks he’s funny, but we all just play along and try not to challenge his delusion. My aunt Anita is very funny, my aunt Elyse is funny and my dad is funny, but I am the funniest. I also have the largest ego.
All of us seem to have a pretty dark and/or absurd sense of humor. Humor is useful in dark times due to the fact that humor’s purpose is to cause joy. When things seem too heavy, my family often makes jokes, and seem to get funnier when times are tough. Sometimes when I am really upset or my family is really upset, we say some funny, very dark things. It helps us gain perspective on what is going on. It can make us see things more clearly and realize that maybe they aren’t so bad.
Education (Chee-nuch), Intellectual Passion (Ra-tzon), and Critical Thinking (Cha-shee-vah- bee-kor-tee)
Education, intellectual passion and critical thinking are all important values in my family. Many of my great-grandparents and all of my grandparents finished college. My grandmother Laura went to graduate school at a time when most women did not even go to college. My father’s mother Jacquelyn Flesher did not finish college when she started but then went back in her 40s to finish. Many of my parents, aunts and uncles have gone to graduate school. My grandmothers, some of my great aunts, uncles and cousins became teachers. In my house learning is a value that is held very high. We read the newspaper and talk about the articles, and we listen to NPR and talk about what we’ve heard, and we are always reading. Education and critical thinking are a big part of humanistic Jewish tradition too, so the way we dissect everything we read at home always applies to what I learn at KidSchool.
One of the reasons education is so important to my family, is because we are genetically resistant to chronic boredom. If this section makes you hear the Charlie Brown teacher going blah, blah, blah, see your doctor immediately.
Hospitality (Hakh-na-sat Or-chim) and Family (Meesh-pach-cha)
Hospitality and family have always been a value we strongly feel. My great grandmother Ettie Tarab (on my mother’s side) lived with one of her sisters who lived upstairs, and another who lived next door. On the weekends, she would always let family members come over if they wanted to and have a large meal and my great grandfather Nat would barbecue. When my grandmother Laura took over the family, she also always let people drop by and she would cook for them and make them feel at home. When she got older, my great Aunt Anita started doing the same thing. A big part of being Jewish for my family is hospitality. We have always had enormous family gatherings on Jewish holidays and we always do some sort of Jewish ritual during those dinners, although sometimes the rituals end up being very odd. Now that my mother has taken her place in this tradition, a new ritual has started – we are we are thoroughly tested for dirt and dirt related substances prior to the events. Through these holiday gatherings, these traditions are being passed on to my cousins and me.
Artistic Expression (Bee-too-ee o-mah—noo-tee)
Artistic expression is a value that you can clearly see throughout my family. I love to act and perform comedy, and my mother is the same, except far less superior at it. We spend a lot of time doing various accents and doing improv in our house. My Aunt Vivienne, on my father’s side, is a well-known illustrator and has done illustrations for many famous publications including the New York Times. She also sends me wonderfully illustrated letters all the time. Her husband, Ward Schumaker, is also a famous artist. My stepfather’s cousin, Phil Ochs, was a famous singer/songwriter and had a passion for the arts.
My family values and my values are very similar, although I have some values that aren’t as important to others as they are to me. Political and social justice are the areas I am most passionate about, while I think that education and hospitality may be more important to some of my family members. All of these values work together though, and my family is always willing to talk to me about the values that are most important to me.
Values are something that many people simply take for granted but very few of us realize how important they are, not only to our family history, but to our daily lives. My family’s values have influenced me deeply. They have inspired me to make many choices in my life and I am a critical thinking, arts loving, liberal social Democrat because of them.
I asked my family about what their values are. I put these values in from my ranking of least important to most important. I will write who ranked the lowest on a value and who rated it the highest. Please note that I asked my grandmother BEFORE she passed away. So I am not trying to reconnect with the dead.
My first value is Love: Ah-Ha-Va, which ranked 10th in my list. This is important to me because love is not just love of people, its love of what you do and love of yourself. Most of my family does not have the views that I have about love. My mother feels that love of family is the most important kind of love. My aunt Gail thinks the best kind of love is unconditional. Maybe it’s because I haven’t married or ever had a big love in my life so far, but now it is not as important to me as it is to them. Maybe if I end up finding love I would value it more.Most of my family actually ranked it 1-2 except for my aunt Gail who gave it a 10 and my dad who rated it 6.
My next value is Education: Chee-Nuch. This is important to me because getting an education leads to a good life. I do not care so much about it now. I am a kid. I only know a few kids who are crazy about school. There is a boy I know who is the only boy in my school who cared about school like crazy. He did everything over and over. He always questioned me about how much work I did. No matter how much I had done, he had always done more. This annoyed me very much so. Everyone in my family ranked education between 2 and 9. My dad said 9 and my mom and Grandmother said 2.
Next is Humor: Hu-Mor. This is important to me because I like having fun and socializing with the people around me and just enjoying life. My dad loves telling jokes. No matter how he feels he will tell the weirdest jokes. My mom is a horrible singer, when she sings she laughs and so do I. Everyone ranked Humor between 1-9. My Dad rated it 1; Gail said 9.
Bettering the world: Tee-koon o-lahm is another important value for me. This is important because I love helping out people who do not have a good life. Or if a place I support needs help for children, I will gladly help. I actually did a lot of bettering the world on my own. I went with my dad to do Hurricane Sandy charity work last year and I loved it. We packed boxes of food and medicines for the hard hit Rockaways and other areas. People ranked it between 4-10, Grammy at 4, and my dad at 10.
Next on my list is Loyalty: Neh-eh-mah-noot. This is important because loyalty is a great thing to have with people and yourself. That’s why it should be important to others but at least it’s important to me. I once did a trust exercise with my friend. I knew she would be loyal to me and not let me fall. The ranks are 3 through 10. My grandmother and Gail said 3. Libby said 10.
Community: K’hee-la, is my fifth value. Helping and being a part of a community is important because it helps you meet new people and allows you to help in new ways. At her job my mom helps people who are mentally ill, and I admire her for that. Ranking is 4-8. My grandmother is at 4, and Gail at 8.
Number four is Courage: O-metz lev. Having normal courage to do something, like the courage to take risks, is important. I started playing softball. You could say it is courageous to try something new that I was never good at. Honestly I am horrible. I mean really!!! When my family left Yemen for Israel it took courage because the government of Yemen was kicking out the Jews. I believe courage is a big part of my life and should be a part of many others lives. The ranking range is 9-3 with my aunt Nina at 9, and my grandmother and mother at 3.
Number three for me is Creativity: Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot. This, as you can tell, is a big part of me. I combine it with Optimism: Op-tim-ee-oot. It is being creative with your feelings and being happy a lot because of what you do and who you are. Creativity is being who you are. When I draw in my notebook, I create new worlds with stories and pictures. That’s why I love the idea so much. The rankings are 2-7 with my Grandmother at 2 and Nina 7.
Friendship: Cha-Vey-root. This is absolutely important to me. It’s about someone else you care about that you meet who isn’t technically related. It’s important to care for them as a friend, to talk to them and not feel weird. I like my friends because I can talk to them about anything and feel okay about it. Some things that have happened to me I share with only few of my closest friends. That’s why friendship is so important to me. Ranking is 1-8 and Nina, my mother, and my grandmother rated it 1, and Gail at 8.
Number one is wow finally here– that was quick (too quick). It’s Family, Meesh-pa-cha. I care about each one of my family members. My best friends are pretty much my family too. I care so much about them. When one of my best friends, who are like sisters to me, is absent from school, I worry if they are sick or hurt. If we part I will say “I’ll miss you” The rankings are between 1-2 except for Gail who ranked it #9.
In conclusion, I have learned a lot about myself, and the legacy of my family, through discussing these values. This experience has helped me to know who I am.
What are values? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, values are one’s principles or standards; one’s judgment of what is valuable or important in life. In every story that is retold in my family, whether it is about my great-grandparents, grandparents, or parents, a set of values always underlies the narrative. These values make up a major part of who I am, and make me want to become a person who my ancestors would support and be proud of. My family’s and my own values make my family unique and who we are.
Much of my family’s core values are best seen through the their stories of immigration and early life in the United States. During the 1930s my great grandmother, Anna, boarded a ship to America in Warsaw, Poland. She left behind her entire family and all of her friends, never to see them again, so that she could be reunited with her husband Jacob, who had stowed away in the wine cellar of a ship a few years earlier, to pave the way for them to resettle in America. Anna was forced to leave her home because of persecution, anti-Semitism, and the increasing danger to Jews in the years immediately prior to World War II. Her journey was a brave, optimistic and hopeful act, for she did not know what kind of life would meet her in America. Her mother, who cared about her so dearly, had sewn coins into her quilt, which were some of the few objects she could take with her on her journey, leaving their family with less fortune during the rough times in Poland.
When Anna arrived at Ellis Island she did not need to disembark there, because she had enough money to allow her to bypass immigration there. Her husband had already established a home in Brooklyn, and she was met on the shore of Manhattan by Jacob, where she converted the coins she had carried from Poland into dollars. In America, Jacob and she had three children. Terri, my grandmother, to this day still sleeps with this quilt and the memories that Anna brought with her from Warsaw. Sadly, the rest of Anna’s family perished in the war, but through Anna’s fortitude and her experiences, the values of courage (ometz-lev), hope (teek-va), risk taking (Le’kee-khat-see-koo-neem), and love (a-ha-va) are exemplified.
The values of family (meesh-pah-cha), education (chee-nuch), equality (sheev-yon), and determination (hech-leh-tee-yoot) are values that my grandmother, Terri, embraced as she grew up in a conservative Jewish home with Anna and Jacob. There they had close family ties, kept kosher, and spoke Yiddish. Terri became an educator and taught Social Studies at a Hebrew day school in the Bronx, and later in her 40s, with perseverance and determination attended law school and practiced law. She worked as the counsel for the Bronx Borough president, and also as a legal educator in a detention center for troubled juveniles, where she strived to bring equality and knowledge to these children.
On the paternal side of my family there are also many examples of determination and courage exemplified through the immigration experience to the United States. At a time of unrest for Jews Louis Pomerantz, my paternal great-great grandfather, left a small village in Russia in the 1880s by boat, en route to New York, in order to escape the height of the Russian pogroms. He did not know it at the time, but he was journeying, out of all the places in the world, to rural Galveston, Texas. When the ship he was travelling on from Russia reached the shores of New York, it was determined that the quota for Eastern Europeans had been meet, and his boat was diverted to Galveston. There, he was initially homeless and unemployed but with determination he set off to make a new life for himself, and pushed onward. In Texas, he sought out familiar traditions (ma-sor-et) and found the one village Rabbi who loaned Louis a pushcart from which he could sell merchandise. Unfortunately, Louis became ill and began to grow weak. Meanwhile in Russia, his family, including his new wife and multiple children, had been waiting many years for a letter from him telling them when to travel to America. Louis’s wife began to worry when she had not heard from him, and so she set out independently, something that was unheard of for a woman at the time, to go to America to try to find him. His wife was able to uncover that he had landed in Galveston, Texas and there she met the Rabbi who told her that he had loaned Louis Pomerantz a pushcart. She tried exceptionally hard to locate him but was unsuccessful.
However, one night when she was looking for a place to sleep, she asked a farmer and his wife if they would kindly rent her their barn for the night. They replied that the barn was not vacant and there was a sick man living there, who was probably going to die. However, they let her know that she was welcome to use it for the night. Despite the possible consequences of contracting an illness herself, Louis’s wife walked into the old, rickety barn only to find, against all probabilities, her husband lying there, feeble and sickly. Miraculously, with determination, loyalty, strength, and love she nursed Louis until he was healthy again, and sent for their children in Russia, who were now old enough to travel together, to come to Texas. This story of Louis and his wife embody the values of independence (atz-ma-oot), risk-taking, loyalty (neh-eh-mah-noot), love, compassion (ra-cha-meem), and the strength and bonds of family roots (shar-shey a-va-rey-noo).
The values of hard work (a-vo-dah ka-shey) courage, music (moo-see-ka), and artistic expression (bee-too-ee o-mah-noo-tee) are also a strong part of my family’s core. Louis was the father of Max Pomerantz, my great-grandfather, who would go on to marry Edith Brown, my great-grandmother. Among their children (of whom only two out of four survived) was Melvin, my paternal grandfather. Melvin completed a chemical engineering degree at Texas A and M College, and then bravely served in the Pacific in the navy in World War II, when he was just 18 years old. He also was an adventurous man, who knew how to fly airplanes.
Melvin believed in hard work and was an entrepreneur in the furniture and carpet business, as well as in real estate, in a small rural town in Texas. He, and my father in turn, had a great love and passion for music, theater, and artistic expression. My grandfather, Mel, acted in many plays locally in Texas and later, when his children were older, he acted with them as well, especially with my father Will who embraced the theater. Mel also played several instruments, among them piano, mandolin, ukulele, flute, bass, and drums. When my grandfather met my grandmother, Sara Ann Lasser, his family’s history and values became intertwined with the Lasser family’s values and history, which also winds through Poland, Russia, and Waco Texas.
My grandmother’s father, William Lasser, was born in Riga, Latvia and emigrated to the United States at the end of the 19th century, once again to avoid the harsh climate and pogroms that Jews faced there. He was courageous, and full of hope, and determination as he set off to create a new life for himself. He married my great-grandmother, Thelma, who was born in Waco, Texas in the early 1900s, and whose own mother had come from Poland. When Thelma married William, she had already completed two years at Baptist University when he took her out of rural life in Waco and brought her to the big city of Houston. Education was a key value in the Lasser family, and the two daughters of Thelma and William, Sara Ann and Frances, both went on to complete degrees in higher education. My grandmother Ann and her sister Frances both attended college at Rice University, and my great-aunt Frances was one of only two women in her class to graduate with an accounting degree.
Tradition and family were also dominant values in the Lasser family. In Houston, the family made certain to share time together, had Shabbat dinner every Friday night, and also celebrated major Jewish religious holidays. My grandmother, Sara Ann, went on to be a source of strength, love, and generosity (n’dee-voot) as she raised her own four children. She continues to embrace these values as well as the value of community (k’hee-la) in the volunteer work she does in her neighborhood by providing elderly people with meals and running the film program for the Jewish Film Festival at the San Antonio JCC. Finally, she embodies the value of bettering the world through the work she does with Knitting4Peace, a grass-roots organization dedicated to crafting hope, healing, and peace by knitting blankets, scarves, and dolls for children in need in areas affected by war and desperate poverty throughout the world.
As is evident, my parents are from very different immediate backgrounds. My dad grew up in a small rural town in Texas, and my mom in New York City. However, their two families share similar histories and value sets, having faced persecution and having persevered against great odds to survive and thrive in America. Although my mom never faced obvious anti-Semitism growing up in New York City, my dad remembers a personal incident from when he was in high school in the late 1970s when he discovered a swastika spray painted in red on the sidewalk in front of his house and on the family car, along with the graffiti “Hitler was right.”
My dad worked with my grandfather to clean off the car and sidewalk, as they wondered who would have committed such a cowardly act. Although they never found the perpetrator, my dad and his family remained in Seguin, Texas. The fact that they did so and that they continued to practice Judaism, shows the type of perseverance (akh-sha-noot) and courage that many in their family had exhibited before them. It also exemplifies their choice to embrace the values of acceptance (has-ka-mah) and peace (shalom) and to choose to focus on creating beauty and bettering the world instead of being brought down by hatred. My father went on to become an accomplished clarinetist and saxophone player, and now directs and writes plays in New York City. His sense of the world is always a creative one. He also cares deeply about the environment we live in and is always careful about recycling and preserving the world for my generation.
My mom, Elizabeth, also embodies the values of bettering the world and equality. She is an Emergency Medicine physician who works in global and public health, and has worked in many countries where people have limited or no access to health care, in order to help balance some of the inequalities that exist. The values of justice (tzeh-dek) and equality are also exemplified in the work she does in the United States, where she advocates for and examines immigrant patients from other countries who have had to flee their countries, often because of political and social persecution, and who have survived torture and human rights abuses. These values of bettering the world and fighting for social justice are also evident in my aunt, Diana, who is a human rights lawyer and anthropologist. She also works tirelessly with immigrant populations and with those that have no one else to represent them in court. She passionately embraces the values of bettering the world and of humanity.
Although my parents and I are humanistic, secular Jews, my parents interestingly chose to get married at the Eldridge Street synagogue, which is the oldest Eastern European orthodox synagogue in New York for non-German Jews. My parents found the history and the building itself beautiful, and the walls of the synagogue spoke to them with the stories of many that had immigrated to the United States long ago- fleeing persecution and looking for equality, and the freedom to embrace their traditions. They wanted to honor the rich values and roots from which they came and the people who persevered before them: Anna, Jacob, Louis, Max, William, Thelma, Melvin, Ann, and Terri. I hope to be the next link to continue carrying on the stories of this rich history and the values that are embedded in it.
For this project, I have conducted interviews with my family members and have learned some interesting things. While I learned much about my family’s history, I also learned much about its values, and have begun to think about my own personal values. This essay will focus on some of my family’s central values; hard work, honesty, family, recreation, creativity, humor, friendliness, and education, as well as ones that I find important: forgiveness, preparation, organization, and calm in stressful situations.
The first strong value in my family is hard work (A-vo-dah ka-shey), and there are an abundance of examples, particularly my great-grandparents. My dad’s grandfathers, Seymour Harris and Nieman Kolsky, began working early; Seymour in a factory at age 16, and Nieman at around the same age. My mom’s uncle, Seymour Fradin, worked in the Army and put himself through medical school. My dad’s grandmother, Mollie, worked at age 14 during a time when it was unusual for women to work, and my mom’s grandparents worked hard together running a women’s clothing store. Still, these are only a few stories, as many more of my family members worked hard for an education, a better life, and much more. Almost all of my family members work hard on something, including me. I work hard to get good grades in school, and to do well in my various interests outside of school, such as fencing and chess. Not only is this value important to my family, it is important to me, and this is not uncommon at all, as many of my family members influence my values.
My second value is honesty (Ken-oot). I know my family is made up of honest people. My parents have taught me to be honest, and tell me that’s how they were raised. Honesty is important in my schoolwork, and with others. I don’t cheat on tests, and I don’t lie to my friends and family members.
Our next strong value is family (Meesh-pah-cha). Growing up, my dad saw his family every weekend; either his mother’s or father’s family. One story on my mom’s side that reflects family involves her uncle Irving. He once found a $20 bill on Saturday (Shabbat); since he was religious he did not take it. Later he came back for the money, and instead of keeping it for himself he gave it to his mom. Another story from Mom’s side is of her grandmother, Anna Resnick, and her father. He gave her money to immigrate to America by herself, and when the Depression hit, he again sent her money for her family. Family is also important to me. I am very close with my parents and often visit my father’s mom. Family is also an important aspect of the next value, recreation, in that recreation in my family often involves several family members; uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and more.
Recreation (B’loo-ee) is also important to my family. Many relatives on my dad’s side fished and clammed, were involved in sports, or had other hobbies. My mom’s aunt, Shirley, had brothers who, when they were children, raised pigeons in a pigeon coop. Also, my mom’s uncle, Edward, was an excellent marbles player. Recreation is important to me since I play many sports, including fencing, football, and several others. There were also those who had more artistic and/or creative recreational hobbies, making my next value, creativity, important.
Creativity (Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot) is my family’s next value. Every member of my family expresses creativity in some way. My family has musicians, singers, painters, drawers, sewers, knitters, model makers, gardeners, photographers, and writers. Music is especially important, as many of my family members are involved in music in some way. My father, his twin brother and their father were all good musicians, and my father’s uncle, Gordon, is an excellent singer. I also express creativity, mostly in school, through writing or music.
You can find out quickly that my next value is important to my family: humor (Hu-mor). Most of my family members are very funny, and we often use humor to keep our spirits up during events almost impossible to get through otherwise. When my Dad suffered a leg injury, joking about it helped him push pass the pain and frustration. A more specific example of humor is my father’s father, Saul, who frequently wrote song parodies for physics and public health service conventions. Humor is important to me as well. My parents tell me I am funny, and whether or not nobody else thinks so, I enjoy making people laugh.
Another value that you can easily see is important to my family is friendliness (Y’dee-doot). Stories involving friendliness in my family also are not easily remembered, but my dad describes it nicely. He states, “Our family always tried to be open, and treat people how they [themselves] want to be treated. We had few enemies.” This becomes apparent soon after meeting any of my family members. They all have an innate skill to quickly become friends with anyone they are introduced to. I find friendliness to be important. I am outgoing, and I can usually strike up a conversation quickly with anyone I am introduced to.
My final family value is education (Chee-nuch). My parents both graduated from college, and my mom has a Masters degree. Also, all of my grandparents graduated from college, and my father’s father and my mom’s parents have Masters degrees. One can assume they wanted these degrees for better jobs and economic opportunity. Good grades have been important to my family for a long time, and they are important to me too. I am academically motivated, and try to do my best on every assignment, as I also want a better future for myself.
There are also values that are important specifically to me. They include forgiveness, preparation, calm in stressful situations, and organization. I often am forgiving, usually of myself, but sometimes of friends. If I make a mistake, I need to move on, and if my friends make a mistake, they are still my friends. I have needed to develop the value of preparation recently as my school workload and number of tests has increased. I want to get good test grades, and for that, I need to prepare. I have needed the value of calm in stressful situations since I often lose items. If I panic and don’t think rationally, I will never find anything. However, the necessity of this value has decreased with the recent development of my next and final one, organization. At the beginning of 6th grade, my workload drastically increased, and I had more items, such as binders, folders, and notebooks, that I could lose. I needed to quickly become organized to prevent losing anything important and suffering academically.
In conclusion, there are many values that are important to my family, and they all help shape me. There are also values that I have developed on my own. Many of them grew out of necessities based on my environment. All of these values are important to me, and they all play a part in making me who I am. This essay helped me realize that.
After interviewing some family members, I learned about the many values that my family lives by and that they personally believe in. Notice I said “personally”, that is because everyone has a different set of values. Some of my parents’ and grandparents’ values I have inherited, I believe in them. However some values, I changed to fit who I am. In this essay I will tell you some of the many values that my family believes in and how they live by certain values. Those family values include education, fairness, exercise, critical thinking, and humor.
One value that I’m pretty sure all of my family believes in is education (Chee-nuch). Though not all of my family actually went to college, the reason they didn’t go was not because they didn’t value education or they didn’t want to go, but because they couldn’t. For example, my grandfather on my mom’s side dropped out of high school because he had to work to support the family during the Great Depression. However, education was still important to him and later on in his life, he got his G.E.D. Also, my grandma on my mom’s side went to Brooklyn College and wanted to become a doctor. Unfortunately, she could not because of gender discrimination. The fact that she wanted to go through all the learning required to become a doctor shows how she valued education in order to achieve her dream.
Plus, my grandparents on my dad’s side must have valued education quite a bit. My Grandma Ilene was a teacher and her husband Mel was a math teacher and then a principal. Lastly, my paternal grandpa, Buddy, was a nationally renowned economist and he got his degree from Columbia University. I also value education. I’m definitely going to college and I want to be a lawyer when I grow up. I mostly value education because of where it can take me in life. A good education will give me the freedom to choose my path in life. That reason is much like why my Grandma Helen valued education. It can take you places.
For the most part, education is a family-wide value. Everyone also values justice and fairness (Tzeh-dek), the next value I will discuss, but some go out of their way for it. My maternal Great Grandma Sophie, according to my mom, was quite strong-minded and if she saw something that she believed was unfair she let everyone know it. It then went to Grandma Helen who was also quite vocal with her opinions on right and wrong. It then went down to my mom and her brother, my Uncle Alex. My mom definitely shows she values fairness and justice in a lot of ways: she’s a lawyer, and even though technically she’s being paid to be biased, or as she puts it, advocating for one side, her ultimate goal as a divorce attorney is to come to an agreement and when dealing with people who obviously don’t like each other, a lot of fairness and compromise must go into that negotiation. She also volunteers for a non-for-profit organization that provides legal services to deaf people; and much more. Whenever something happens around her that is unfair, she does what she can in order to change it. To me, at times it seems like an overreaction. I, like many others, sometimes don’t want to speak up so as not to cause any unnecessary trouble. There are times when this way of thinking is okay and you just have to deal with it. However, as my mom has shown me, there are also times when it is necessary to speak out and attempt to effectuate change. In my viewpoint, it is important to find the balance between these two ideologies.
Also my mom’s brother, my Uncle Alex, may not be a lawyer, but he knows when something is not fair and won’t tolerate it. For example, one time he was doing a job interview to be the manager of the concession stands at a baseball stadium. At the interview he learned that the workers were getting paid minimum wage and were required to buy a t-shirt and baseball cap for twenty dollars each, which they couldn’t afford on their salaries. Uncle Alex thought it wasn’t fair. He told the interviewer that and left. Though he didn’t get the job, he was willing to give it up because it was the right thing to do. He must have felt sympathy for the workers even though he wouldn’t have been affected by the rule. This anecdote emphasizes his commitment to fairness.
I also value justice and fairness. As I said before, I want to be a lawyer. Also, I try to be fair and when someone isn’t fair, I try to make a point out of it and do what I can to try to change it. Unfortunately, being a kid, it is commonly referred to as talking back, though I like to call it being fair. As I grow older, talking back may not seem as much like talking back, and more as advocating for justice. The value of justice and fairness comes from my maternal Great Grandma Sophie, it then went to Grandma Helen who was quite vocal with her justice activities. Finally it got to her children, my mom and Uncle Alex. And then to me! I know the rest of my family values justice, but my mom and my uncle Alex go out of their way for justice.
Next value: exercise (Ee-moon goo-fah-nee). A lot of my family values exercise. My dad definitely values exercise. Every morning he wakes up at five, goes to the gym, and runs on the treadmill for about an hour. Plus, we play tennis every time we can! Between the treadmill and the tennis (and being good at it), that’s quite a bit of exercise. Whenever my mom can’t open a jar or something like that, my dad says to her, “you need to do more NordicTrack”. He says it as a joke, but it shows that he thinks exercise is important and that exercise is something we should do. It’s also important to his sister, my Aunt Judy. Every year she does the AIDS/LifeCycle. The AIDS/LifeCycle is a bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It takes seven days. A seven-day bike ride is a lot of exercise. I don’t exercise nearly as much as they do. However, even though I don’t think of exercise as a life style, I definitely value and understand its importance. I try to exercise when I can, even if it’s just walking home from school. It’s hardly a seven day bike ride, but it’s an acknowledgment of the importance of something even as simple as walking.
Another value is critical thinking (Cha-shee-vah bee-kor-tee). I certainly value this because if nobody thinks critically then no one will know what’s true. There was a time when I didn’t think critically, when I just went along with what I was told. I learned the hard way that sometimes not everything people say is true and reliable. One day I was sick, so I went to my mom’s office instead of school. My mom’s partner, Phil, decided to see if I was really sick by hooking me up to a “lie detector”. It turned out to be a photocopier. He put a piece of paper saying “he’s lying” into it. He then asked me if I was sick and then out came the “he’s lying” paper. That was probably the day I realized that sometimes you need to question if something is actually reliable. Even if it comes from what you would hope to think is a reliable source. After this incident, I felt embarrassed that I could be so gullible. The embarrassment showed me the importance of thinking critically. I think I mainly value critical thinking from that situation with Phil. Thanks Phil! But my dad and his father also value critical thinking. Everyday my dad reads the New York Times and comments on the matters explained in the paper. He has to think critically to do that. And his dad, as I said before, was a major economist. He worked at the Department of the Interior under the Eisenhower Administration. To do that he had to make very informed choices on important matters and to do that, you can’t think a photocopier is a lie detector test. Thanks again Phil!
Last but not least, a very important value (at least to me) is humor (Hu-mor). One reason I value humor is that it adds fun to normally boring situations. And it can also be used to help get a point across or to simply communicate. For example, in The Daily Show, Jon Stewart (and now Trevor Noah) uses humor as a way of getting his point across criticizing or commenting on specifically right-wing politics.
Plenty of people in my family are funny. My mom’s father, Pop-Pop, was funny and so is Uncle Alex. My dad is also very funny. Not only is he funny, but he has a thing for making up characters and nicknames. One character that has had an impact on me is Max Malfoy. He is directly related to Draco Malfoy (from Harry Potter) by being his younger brother. Max sells life insurance at Hogwarts. My family’s nicknames are as follows: Mrs. Muggle (mom); citizen (me); the teenager (my sister); and that evil dog (our supposedly evil dog).
Lastly, the toilet. My last name is Gerber and it seems that it is also a name of a toilet manufacturer. At my country house, we have a Gerber toilet. I asked my dad why our name was engraved on the toilet. He told me that that’s what people did in the country; they put their names on toilets. I guess that ties in with critical thinking. My dad used sarcasm to get me to think about the “why” for myself instead of just answering the question. He used humor as a way to get me to think for myself instead of just expecting an answer. Either that or he was just messing with me. It seems we never let our family live down these hilarious moments and it seems that they bring us closer together because we all have a story to share. Additionally, I do stand-up here, at Gotham Comedy Club, as part of a stand-up comedy for teens program. Humor is an amazing value that I hope will be kept in the family forever.
Of course, there are more values. There is an endless number of values my family believes in, but these are the values that have most stood out to me. Even though I have changed what some of these values mean to me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t value them. They have still impacted my life. Even though something is not as important to me as to somebody else, it can still impact me, even if it is in the slightest way. I chose these values to share because some are important to my family, and me and some are more important to just my family. And that’s the great thing about values, they aren’t rules, you get to choose what you believe. I chose what I believe in because of the way it impacts me. Also I chose some values, like humor or justice and fairness, because that’s just who I am.
I remember sitting in my mentor, Amy’s apartment next to her looking at her computer with a blank page on the screen. At the top of the screen it read Maya’s Values Paper. “What does that even mean?”, I said to myself. I was worried that it was the most complicated thing in the world. Now I realize that it really isn’t complicated at all. Values are things that mean something to you. Values are something that you can connect to. And they are something you can share with others.
While I was writing the paper I learned about my family history. My grandparents, my grandparents’ parents. I heard stories about their lives, stories that showed the values in action. The seven values of mine that I am going to talk about are: Love, Friendship, Artistic Expression, Responsibility, Determination, Education, and Loyalty.
Love – (A-ha-va)
What is love? Dictionary.com says love is “a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.”
When people think of the word love they might think of marriage. Although in marriage there is love, marriage is not the first idea that pops into my head when I hear the word. My parents were together for 22 years, and were in love with each other very much. They had a very good relationship, and were very compatible. Even though they separated when I was nine, that doesn’t take away the love they shared with each other and with me.
When I am on stage singing, acting or dancing I love what I am doing. It is a happy feeling and different from any other times. I find myself in a different state of mind. Even though I may not be aware of the audience when I am doing what I love to do, the feelings are communicated out to others. Love is not a one person thing.
I have a small group of family members who I know and am close with: My mom, my dad, my uncle and his wife. I have a lot of cousins but I don’t see them and don’t really know them at all well. I do, however, have many friends who are important to me and are like my family.
My mom loves her friends and has a lot of them. She has known her best friends for over 35 years. They are like her sisters and brothers to her. She also says it is important to be open to making new friends all the time. My dad has more friends in Israel than here where most of his friends are from work.
Friendship is one of my main values. I love my friends. Most of them I have known since I was very little. I can’t imagine not having a lot of friends. A friend is someone who respects you and you respect them and you enjoy spending time together. Some of my friends are a lot like me; others are complete opposites. Some people can handle not being around other people all the time, but I enjoy it. I feel like I can be myself when I’m with my friends. Although you may act differently with two different friends, a friend is someone who likes you for who you are. With a friend you don’t have to be someone you are not. I consider my friends and their families to be a part of my family. If you love each other it can count as a family too, you don’t have to be related. For instance I go to a camp called Shire Village in Cummington, Massachusetts. I have gone every summer since I was nine. The intention of the camp owners is that everyone feels like family there. The girls in my bunk are family to me because we are always there for each other and we love each other like sisters. Sometimes we talk about things that are hard to talk about with other people because we are so close . There are even things I can talk to them about that I can’t talk about with my parents.
Artistic expression – (Bee-too-ee o-mah-noo-tee)
Art is a very important value to me, my family, and my friends. We are all very artistic people. I enjoy singing, dancing, and acting and I intend to keep doing that as I become older. I think those are important because if you can’t find words to say something to someone it can be a lot easier to do through artistic expression. For example, someone might express themselves through song; others might express themselves through an emotional painting.
My mom is an artist and a poet. She had small art shows even when she was in her twenties. When she was in college she struggled to decide if she was going to major in art or writing. She went in as a creative writing major and switched to fine arts. She continued to study art and writing even though her parents didn’t approve (and stopped paying for classes because they didn’t think art was a real career). Luckily her teacher let her go to classes without paying. My Mom’s art is unusual. She uses collage to combine different materials and images with text. She takes multiple classes for poetry and art during the week and she teaches art. My mom also used to dance and continues to enjoy Flamenco.
My dad did martial arts and taught karate for a while. Even though it’s not what we usually consider art it is a different form of it. In fact he was in a tournament the day my mom went into labor with me. Even though it’s not something I think I would want to do, karate can be quite beautiful. If you take away the concept of hurting someone it is actually graceful and structured with rules just as in dance.
My Uncle Drori says that music is a kind of communication. He thinks music brings people closer together and is a way of healing the world. He is a drummer and plays jazz with his band, Klaro. His wife Karolina plays saxophone in the band and when they play music together you can see how much music means to them.
Responsibility – (Ah-cha-ry-oot)
My dad had to go to school all by himself when he was eight years old and lived in Tel Aviv. His father had to go to work and his mother was busy in the house. At that time and in that place, it was normal for eight-year-olds to go to school on their own. He tells me that he had to go a long way and reminds me of how lucky I am that I live only two blocks from my school. Growing up the way he did, he had to be responsible. After his first year of college, my dad dropped out and decided to get a job and start his adult life. Someone might say that’s irresponsible but some people might also say that he did a responsible thing wanting to support himself. He went into real estate, working for Corcoran, and by the time he was 18 he was one of the best in the company.
My mom is responsible in a different way. When I was young she was the one responsible for the day to day parenting while my dad went to work. She does a lot for me without pressuring me to do it by myself. My dad treats me as an older person and expects me to be responsible without being told.
Determination – (Hech-leh-tee-yoot)
Determination is something that I value. I need determination for a lot of things, but for me, it is mostly needed in school. For instance, math is a hard subject for me. Every test that I take, or problem I solve, I use determination to help guide me to do better next time.
Growing up in New York, I’ve never had to move further than 20 blocks. However my parents and their parents moved a lot and I can imagine how much determination it took to relocate to another country.
My mom’s father was originally from Poland but escaped before World War Two and immigrated to Mexico. His two older brothers were already there. When they left Poland, by boat, they wanted to settle in the U.S., but when the boat arrived in New York, they were not allowed off, and the boat then sailed south to Latin America. Many family members who did not escape died in concentration camps, including his parents, whom I never knew. It took determination for my mom’s father to make it to safety.
My mom was born in England but grew up in Mexico. My grandmother took my Mom and her brother to New York when my mom was about 14. At first they went to London for a year as my grandmother was English and wanted to be near her family. After that they moved to New York and many years later my grandfather did too. It must have been hard for my grandmother to move so far from her family, first to Mexico and then to New York.
My dad is from Israel and he has a brother and a half sister. When my dad was very young his mother left after his parents divorced. He and his brother stayed with his father and they all moved to this country when my dad was a teenager. Once again they needed determination to make this long move.
Going back in time, my dad’s grandmother (on his father’s side) came from Russia to Israel. She and other family members decided to go to Israel because they wanted to be where their people were and a lot of other countries wouldn’t accept them.
I may use my determination for conquering a math test, but I can just imagine how much more determination was needed for what my family had to go through.
Education – (Chee-nuch)
Everyone in my family thinks education is important. My mom still keeps going to classes; she calls herself a life long learner. My dad always wants me to do well in school. Maybe this is because his father didn’t make his kids’ education a priority and never pushed them. I tend to do my homework without being reminded which my parents appreciate. Both my parents want me to get the best education possible. I go to a progressive school, Bank Street, which is very accepting and understanding. This is different from the schools my parents went to when they were my age. My mom went to a small private Jewish school in Mexico where they learned Mexican Jewish history. They spoke in Spanish but also learned Hebrew. My dad went to a large public school that was more traditional. I think education will always be something that’s important to me.
Loyalty – (Neh-eh-mah-noot)
Loyalty is important to me. It’s not just a value of mine, but it is a large part of my everyday life. I make sure to always be loyal even to people who I’m not necessarily close to. Yes, there were probably times in my life when I was not very loyal to someone. But the only thing I can do is learn from those mistakes, and be loyal from now on.
My mom was very loyal to her parents as they got older. Her father became quite deaf which was frustrating in the extreme. Sometimes my mom probably just wanted to walk out of the room. But she did not. She was loyal. She also took care of her mother and made it a point to visit them a lot at the nursing home. It was not easy for my mom to interact with her mother at the end because she was always in a wheelchair and was losing her teeth so she couldn’t speak. She also was losing her memory so that was hard to see. My mom would take me to buy clothes and diapers for her mom, which embarrassed me but I understood that it was necessary. When my parents are older I will certainly take care of them and bring my children to see them.
I started this process by trying to figure out what values are. While writing this paper I learned about my family’s values and my own. Love, Friendship, Artistic Expression, Responsibility, Determination, Education, and Loyalty are important to me and to my family. If you look at my family you can see these values reflected. We are connected to these ideas and we find meaning in them.
Values serve as guidelines in your life. Values can be thought of as parts of your personality and describe the person you are. I only just began to understand my values when I interviewed my family members. I realized there were many similar values shared by several of my family members. I always knew I was part of my family but only when looking at these personal values, did I begin to see how I am truly connected to them. I feel I live these values every day. I am courageous like my grandparents and show my courage when I try something new; I am musical like my cousin Sammy when I go about my day; I love learning and trying new things; I love to laugh and make my friends laugh. My memory is important because I recall many things about my life, except my mom says I never remember to clean my room! Now I am following my family tradition of Bar and Bat Mitzvah.
Courage, O-Metz Lev, is very important to my family and me. In my opinion, being courageous means being brave. When I was entering a new school for 6th grade, I was nervous and didn’t know anyone. I was courageous enough to fit in and get along with everyone who had known each other for seven years. I made friends and got involved with activities. Also, when I was three (even though I don’t remember), I got on the bus to go to school. None of my friends went on the school bus until they were five!!!!
Both sides of my grandparents were brave enough to come to America for better lives and leave family members behind. My dad’s parents met as refugees in France. They were separated and my grandfather, Samuel, was in the Nazi labor camps for almost three years, and my grandma, Paulette, was hidden under a false identity by Catholics in France until World War II ended. They both promised to see each other again after the war. Finally the war ended and they got married in France and later moved to Brussels, Belgium. In the 1950’s, they left Brussels to come to America for better economic opportunities. They already had two children, my Uncle Charlie and Aunt Rita. Shortly after arriving in America, my dad was born. Although I never met my grandfather Samuel, I heard a lot about him over the years and I know what a brave man he was. I only remember a little about my Grandmother Paulette, but came to learn how difficult her life was too due to the events of WWII. But both of them proved that the worst horrors of war could be overcome with courage, a positive attitude and love of family.
My other grandparents also showed the value of bravery when leaving their families behind in England and making a new life for themselves in New York. They left for New York on their honeymoon in 1952. It was hard but my grandparents thought it was the right thing to do. They loved living in New York City.
I also know that my mom is very courageous. She decided in 2013 to have surgery so that she wouldn’t get breast cancer in the future. My Grandmother Trudie survived two types of cancer and my mom knew that having this kind of surgery was the right thing to do.
Music, Moo-see-ka, is very special to my family and me. Music shows my creative side and expresses who I am. An example of this is when I used to sing made up songs to my mom as I was getting ready for bed. This connects me to my dad’s side of the family because my aunt used to entertain people and make them laugh with her music and comedy. At school, I sing in the chorus and I got the opportunity to sing at Queens College with my friends.
On my dad’s side, my grandfather played the violin in the local symphony and at home most of the time. My dad and uncle played the clarinet and my aunt played the guitar. My Aunt Rita started her own band and even was a guest on a talk show back in the 1980’s. My Uncle Charlie plays the harmonica in his blues band and has made a couple of records. My cousin Sammy plays guitar in a local rock band in Detroit and we all hope he makes it big someday. On my mom’s side, my great-grandmother played piano and taught piano to children. Even though my dad doesn’t play an instrument, he always listens to Brazilian music and opera. Music is a value to me because it connects to my past generations and family.
Education, Chee-nuch, is important to everyone. People need a good education in order to have a good career. Learning doesn’t just happen in school. I’ve learned how to play basketball and get along with other people. One of the things that I most enjoy is learning foreign languages. I got this love of foreign languages from my dad who speaks French, Italian and Hebrew. I’ve studied French, Spanish and Italian. I feel it is important to learn languages so you can communicate with different people around the world and understand their language and culture.
I also go to a small school where I get more time to learn things and work with teachers when I need extra help. In my family, education is very important. Both sets of my grandparents did not go to college but they were very insistent that their children go to college and get a good education. In college, my dad studied French and Italian and uses his language skills when working privately with students, as well as at the United Nations where he teaches in the language program. My Uncle Steven studied computers before they were even popular and he now owns his own computer company. In the future, I hope I will be a film maker or work with computers. But first I need to continue getting a good education!!!!!
Memory, Zee-ka-rone, is important to me visually and mentally. When people tell you their memories, you can connect with them and relate with your own memories. Both of my parents have fun memories. My mom remembered her parents telling her about their lives in England and about their own parents. She also remembers Passover and having big Seders with her family. My dad remembers having a happy childhood and doing fun activities like hanging out with friends and listening to rock and roll music.
My family also had some scary or troubling memories. My Uncle Steven recalls being scared when he and my grandpa took their boat out and they got lost or ran aground. My mom’s Uncle Arnold was scared when he had to be evacuated as a child during World War II in London and had to live with a different family for a long time. My dad’s parents strongly remembered the Holocaust. They had rough times and hated all of the cruel things that happened. But they decided not to share these harsh memories while raising their children and wanted their children to have happy memories and think about positive things. We were sad when my Grandma Trudie began to lose her memory about two years before she passed away. She could remember stories from her childhood and things about me when I was a baby but could no longer remember something I had just said. Memories are important because they express ideas about a person in many ways and can give you a better idea about that person’s upbringing and style.
Humor, Hu-mor, is important to me because I can express my feelings in humorous and funny ways. For example, I like to watch shows such as the Simpsons and I understand the funny jokes. Humor helps me feel better during a difficult situation. For instance, around the time when my grandma died, we went out to dinner and I ordered a children’s sized steak. I ate it very quickly and then commented that the steak was too small. This made my Uncle Steven laugh and he felt better during that sad time. In May 2014, we went to the same restaurant and I ordered that steak again. Uncle Steven asked my mom if the steak would be big enough for me. This shows how we connect with each other in a humorous way.
It is good to make people laugh because then you can share your happiness with people and goof around about things that don’t matter much. This was evident in my family. My mom and her family used to watch British comedies and TV shows together. For my Aunt Rita and Uncle Charlie, laughter was very important except when they had to work. My Dad says I’m goofy and we like to laugh a lot together.
Hard work, A-vo-dah-ka-shey, is important to me because when people work, they show their effort and how much they care about what they are doing like I do. For several years, I had to have speech therapy so I could pronounce certain words properly. Finally when I was in 5th grade, I was done with therapy which showed the results of my hard work.
My family also has a history of hard work. My dad did a lot of studying. In fact, even though he was a good student, he made it tough for himself, especially with homework. He would sometimes get sick if he didn’t have perfect grades! My Uncle Steven used to help my grandfather by putting up the paneling in the apartment which was a lot of work. My mom’s first job was babysitting and she made only $1 an hour. So, as you can see, hard work is common in my family.
Tradition, Ma-sor-et, shows your customs and your upbringing. A tradition in my family is having a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. My parents and their siblings had the more traditional American Jewish Bar or Bat Mitzvah with Hebrew prayers, Torah reading and a big party. But, my Grandpa Stanley did not have a Bar Mitzvah until he was in his 50’s. He couldn’t have a traditional Bar Mitzvah growing up in London because he turned 13 during WWII. So, one day, when he was in Brooklyn, he had to make a delivery to a rabbi’s home. The rabbi asked my grandfather if he said his prayers that day and my grandfather said no because he was not a Bar Mitzvah. The rabbi gave my grandfather prayers to recite and told my grandfather he was now a Bar Mitzvah.
My Grandmother Trudie and her cousin June celebrated their Bat Mitzvahs as part of a group event in their synagogue in England. My mom even found her mom’s Bat Mitzvah certificate. Cousin June told me she doesn’t really remember much about this event, other than having cake and tea afterwards.
My cousin Sammy did not have a traditional Bar Mitzvah, either. When my Grandmother Paulette passed away, my cousin Sammy recited special prayers with a rabbi and became a Bar Mitzvah at that time at the age of 14.
I am really happy to be carrying on the tradition of having a Bat Mitzvah and value the connection I make with my family. Having a Bat Mitzvah shows I’m continuing the tradition of celebrating and starting to become an adult. My Bat Mitzvah with the City Congregation is different from the one my parents and a lot of my friends had because this process shows that I am able to express my feelings and learn about myself and what is important to me as I become a more responsible person.
Before starting my Bat Mitzvah project, I never really thought about Jewish history and values, and/or my own personal values and beliefs. As a matter of fact, I never really thought about Judaism and what it means to me. Writing this paper, I have been challenged to explore my family’s history, look at my family’s values, and give time and thought to my own values. The main purpose of this paper is to show and explain the values that are important to my family and the most important ones that have been passed down to me.
Before I started writing this paper, I made a list of values that I collected from my family interviews. I also made a list of my own values. I listed them in order of which I think are most important to least important; there were twenty values.
Values are what make a person unique. You can see a person’s values in the way that they treat others, interact with others, the way that they carry themselves and many other ways. Values make everyone different and are what cause you to make your choices in everyday life. The people around you play a role in your values, particularly family. They pass the values down to you and they influence the decisions you make. Some values I share with my family and some values are distinct to me. The ones that did not come from my family come from my own personal experiences.
Honesty, yosher, is a value that I share with all my family members. It’s really what makes a family one because it makes sure that everyone knows what’s going on. In my family, there are many examples of honesty, but one that I especially recall is my grandmother telling me that when she was a little girl growing up during the Holocaust, her mother said that they must always earn everything honestly. Whether it’s work she did to earn some money or the food that she brought home even when they had hardly anything at all, what they did have was earned in honest ways. Honesty makes everyone realize the truth about what goes on. An example is if you were supposed to pick up your younger sibling from school and you forgot. When your mother asks, you would say no to not get in trouble. But if you tell the truth it brings a family closer together by building trust.
Another value I have in common with my parents and grandparents is knowledge through education, or Chinuch ve Lemida. For example, my father is the only one of four siblings to have graduated from college. He paid for his college education with his own money, which shows the importance of learning and how he values knowledge and education. I personally believe that education is the key to success. If you don’t get a good education, you may have less of a chance to have a good life. If you get a good education then you may have more choices and opportunities to do more with your life.
Another value that I share with my family is working hard to achieve goals, lavod bishvil lehasig et matrotecha. When you work hard and try your best at anything, you will be getting a great shot at success. During my sixth grade school year, I really wanted to get good grades. I worked very hard and I got good ones. Many people’s goal is to be the best they can be and that is what this value means to me. This value has a very important place in my life. Achieving your goals can really help you in being successful throughout life. If you try hard, yet fail to achieve your goals, then you know that at least you gave it your best effort.
This next value is sharing also known as lehitchalek im acherim. This value is important because if you do not share then others will not share with you. You should share because it is important to be a giving person. A person who does not share with others may find themselves alone in times when they may need help.
A related value that I also have in common with my family is helping others who are in need, ezra le nitzrachim. Some ways to help out are doing charity work or volunteering at different places such as animal shelters or a senior citizens home. In my family, my parents and I both volunteer in different ways. Occasionally, my mother volunteers with the New York Cares Foundation assisting senior citizens, as well as helping families in poverty. Sometimes I join her to volunteer. My father is also a very active member of our community and does many things to help make it better. I think that it is nice to help out whenever possible. You should help the needy because you know that you are doing the right thing and then you will feel good. It is also important to help those who are in need because if you are ever in need, hopefully you will get the help that you gave before.
Another value that is very important in my family is to treat others the way you want to be treated, lehitnaheg la acherim kmo she ata rotze she hitnagu elecha. In the third grade, in my school, there was an assembly about the Golden Rule, treat others the way that you want to be treated. Since that day, treating others the way that I want to be treated has been a priority. This value is important because if you want to be treated with respect, then you have to treat others the same way. Being kind is an important example of the Golden Rule. This is a basic human behavior, and most people are kind. I’m referring to politeness and patience and common manners.
One value that is unique to me is not to indulge in self-pity. I think this value is important because if you spend all your time feeling bad for yourself then you won’t have time to get back up and try again. If you fail and feel sorry for yourself then you will never try again in fear that you will fail once again and go through the same emotional struggle.
Another value that I think is important is to not let your dreams overrule you. This value is important, because if you only focus on your dreams and goals, then there is no room for anything else. This value comes into play when, you have a wish or a dream that you really want you will work hard towards it. But this can cause problems, because if you only focus on your dream or wishes and nothing else, you will neglect to think about other important things such as your daily life, friends and family that are obviously very important.
Optimism is also important to me. If there is a bad situation, you can look on the bright side of things; it will most likely at least make you feel better which will make the whole situation better. Staying optimistic is a good way to deal with obstacles that come along in life and it is good to show that you can be happy even in bad situations. Being optimistic can be very valuable.
Before working on this project, I had not given much thought to my values and what they mean to me. Working on this paper has shown me the huge effect that values have on the choices I make for myself, and for others around me every day. As I stated previously, through this project, I have really learned a lot about myself. I understand more about where the strength of my opinions comes from and how much it means to me to stand by my convictions. In general, writing this paper has helped me to appreciate both the values I have inherited as well as the values that I have developed on my own.
As part of my Bar Mitzvah I interviewed a number of family members to understand my family’s history and values. During these interviews my family members shared some fascinating stories and memories. I want to say a special thank you to my cousin Susan Kleinman who had many great Shatz tales to tell. My favorite of these stories was that my Great-Grandpa Freddy gave a stranger a check, which helped that man send his son to college.
This is a true act of compassion- (ra-cha-meem), a value that a lot of my family members share. Compassion involves understanding and helping others. My family is very compassionate towards other people. My mom is a physical therapist who devotes many hours to her patients so they can live better lives. My Aunt Heather helps many children and families through her work as a psychologist.
Like compassion, charity- (tz-dah-kah) is very common throughout my family’s history. My great grandmother Claire, who I called Nanny, and her stepmother, Lillian, volunteered at a hospital for 25 years. At the hospital, Nanny would go around with books and read to the sick patients. Nanny also volunteered at Hadassah, which is a Zionist organization that strengthens partnerships with Israel. This is also where my great-grandmother Celia volunteered. Her name can be found on a wall in Israel that honors those who were important volunteers at Hadassah. My grandfather David was the Chairman and President of a Jewish retirement home for many years. He also served on the Board of Graham Windham, the oldest still active orphanage in the United States. My Grandma Ruthe volunteered at the March of Dimes for many years among other places. My mom has for the last four years run the auction for our elementary school, and has been very successful in growing the auction so the kids at our school have many things they otherwise wouldn’t like a reading program, computers and fitness activities.
The next value that is important to my family is education (chee-nuch). My Great Grandmother Gigi, my mother’s grandmother, went to college which was unusual for a woman at that time. Two of my grandparents, my grandma Ruthe and Grandpa Barry, went to college at the age of 16. My mom and dad both got their Masters degrees at Columbia University. My Grandma Debbie and my Great Grandmother Gigi both were teachers. School is now an important part of my life. I work very hard to learn and get good grades which, hopefully, along with the millions of tours and tests I have done this fall, will help me get into a good high school.
My next value is work- (ah-vo-dah). I have two grandfathers who ran their own businesses. Grandpa David’s company painted famous buildings in New York City like Yankee Stadium, Radio City and the famous gold statue of Prometheus in Rockefeller Center. Barry runs a printing business that has been around for three generations. They both worked very hard to grow their businesses and provide for their families. I also appreciate how hard both of my parents work, which I observe every day, to give Carly and me so much.
While education and work are among the more important values for my family, the MOST important one is family itself (mish-pah-cha). My family means more than anything in the world to me. My Grandma Debbie makes sure our family gets together for all the Jewish and secular holidays, as well as birthdays and other events. She makes it clear to me through her actions that family is very important. On my father’s side, The Shatz Family Circle was started many years ago to help family members who needed money. Another example of caring for each other in our family’s history was Nanny taking care of Poppy at the end of his life when he suffered from Parkinson’s Disease. There is also is the family legend that my great-great grandfather’s hair turned white overnight when he learned his family had died in the Holocaust.
On a lighter note, food (ma-zone) has become a passion of mine, one which was passed down to me. My sister, parents and I all like to cook and to eat. Among my specialties are Greek salad, steak and omelets. Meals aren’t just about the food but also about being together. At a typical dinner at home we talk about what happened to each of us earlier that day. Occasionally we play what we call dinner games; my favorite is three out of four; some of you have played this with us.
As I said, good cooking has been passed down from generation to generation in my family. For the High Holidays my grandmother Debbie brings everyone together at her house. Her matzoh ball soup is so good that Carly and I often go back another night for the leftovers. She learned the recipe from Nanny. My dad fondly remembers eating his mother’s kreplach at holidays growing up. He grew up in a kosher house so it was a big deal when everyone found out a few years ago that my uncle Peter secretly grilled pork hot dogs under the porch when he was growing up. My great-grandfather Poppy only ate traditional foods from the old country like plain roasted chicken, and vegetables such as radish and sauerkraut, even after he lived here for his whole life.
Another of my family’s value is selflessness (Hoo-sar ah-no-kee-yoot). My relatives often put the needs of others ahead of their own. My grandpa David and his father Freddy were very selfless. My grandma Debbie is also very selfless. All of them have regularly put the needs of their family members ahead of their own needs throughout their lives. For example, my Grandpa David let my father keep a cat that he was given even though grandpa was allergic to cats and never told my dad or complained in any way.
Even though sports (ath-let-ee-kah) are not a value, they have played a part in my family’s history and remain a common and fun part of our lives together. Both of my grandpas are season ticket holders of many New York sports teams going all the way back to the 1960s. Some of dad’s best childhood memories are going to sports games with his father including the World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup. I now go to games regularly with my parents and my Grandpa Barry, and I have started a little tradition of eating sushi dinners with him when he takes me to Rangers games. My sister and I both play travel soccer – go Corinthians! My mom and dad have run two marathons together.
As you can tell, I learned a lot from talking to my family about our history and values. I will try to live by these important values in the years to come. I hope to pass them on to my own children someday.
Family values are what make us who we are and help us with our decisions we make in life. My family has a lot of values that helped them along life’s journey.
For this paper, I interviewed a few members of my family for information on our family’s history. I learned a lot about where our family came from and how my great and great great grandparents got here.
Like them, I am an immigrant too because, as most of you know, I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. My journey may have been different, but I still immigrated to the US. I learned that my family also has many different identities. They are Polish, English, Austrian Hungarian, American, Jewish and Christian. I have many different identities too. I am Azerbaijani, my mother gave me a Jewish and American identity and I sort of feel Israeli. I have a bit of a Muslim identity but I don’t know much about it, although I am fascinated with Islam. Every year, my mother and I go to a different American city to celebrate with other families who have also adopted children from Baku. I have been to Israel five times. My identity is a value to me because it helps me know who I am and what kind of person I want to be in life.
One value I share with my mother is curiosity (sakranut). I have always been a curious person. Since the moment my mother met me, she told me that my eyes darted around the room looking at everything. I can’t say specifically what I was looking at but she told me my eyes couldn’t stop looking. I was a late talker but as soon as I could speak, I have never stopped asking questions. I drive people crazy with my questions. I just want to know. I read books, look up stuff online, search through dictionaries, resource books, anything. I am constantly stealing my mother’s computer in order to look something up or check a database. Curiosity is a part of me and it is also a core value.
My first family value is hard work (avodah kasha). My family is made of immigrants. They came to the US for economic reasons and each one of them had to work hard to support their families. Stella Bottner, my grandfather’s mother, worked her whole life. She worked hard as a seamstress in a factory, and then with her husband Jacob in the laundry business, and took over the business when he died in the 1950s. Her sisters started working in factories at the age of 12 because their family needed money. My grandmother’s grandmother, Hannah Markowitz, had a seamstress business in her house, earning money so that her four children could finish high school.
At the age of ten, my grandfather, Harold Bottner, became a delivery boy for his father’s laundry in the Bronx. He brought laundry to people’s houses on a bike, or in his dad’s truck. My grandfather told me, “It didn’t matter what I was doing, on Saturdays, my father would blow a horn when I was in the middle of a stickball game and I had to drop everything. I felt mad, but I kept my feelings to myself. It would be an hour of delivery and then I would go back to the game if there was still a game”. I think this shows the value of hard work because he was helping his family’s business by working alongside his father.
When my grandfather had some business losses, he persevered and started his own sweater company called HMB/Andrew Rohan. I think my grandfather’s early experience showed him how to work hard and if you persevere and push through a difficult situation, that good things will come your way.
Hard work is one of my values. I love aviation and have worked hard to learn as much as I can about anything aviation. I spend hours dreaming, planning, building, redesigning and flying radio-control airplanes. You may not think this goes under the category of hard work but I work hard, very hard, to build and complete my designs.
Friendship (y’deedoot) is also a family value and is my value too. My grandfather Harold has friends he has known since he was seven years old. He met one of his friends, Sandy Marks, when he was 11 years old. He saw my grandfather fighting and wanted to know who that kid was. They have remained friends ever since. Sandy even married my grandmother Dorothy’s first cousin. My uncle Andy and my aunt Karen have friends they have known since they were five years old and my mother’s oldest friend is Joanne. They met when they were seven. I have friends that I have known since I was two or three years old. It will be interesting to know if we’ll all still be friends at age 80.
Another pair of family values that I share is community (kehilla) and bettering the world (tikkun olam). My mother sends me to a public school that emphasizes “community.” At my school, Community Roots, we have core values such as honoring yourself and others, trying new things, and doing community service. Core values are so important in my school that we are graded on how well we practice these core values.
When Isaac Markowitz, my grandmother’s grandfather, came to the US with his two friends, they set up a society called the Mogielnica Society. It helped people who emigrated from their town, Mogielnica, which is outside of Warsaw, Poland. When people came, Issac let them stay in his house. He helped them find jobs, places to live and gave a welcoming hand to these newcomers.
In high school, my mother volunteered every Saturday morning to work with special needs kids for about three years. She worked on many political campaigns and she told me she has a hard time not getting involved in each organization she is a part of.
My cousin Dianne works at an environmental organization in Connecticut that is dedicated to cleaning up and educating people about the Long Island Sound. As a reporter Dianne did a series of articles that had a big impact on her community. She wrote about how much pollution there was in the Long Island Sound. This inspired one man in the community who valued the Long Island Sound to take action to help clean up the water. He started raising money to fund an environmental education foundation he called Soundwaters. Today Dianne works at Soundwaters.
Creativity (Y’tzeer-ah-te-oot ) is another value I share with my family. Morris and Elsie Markowitz were both commercial artists. Elsie’s sisters were actresses on the English and American stage. My mom told me that Morris, a self-taught artist, encouraged most everyone to go to art school, and many family members did. My mother studied painting and museum education. She has taught art to children in New York City classrooms, museums and community centers. She has created many different kinds of artwork. For many years, she worked in her studio and made paintings and sculptures. Today she makes embroidery drawings of me when I was little. Creativity is an important part of my mother’s life. Other family members are singers, musicians, photographers and painters.
My family values of kindness (Che-sed) and generosity (Na’dee’voot) have had a big impact on my life. Not only do I notice kindness and generosity in my family, I also see it with our friends that are like our family. My uncle Andy and my grandfather in the business world have the reputation of kindness, generosity and honesty. I notice that these three values kind of tie together in this situation.
When my great-grandfather Morris’ brother died, his wife worked in the same place as Morris. Morris gave her money out of his salary into hers; she never knew.
My grandparents are a great example of kindness and generosity. They help us in so many ways that are big and small. My grandmother always lends a helping hand. When my grandparents lived in NY, they would come stay with me when my mother had to go out of town.
We have many friends that are like our family. They all demonstrate the values of kindness and generosity – they are all the kindest and most generous people I know. These are only a few examples. Joanne went with my mother on her first visit to Azerbaijan. She knew my mother needed her support and she generously offered. Our cousin Dianne did the same on the second trip.
The Ophir family in Israel is always there to help us in whatever way we need. I am in awe of their endless kindness and generosity. They always pick us up at the airport, we can stay at their house any time we want, if we need something they figure out how to help us and make us feel at home.
Our friend Laurie in Israel is also very generous. When my mom first went to Israel, her family opened her house to my mother. Laurie introduces us to all kinds of new experiences – taking us to her ceramic classes, introducing us to her friends, and buying me ice cream when I ask.
One value I must mention in closing is humor (Hu-mor). I know that’s a family value because when we get together we laugh a lot. I heard about the exploits of Morris. He was always trying to make people laugh. He did practical jokes such as trying to distract his brother-in-law by making a hot seat, or pretending to be Moishe Kapoah, the man who does everything backwards. Now it’s our family humor and lore because we laugh so hard when we reminisce about our Poppop.
In thinking about my family values, I noticed a lot of values overlap. For instance, many of the values of family and community overlap with generosity and kindness. From interviewing my family and learning about family stories, I started to notice common values. It isn’t as if my family said this is my value, or I value this. I read my interviews and pulled out the values that seemed to stand out. My grandfather didn’t tell me hard work is a value. I understood from his life story that it was an important value for him and an example for me to follow in my life.
I have two families – one is presented in this paper and the other I know nothing about. I have met many people from the place I was born, Baku, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis seem so generous, kind, accepting, hardworking and proud of their community. They embody many of the values of my family in spite of our different experiences, beliefs, and walks of life. Meeting people from Azerbaijan helps me to connect to the part of myself I may never know. It helps me understand who I might have been and who I have become. Despite the differences in circumstances, my two selves are connected through the similarities I have discovered. This is what makes me who I am.
Going back through the generations, my family members have always demonstrated their commitment to family, loyalty, honesty and hard work, courage and determination, education and knowledge, artistic expression, and also a love of animals. These values have been passed down from generation to generation, down all the way to my mother and me, who continue to live by these values today. Although many of the family members I will mention lived long before I was born, I use anecdotes about these relatives to show how far back these family values go, and often how they first developed.
My family shares the value of family, meesh-pah-cha, and loyalty, neh-eh-mah-noot. One of my only living relatives, but one who is central in my family history and values, is my grandpa on my mom’s side, Michael. He was born and raised and still lives in Los Angeles, with my Grandma Betty. Grandpa Michael had a close family that looked out for each other and they valued honesty, ken-oot, and honoring one’s parents, kee-bood av v’em. His parents, Toby Glassman and Ben Frankenstein, raised four children and cared for other family members during hard times, like The Great Depression. They helped raise their brothers and sisters. They had no religious education but they had a deep faith and celebrated the major Jewish holidays. They both spoke Yiddish. Grandpa Michael’s grandparents, Wolf and Rachel Frankenstein, came to America from Russia. His other grandparents he recalls came from Germany. I don’t know as much about my mom’s side of the family, but we think they came from Poland and Germany. My grandmother on my mom’s side, Rita Anne Cohen, was not religious and even celebrated Christmas. She worked very hard to support my mom and her brother as a single mother.
My mom, Barbara, valued family so much that she adopted me. She adopted me from Russia when I was 11 months old. She sent me clothes and toys when I was in the orphanage in Novosibirsk. She even sent me a mermaid toy that made a magical sound when you squeezed it. I still have it but it no longer makes noise. She had to go through a lot to adopt me, which shows the family value of courage, O-metz lev, and determination Hech-leh-tee-yoot.
These values also shone through during World War II, when Grandpa Michael and his brother Marvin went in the Army. This also showed loyalty to the country. Grandpa went into engineer construction batallions where he became a battalion sergeant major. His battalion served in the Philippines. The battalion was scheduled to invade Japan but the war ended so his went to Yokahama, Japan to reconstruct and rebuild. He spent four years in the Army. Marvin served in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Austria. He remembers discrimination against Jews during the war and never bought German products after the war.
My family values education, or, chee-nuch. As far back as my Great Great Aunt Esta, Great Grandma Toby’s sister, it was a value that my family held dear. My grandfather remembers how much his Aunt Esta, who never went to college and worked as a secretary, encouraged him to focus on his studies, and eventually to go to college. After the Army, he persevered to get an education because of Esta’s encouragement. He and his brother, Marvin, went to school on the “G.I. Bill,” a law that helped pay for college for soldiers when they came home. Grandpa graduated with highest honors in economics from UCLA and also with highest honors from USC School of Law.
My Grandma Betty explained to me that after WWII everybody in the community believed the highest purpose in life was to become educated. They believed the more education you had, the more opportunities there would be. With the G.I. bill there were more doctors and lawyers especially in the Jewish community. They all went to college. There was a Jewish intellectual tradition. The Orthodox studied every day.
My grandfather’s respect for education and knowledge inspired my mom to go to college where she worked very hard and eventually became a journalist, writing about law. She won a fellowship for journalists to study at Yale Law School, and co-wrote a book about women from Harvard Law School trying to have careers and raise children at the same time. I’m inspired by both of their educational journeys to work my hardest in school, go to college, and pass on the values of education and knowledge, bee-na, to my children.
Throughout the generations my family has shown examples of hard work, a-vo-dah ka-shey and passionate commitment, heet-la-ha-voot. After the war, Great Uncle Marvin started a successful men’s sportswear manufacturing company in Los Angeles and Great Grandpa Ben joined him. They worked very hard, starting with just 14 sewing machines. Grandpa Michael devoted much of his career passionately furthering the interests of television and movie writers, whom he admired greatly. He worked for 20 years as the main leader and labor negotiator for the Writers’ Guild of America, West. When he began, the union was small but during his time there it grew larger and stronger. He helped win writers more credits and money for their work and a health and retirement plan.
Grandpa also believed in equal rights for all. So it made sense when, after he took the same job working for directors, and a small group of successful women directors came to him complaining that women couldn’t get hired to direct, he listened and tried to help them. He helped them do research that showed women were getting just half of 1% of the work! He invited all the big movie companies to breakfast to talk about the problem but no one came. The newspapers wrote about it and called it “The Danish Debacle” because of all the leftover pastry. He decided to sue the movie studios for discrimination on behalf of all women directors, which helped bring the number of women directors working up to 16% in ten years – not a huge number but at least it was better. These examples show the family values of education, hard work, passionate commitment, truth, justice and also courage and determination.
As I said, my mom also showed some of these values. In college, she began writing for her college newspaper and became a journalist. She loved interviewing people and trying to get at the truth. She thought journalism was a way maybe she, too, could help improve the world, tee-koon-o-lahm. She liked writing about law because she believed in it and of course, freedom of speech.
There are other examples of how freedom of speech along with artistic expression, bee-too-eye o-mah-no-tee, have been valued in our family. Grandpa Michael had a close cousin that he grew up with, Mel Nimmer, who was an expert in freedom of speech and copyright law. As a lawyer, Cousin Mel was best known for winning a United States Supreme Court decision that said a state cannot criminalize speech. The court struck down the conviction of a 19-year-old man who had walked into the Los Angeles courthouse with a shirt reading “F___the Draft.” Of course, it didn’t just say “F”. The decision became one of the leading cases interpreting the First Amendment to the Constitution protection of freedom of speech. As a professor, Cousin Mel wrote the book used in law schools that teaches students about copyright law. Today his son David carries on his father’s work.
When it comes to artistic expression, our family, through my Great Uncle Marvin and Great Aunt Regina, has even produced its own writer/director in my second cousin Howard, and an actor in his son, Nelson, who is on the TV show “The Millers.” For me, I value artistic expression because it is a fun way to communicate your feelings. Art is one of my favorite subjects in school and I love to draw, paint, sketch and create original items like duct tape wallets and pens! I also love to sing. My mom used to sing and has taken me to mini-musicals like “Broadway Playhouse” since I was little, where I’ve learned about Broadway’s most famous composers and lyricists and sung along with the cast. I have done musical theater at TADA! and I am really excited to be singing in my school Talent Show in a couple of weeks!
Another value my family shares is animal rights, or, tza-ar ba-ha-ley hy-eem. My grandfather supported the ASPCA. My grandparents used to have two dogs named Benji and Mindi. They both lived long lives because my grandparents took great care of them and loved them very much. Now my grandparents have a sweet and loving dog named Lexi. Whenever they go out, they leave the radio and a light on so that he doesn’t get lonely. When they get home, he runs to the door when he hears the keys. When the door opens, he jumps up on them to show how happy he is that they are home. My mom had a cat when she was younger who had kittens in her pajama drawer. When she was older, she had other cats including one that was blind. I had a fish that I loved and cherished, but sadly he passed on last year. Oddly, because I am Jewish, his name sounds weird. I named him…Christmas.
I have a passionate commitment to animal rights because I don’t believe in animal cruelty. Most of all, I love dogs. I think someone who inspired me was my mom’s friend, Judy Bain, who is here today. She has rescued at least three cats and one dog (that I know of – I am sure there are many more). The dog was lying in the street. Judy saw the dog and took her in and it turned out that the dog was pregnant. She had 9 or 10 puppies. In a way, Judy saved more than one life. She has inspired me because she has helped animals and I want to do the same. Already I have started on that path with my community service work. You’ll hear more about that later!
These are the values that have been passed down to me and that I plan to pass down to my children.
Shirley Abbott’s quote says, “We all grow up with the weight of history on us. Our ancestors live in the attics of our brain as they do in the spiraling chains of knowledge hidden in every cell of our bodies.” My life is full of connections with my ancestors and relatives. I am proud of my family’s values that have contributed to who I am today, and I thank my relatives and ancestors for it all.
With every Broadway show I see, every musical I perform, every song I sing, I recognize that my love of the arts and artistic expression has grown from my roots. This came from the core of my mom’s side of the family. The value of artistic expression (in Hebrew Bee-too-ee-o-mah-noo-tee), in particular theatre, is my miracle and blessing, but I wouldn’t have these values without my great grandma starting the tradition.
My great grandma’s love of theatre shaped her daughter’s, my grandma’s, love of the arts. When my great grandma, Elizabeth, who I, Samantha Elizabeth, am named after, was a young girl and her parents thought she was asleep, she would actually be dancing around and acting out roles from plays and books. She also wrote poetry and took my mom and her other granddaughters to plays and paid for them to have dance lessons. She even played the male roles in her high school Shakespearean performances. Like her mother’s artistic expressions, my grandma, during college, wrote lyrics to songs for all of her college’s plays, and edited the yearbook.
My grandma decided to go to Columbia University to get her Master’s in playwriting. Although my grandma didn’t complete the program, she got a job at a magazine called Publishers Weekly and she progressed to become a head editor. Later as a stay-at-home mom, she would still express her love of the arts and Broadway by teaching her daughters all the lyrics from the musicals. For example, she would play the piano at home and would spin musical records with my mom and aunts.
My grandma was a talented creative writer. She participated in my mom’s high school’s arts education by supporting a program that made sure that everyone was able to be involved in music or the chorus. After she passed away, my mom and aunts started a scholarship in her name at their high school to encourage creative arts, writing, and musical theatre. No one could have had a better role model than I did in fostering my passion for theatre and creativity
My grandpa was also one of my wonderful inspirations for artistic expression. Through his years of school, he loved being on the stage and was the lead in many of his school plays. Later, he took a summer job at a hotel called Green Mansion, where lots of singers and actors went to perform. He met and even had lunch with many of these future stars, such as Carol Burnett, who eventually was the lead in “Once Upon A Mattress” on Broadway, the same show I recently starred in at my school. I can remember my grandpa listening to music or seeing me in a show, and looking into his eyes, seeing his memories flow back.
My mom is the most directly responsible for my love of artistic expression. She sang me Broadway songs at bedtime and she took me to Broadway shows; she encouraged me to take singing lessons or try out for plays. During my mom’s early school years, she starred in all her school plays, too, such as “The Wizard of Oz,” “Oklahoma,” “West Side Story,” “Little Women,” and many more. My mom also was in school choruses with the best singers. Today, when we go to shows, I watch her experiencing Broadway; smiling, leaning forward, in that red velvet seat. I always say my mom and I are so different, but when it comes to theatre, well, it brings us just a little closer.
I remember the moment I walked off stage after being the lead in “Once Upon A Mattress.” My mom threw her hands up, screaming that I performed amazingly. As I ran away to change out of my seaweed costume, I could see my mom’s glowing pride, which wouldn’t allow her to peel away from me. Although I may not have appreciated her in that moment, I realize now that her pride came from our shared love for theatre.
From my dad’s side of the family, I have a love of new experiences (in Hebrew: nee-sa-yohn). I love to travel and try new things. My grandpa on my dad’s side, Poppy, had many new experiences in his life. When confronted with the option of keeping things plain and the same, or doing something new, he always chooses the latter. After growing up in New Jersey, he went to college for a while until he joined the Air Force. This was when he met my grandma. What he has taught me from this is that trying new things can lead to new and wonderful outcomes. There are many great adventures in life, and it can be hard to choose the right path. From what my grandpa’s values have taught me, I will always choose the path that will lead to a new experience for me.
Like Poppy, Nanny also loves experiencing new things in her life. From her, I’ve learned strength (in Hebrew: ko-ach). She grew up in England during World War II and had a bomb shelter in her backyard. She told me a story about hanging up black curtains to cover any light so the bombs would avoid her home. She explained how there was rationing of food and the whole town didn’t have any chocolate because of the war! Now, that must have taken a lot of strength!
Maybe moving between England and America with his parents gave my dad his passion for different cuisines and an adventurous spirit. My dad is a master restaurant selector. Almost every weekend, someone is texting him, asking for a restaurant idea. He loves his Zagat Guide and his ChowHound website. The joy he feels in trying a new restaurant is similar to the joy he feels in trying almost any new experience, such as traveling. My dad began his life in New Jersey, until the age of two. His family moved to England and one of my dad’s brothers was born there. Later, the family moved to California and another brother was born and the family eventually moved back to England.
My dad doesn’t try new things just to say that he did them. He enjoys the process of learning from each new opportunity and is chock full of random facts from all he’s learned. He can answer any question anyone asks him. One time when we walked around downtown New York City, I remember my dad rambling on about famous architecture facts and the neighborhood’s history. Though all I heard was, “blah, blah, blah,” I really do appreciate that he is so knowledgeable. To most families, education (in Hebrew, Chee-nuch) is important, but to mine, it’s paramount.
My mom’s grandma is also responsible for my valuing education. She was born in Russia and received an education with tutors there when no Jewish people in Russia were allowed to attend school. At eight years old, my great grandma came to this country speaking no English. Education was so important to my great grandma’s family. She worked so rigorously in America that she (and her sister) became valedictorian, on top of skipping two grades. She attended Hunter high school and described it as the best four years of her life, and Hunter was also the place that inspired her to be a teacher for thirty-five years. My great-grandma’s loving family had only enough money for just one child to go to Hunter College. My great-grandma was smart and lucky enough to be the one who went, thanks to her sister’s support.
Further, the value of education is not foreign to the rest of my mom’s family. My grandma studied to be a playwright and went to Brandeis, which she loved so much that, even years and years later, she talked about it all the time. My mom went to Hamilton College and law school at Emory University and is really involved in my school’s PTA because she knows education is important.
And although my dad’s parents didn’t finish college, they still value intelligence and learning (in Hebrew, Chach-ma). Poppy went to Hebrew School and attended college for a short while, and loves to read, as does my Nanny. When I visited my paternal grandparents’ house, I realized that Poppy reads about three books a week! Nanny didn’t go to college because in Britain at the time, poor girls didn’t go to school. After my dad went to Duke, he went to the University of Virginia to get a graduate degree in business. His education, as well as my mom’s, inspires me to continue to learn forever.
Although both sides of my family love to learn, they love each other even more. Nanny lost her father when she was very young and had to stay with strangers during World War II to be safe from the bombing. From these events, she cherishes her family always. When I go to Nanny’s house, she still makes the chocolate roulade cake that she made for my dad as a kid. I haven’t experienced the same difficult things that my grandma did, but she taught me to always love family.
One of my favorite family stories to hear comes from my dad’s father, Poppy. He told me about visiting a pub with a friend when he had some time off from the Air Force. He went in and his friend asked if he knew the girls at the bar. The way he explains it to me is, when he saw one particular girl, he knew he would soon marry her. He lost her number, but he actually found her again! Fate took over and my grandparents never looked back and created a loving family.
My grandpa on my mom’s side was never without a smile when he was with his grandkids. He was always proud of us. My grandma was always outgoing and loving, even in the hospital with tubes. When she was probably in pain, she never wanted us to see it. She loved her family so much she always gave me gifts and wrote poems during her time in the hospital and nursing home. Though I can’t show all of you the doodles on the side of my grandma’s poems to me, I would like to share her caring words.
The poem is called “Happy Birthday, Ten Years Old.” “Sam, Samantha, Sammy. Hope your birthday is a whammy. I am sending you a few small gifties. Hope you think they’re rather nifty. And I want to shout aloud, you always make me very proud.”
My parents’ families started with similar core values, the love of the arts, new experiences, learning, and family. As our families progress, so do our values. I will try to always remember that these values don’t come from nowhere, they come from my family. One of my favorite quotations states, “Like branches on a tree, our lives may grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”
In order to begin my family values paper I started by interviewing my family members. I asked them about the things that were important to them and the things that they learned were important to their ancestors. After getting all this information I started writing about their values along with the ones that matter most to me.
The first value that I think is most important is education. (Chee-nuch). My maternal grandfather, who I refer to as Papa, was a straight A student throughout elementary, middle, and high school. His own parents were immigrants from Eastern Europe and they never learned how to read or write English. They only knew Yiddish, but eventually learned to speak English. Even though Papa grew up in this kind of environment he worked incredibly hard in school every step of the way. Not only did he want to make his parents proud he also wanted to be proud of himself. After high school he joined the Army where he was a meteorologist during World War II. After the war, he was accepted at M.I.T. where he got a bachelors degree in industrial engineering. It was an extraordinary achievement to be accepted to such a prestigious school and to have the GI bill cover his college tuition.
Papa was the first member of his family to attend college and he paved the way for his brother, his children, and his grandchildren including me. Education is an important value to me and I work hard in school with the goal of being able to go to an excellent college.
The second value that is important in my family is working hard. (a-vo-dah ka-shey). My Dad is a perfect example of someone who works hard in all aspects of his life. He grew up in Chelsea nearby to where I live and his family was middle class. When he was growing up, my dad’s parents told their children that they could have a lot of freedom as long as they got no lower than a grade of B in all of their classes at school. They told this to my father and my Aunt Mandy because one of the values that mattered most to them was having their children be successful in school so they could go on to be successful in life. My Dad worked hard in school and like Papa he got into a very prestigious college and then continued on to earn an M.B.A. at UCLA. After graduating, my Dad teamed up with a few friends from college and together they started their own business. They became very successful and to this day my Dad continues to be an entrepreneur and has achieved everything he has by himself. My Dad is an example of how working hard can make such a huge difference in a person’s life.
Another important value in my family is honesty. (Ken-noot). My own experience with this has been my mother telling me that if I tell the truth the outcome will be much better than if I lie. Unfortunately, she has had to tell me this many times throughout my life. For example, when I was in fifth grade I told my mother that my teacher said we didn’t have to do a current events assignment that week. My teacher sent home a note saying that I did not complete the assignment and that she expected the students to get their assignments done. My mother was upset and disappointed with me not so much because I didn’t do the assignment, but because I lied about my teacher saying we didn’t have to do it. The importance of honesty is something that my maternal grandparents always stressed with their children, including my mother. It’s a value that my mother has passed on to me.
One of my favorite values is an appreciation of humor. (hu-mor) I like to think of myself as one of the funniest people in my family and I owe a lot of my sensibility to my Dad. My family and especially my Dad’s side have a history of looking at life with a sense of humor and for making and enjoying jokes.
I’m proud to say that my family looks at life optimistically as a result of an excellent sense of humor.
Different comedians like Jon Stewart, Jerry Seinfeld, and Seth McFarlane are an inspiration to me because they look at life positively so that when times are rough, laughter can be the best cure. It’s these kinds of people that make me feel like I should be a comedy writer.
Finally, the most important value I’ve learned is Justice and Fairness (tzeh-dek). In the late 1960’s, my mom grew up in Providence, Rhode Island and there weren’t that many Jewish students at her school. There were times when kids would make fun of her and bully her because she was Jewish. They’d also throw pennies at her while at school. It was an attempt to stereotype my mother with the idea that Jews are supposedly cheap and like money. Being treated this way by her peers was confusing and hurtful.
Because my mom was ostracized, she understood what her nanny, who was African American, felt when she encountered racist people. Her nanny’s name was Seola, and on Sunday’s she would take my mom to the nearby Baptist Church in Providence.
My mom loves soul music and loved the music at the church. My grandparents also thought it was a culturally enriching experience for my mom.
My mother and Seola were very close – she even helped teach Seola how to read. One day when they got on the bus to church, a guy called Seola the N-word .Seola told my mom not to pay attention to the guy, but my mom didn’t listen. She went up to him and pushed him! A powerful sense of justice is still strong in my mother, and by sharing stories like this with me, it’s helped me understand the importance of Justice and Fairness. I strive to be a person that accepts of all types of people.
Looking at the experience of my great-grandparents as immigrants to this country, I think it shows that they always had determination (Hech-leh-tee-yoot), and were not afraid to leave their country to strive for a better life. They’re proof that if you have a goal, and you’re motivated, you can achieve great things.
Also, I’d like to add that kindness (Cheh-sed) is a personal value of mine. For example, when Papa was visiting recently, I didn’t allow him to buy me a Linzer Cookie because I was uncomfortable letting him spend money on me because he was a guest in my home. Also, I sometimes go to 7-11 with my friends after school. If my friends are low on money, I’m happy to treat them to a drink or snack. It makes me feel good to show kindness to the people I care about.
In conclusion, I realize that the values that are important in my family are important to me, and in many ways make up what I believe in too. When I wrote this, I was about to leave for camp for 7 weeks. Learning about my family’s values helped me feel prepared to think for myself and fend for myself while I was away from home.
Values to me are what help us shape our lives. Values help us make decisions and deal with problems. Values make us who we are. My values and the values that I have learned from the people around me make up my character.
My first value is family (meesh-pa-cha). I don’t have a very big family, so the family that I do have is very important to me. I consider my family to be not only blood relatives, but people close to me as well, like my godmother Jane. I love spending time with my family and I hang on to the bonds I make with them, even if they live far away and I can’t see them often. Family is important not only to me but also to the rest of my family. My mother and her brothers grew up in a close-knit family and I love to hear stories about their relatives and friends.
The second value is charity (tzedakah). Charity is very big in my family. My mom and I sometimes volunteer but mostly we donate to different charities. Part of my allowance goes to helping the World Wildlife Fund. Even my grandparents did a lot of charity work. My maternal grandmother wrote and helped perform plays for my mom’s school’s PTA, and did a lot of volunteer work for the temple. My mother’s father did too. He was the temple president and the president of the school board. He and my grandmother both served in the military during World War II. My mom and I like volunteering for the Day of Service.
My third value is honesty (ken-oot). I try to be honest with my mom, even though sometimes I want to lie. If I do lie, it’s only a little white lie or because I want to surprise someone. Honesty is important because without honesty, no one could trust anyone else and people could get hurt, physically and mentally. For example, if a blind man asked someone to tell him when to cross the street, and the person said “now,” right when there were cars coming, the blind person could get hurt or die. My mom never lies to anyone. She thinks that honesty is really important. She says that her parents were really strict about honesty. My mom once found a purse with $800 in cash in it. She spent a whole day tracking down the owner. A lot of people in my family listed honesty in their values. For example, both of my uncles listed honesty as an important value. It was the first value they listed!
My fourth value is humor (hu-mor). Humor makes everything better. When I feel bad I watch comedy. It makes me happy. My mom can be really funny. She can say just one word and it will make me laugh. One time as a little girl, my mom got a toy banana as a joke gift for her grandmother, who hates bananas. My mom thought it was so funny. My godmother Jane is also very funny. When she comes over we always have a lot of fun. My old babysitter Carmen was very funny too. We would go to the park and I would say something funny and Carmen would be the only one who would get it. Humor can lift up someone’s entire spirit. It can take a bad day and turn it into a great one. If someone close to you is feeling unhappy, humor can often help and make them happier.
My fifth value is determination (hech-leh-tee-yoot). I am always determined and so is the rest of my family. Whenever something is hard for me, I will procrastinate. But, when I’m done procrastinating I will work hard until I finish. When my mom had to write an essay to read in services, she did the same thing. She was anxious, but when she did start she rarely stopped until she finished. One time when I was in the fifth grade, I spent two months procrastinating on a writing project that was 80 % of our grade. The night before it was due, I realized I really wanted to finish. So I spent the night writing a fifty-four-page book on the Oregon Trail. That night I was really determined to get it finished, and I did it!
Also in the category of determination, my godmother Jane is really determined. She is the principal of a school in Central Harlem. There are a lot of charter schools in the area and they are attracting a lot of the kids that would go to her school otherwise. Jane says, “I have never worked so hard at anything in my life, and not been successful.” She says this is a hard lesson for her. This year things are turning around. Jane is very determined to keep her school running.
My sixth value is friendship (cha-vey-root). Just because it is my sixth value doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to me. I have friends all over the world. I make connections really easily. My mom does too. Also, as I said before, my mom and I hang on to people that we know. Wherever I go, I make friends. For example, when we went to Arizona to visit my grandfather in a nursing home I met a girl named Sarah who was also visiting there. We instantly became friends and I got along with her little sister too. While I was in Arizona we saw movies, went to the water park at her hotel, and made pretend fancy dishes with the oranges and grapefruits that grew at the nursing home. I got her email before she went back to her home in California and we are still in touch.
My seventh value is compassion (rachameem). I don’t think that any of my family listed this in their values, even though all of my family is really compassionate. It is like an unspoken value to all of us. Whenever someone is hurt or needs help, we help, whether or not we know the person. One thing that I do a lot is when I see someone wearing something I like, or with pretty hair, I will tell her. I will walk past and say, “I like your purse.” A lot of my friends think that this is crazy, but a lot of the people I compliment feel really happy afterwards. For example, on Valentine’s Day, I took all my extra candy and Valentines and gave them out on the street. One of the people that I gave a Valentine to was really happy. She said that she hadn’t gotten any Valentines that day and that this was one of her best Valentine’s Days ever. It was really cool.
As I said before, values help us shape our world. They can bring us together and teach us about ourselves. We learn them from our parents and friends. We pass them down to the next generation. My values make me what I am.
After learning about, and writing about my family history I came up with various values from my ancestry, I also came to realize that I have some values of my own that are important to me as a person, due to my own experiences. A value, according to The Oxford Dictionary, is “worth or desirability, or utility, or qualities on which these depend.” I define “value” as something worth fighting for, or something that means a great amount to a person or being. I think that some values are more important to you than others, and the ones that are more important, you tend to try your best to follow. Here’s a list of values that are important to me.
My first value is Acceptance (Has-ka-mah). I feel acceptance is important to me because throughout my life I have felt occasionally excluded form certain groups of people, which sometimes can make me feel undesirable. Also there was a
very powerful example of this is in my family history during the Holocaust. My great grandmother, Rhoda’s family was killed because of a lack of acceptance;, this same lack of acceptance lead to the death of 11 million people, and 6 million of them were Jews.
Another one of my values is Companionship (Y’dee-doot). I feel companionship is important to me because without a companion you don’t have anyone there to help you when you’re not feeling happy; without a companion you have no one to help you with your life. The more real companions you have the better it is, because you have more people to help you. In my family there are many examples of companionship, and I exist because of them. Some of the families I know of are Louis and Sandy, Marv and Joyce, and Jennifer and David, and going up my family tree, there was Sam and Mary, Rhoda and Joseph, and Jeanne and Max, and Sadie and Harry. Companionship is also about helping others and making them feel better which makes you feel nice, like when David (dad) comes home everyday I ask him how his day was and I embrace him and make him feel good which makes me feel good.
One of my favorite values is Creativity (Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot). I feel creativity is important to me because without creativity everybody would be exactly the same; everyone would be dull and boring. I say this because if there were no creativity we would have the same thoughts and the same ideas and I would be no different than the person standing next to me. If there were no creativity, we would still be living in caves, because no one would have come up with any ideas and humans would just be like another animal in the world. Creativity is what makes humans special; if no one was creative, no one would have thought of ways to make things easier for us. All the geniuses of the modern world were the most creative people of all because they thought of a way to make things better, that we would never have come up with without creativity.
Also artists and writers are extremely creative. Our whole world revolves around creativity. For example, my dad is the Senior Director of the NY Film Academy. He has made several films himself. To be a filmmaker and a scriptwriter, you have to have a very creative and thoughtful mind to come up with the lines, the script, and the way the actors should say the lines.
My next value is Determination (Hech-leh-tee-yoot). I feel that determination is important to me because without determination nothing would get done, for example: Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone but he never would have without a lot of determination and as my old and wise science teacher once said, “I failed my way to success.” And my grandfather Louis said, “If you’re going to do it, do it well.” My other grandfather, Marvin, saved his own money for college because his father didn’t intend for him to go to college. He was so determined to go that he saved up for it for many years and succeeded by going to college, and graduate school and became very successful as an engineer.
A value that I hope to acquire in the future is Courage (O-metz lev). Courage is important to me because my grandfather, Louis, had a fairly steady job as a young engineer, and he decided to quit and start his own engineering company. This was courageous, and taught me a lot of things about risk-taking, and having courage. Courage is a value that I hope to someday bring to my own life, and I do feel it developing in me day by day.
One of my most significant values is Equality (Shiv-yon). Equality is very important to me because I think that everyone deserves to be treated exactly the same and no one should feel better than another. One day in the car we were listening to West Side Story and my sister asked me “if you would be in one of the gangs which one would you be?” and I said neither because they were both wrong to think they were better than the other.
I know people from all different races and beliefs; as a matter of fact most of my friends are from different races and beliefs. One of my best friends, who moved away, is an African American, but the fact that he is African American didn’t change our relationship. As Jews, we should know this because many of our people’s tragic events since the beginning of Judaism have happened because someone thought that we were weaker and less valuable than they were. So we should know how important equality is.
Another great value is Humility (Anavah). I feel humility is important because if you are too self-absorbed you can lose awareness about what’s going on around you and you can become blind to your surroundings. If you’re too self absorbed you run the risk of being a bully and you’ll be known as the meanest guy or girl on the block. On the other hand, if you’re humble there’s a greater chance that you’ll be liked by more people.
My oldest value is Intellectual Passion (Ratzon). Intellectual passion is important because I feel it is what forms your personality. I have had several intellectual passions since I was 2 years old that include fire trucks, dinosaurs (this is one of my bigger passions), Pokemon, Star Wars, and most recently, ancient Greek mythology. I feel that even if someone told you that your passion was babyish or dumb you shouldn’t stop being passionate about what you love. For example, I’m 13 now and I still love to build things made with Legos. Most of my peers think that’s childish and silly, but I don’t let that stop me. I sometimes see my friends dropping their passions because other people think their passions are dumb. This ruins self-esteem, and could ruin someone’s personality, and this could also squash someone’s dream like a grape. I try as hard as I can to avoid this, and help my friends stick to their passions. This is why I believe in intellectual passion.
As I grow, I do believe that I will sprout new ideas and new values, and this will change the way I think, which shows that values are both temporary and permanent. They are temporary because over a lifetime, you change perspectives on how things work. Yet, values are permanent because some ideas are more important, and they last a lifetime.
There are a lot of love stories in my family. In 1913, my Maternal great grandmother’s family moved to an apartment in the Bronx. Anne Diamond, who we called G.G, was in a serious relationship with a boy named Sydney when her parents rented a room to Jack Sobel. She dated both Sydney and Jack at the same time. Sydney asked her to marry him. She said yes, at first, but then Jack told her how he felt and broke into tears, and G.G. decided to break up with Sydney. Jack and Anne got married in 1927.
My grandma and my grandpa were in a play in college. My grandpa was in a dancing scene and asked my grandma for “help”. In 1951 they got married and had four kids, including my mom.
After my dad’s birthfather died, my grandma, who I call Mah-mah, was left with their restaurant. One day, a young man named Kenny Young came in. When he saw Mah-mah, he asked her out. At first she didn’t want to go out with him, but then she agreed. They got married in 1969. I call Kenny Young Yeh-yeh.
My mom and dad met in 1991 at one of my mom’s BBQ’s in Brooklyn. Later, as the story goes, after breaking up with his girlfriend, he came to more of the BBQ’s and then asked my mom to the “m-m-m-movies”. They got married in 1994 in the park on the Upper East Side right down the block from our building. Their flower girl was our first dog, Rika.
In basically every romance movie, the story line is: two people meet, they fall in love, a conflict occurs, but love always wins in the end. This was true in the four true love stories I just told you. All of the couples kept their marriage going for a long time because they love and support each other. This is the value of love (Ahava).
Now there have been changes. My Mah-mah has been sick, and my grandpa on my mom’s side died. But my family knows how to work with change. Lots of families split up when crises occur. Mine has stuck together even though we sometimes get angry at each other. But no matter what happens, we still support and love each other. This is the value of family (Meesh-pah-cha).
Our family values diversity (Gee-oon), which has been embraced for generations. Anna Teirstein wasn’t very religious, but her husband Jack Teirstein was! Anna’s family had fun all the time while Jack’s family was very serious. My mom and my dad are very different too. My mom has two Jewish parents and my dad has two Chinese parents. My dad comes from a Christian family; my mom comes from a Jewish family. My dad’s family is originally from China and my mom’s is from Russia and Latvia. My mom is short and my dad is tall. My family has dealt with the differences between my mom and my dad by embracing diversity and adapting to change. My mom, however, could not adapt to the white rice making. At her wedding shower, my Mah-mah gave her a huge bag of white rice. Did she burn a little bit of it? No. Did she burn half of it? No. Did she burn all of it? Yes.
In both families, some members are more religious than others. My dad’s Aunt Irene does something religious every single day, while my cousins only go to church on Sunday. My cousin Charlie had his communion the day after my other cousin Max became a Bar Mitzvah. My mom’s side of the family goes to temple on holidays and went to Hebrew school. My Uncle Andy is very observant. For a year after my grandpa died, he went to temple twice a day to pray for him, just like my grandpa did for his dad. Some people in my family light candles for Shabbat, but not everyone. Some people in my family devote their lives to God, other people in my family don’t. Grandpa believed that whether there was a God or not, it wouldn’t change his behavior. But he said he hoped his behavior would be accepted if there is a God. When I was little, I used to think that every time you cursed, a tally mark would be made on your name and it would be moving you closer towards going to hell. I don’t believe that anymore.
But I do feel that loyalty (Neh-eh-mah-noot) to your beliefs can help get you through hard times. Grandpa got his first taste of anti-Semitism when he was five and his dad pinned a Roosevelt button on his shirt. He got called a dirty Jew because he was a Democrat, not a Republican, but he didn’t take the pin off because he was loyal to what he believed. Our whole family likes to use our voices to share our opinions on topics. What can I say, we like to talk!
As I mentioned, my dad’s family came from China. Mah-mah’s dad, Tso-Sing, my great grandpa, was born on a farm. According to my Aunt Irene, his mother had tried nine times before to have a baby, but sadly they all died. Tso-Sing’s mother gave birth to him by herself; she even bit off the umbilical cord. She had the idea that if the baby could survive by itself in the barn for one night, then the baby was meant to live. So she left him there for a night in a blanket. When she came back, he was… alive! My Aunt Irene says that this was God helping them.
There are a lot of stories like that in my dad’s family. I think these stories give them a little bit more comfort and hope in times of trouble. Tso-Sing was sent to Christian school because he behaved badly. Later, he thrived in the army. The army was where he met Joseph Morton Katz, who was Jewish. When the Liao’s were immigrating to America in 1955, he became the sponsor for the family of seven. Joseph Katz had always liked Tso-Sing because he was loyal. For example, when others in the army would steal gum to send back to their families, Tso-Sing would not. I think that it’s important to be loyal. It’s important to be loyal to your friends, it’s important to be loyal to your family, and it’s definitely important to stand up for what you believe in. To be loyal to yourself—that’s integrity.
Creativity (Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot) is also a value in my family. My grandma is a dancer and choreographer. A lot of people in my family are in the creative arts. But being creative is more than creative arts, it’s also a way to use your imagination to solve problems and make things better. When Anna Teirstein’s family got the passport to leave Riga, they were allowed to bring four boys and one girl. But, since they had two girls and three boys, Grandpa said they decided to dress Anna up as a boy because she was only two years old at the time. That was a creative way to get their family to America.
Which brings me to the value of music (Moo-see-ka). Anna grew up in a musical family, just like me, and was very musical herself. She had a job playing piano for silent movies, even though she became deaf when she was a young adult. One day, my grandpa (her son) came home with a saxophone which he couldn’t play well at that time; Anna picked it up and just started playing without any practice. Besides having the same name, my love of music is another way I am similar to Anna. I play guitar, drums, and piano. Music is very important to me because it is a way to express myself. The value of music also opens up the world. It shows you that the world is full of sounds that can make music. My favorite class at school is band, I play music every day, and I want to be a famous ROCK STAR!
That brings me to the value of education (Chee-nuch). The more you know, the more you want to learn. If we didn’t have education we wouldn’t be able to relate to each other. There are many teachers in my family. My great grandma, G.G., attended Hunter College High School to study education, and she studied journalism at Columbia University. This later helped her write her memoir “Remembrances,” which is where I got most of my information about her. My grandma is a dance teacher, and my uncle teaches at NYU. My mom has always been a teacher. My grandpa was a professor too. Tso-sing was also a professor and a scholar in China. Mah-mah would stay up really late doing her homework when her family came to America. She would have to translate all of her homework from English to Chinese, and then back to English. In fact, one of the big reasons her family came to America was for a better education. She said, “You don’t have education, you don’t have a good career.”
Our family has worked hard for an education, leading me to the value of hard work (A-vod-dah-ka-shey). Everyone has worked hard to become who they are today. My grandpa worked very hard to become a great respected doctor. My grandma works hard to keep her dance programs going. My dad drove a cab for two years to support himself and to have enough money to pay for chiropractic school. It’s easier to work hard if you love what you do. But my family also works hard to help people and make the world a better place (Tee-koon o-lahm). My grandma runs a free dance program, Young Dancemakers Company (YDC), for public school kids. Both my parents are in the helping professions, my dad a chiropractor and my mom, a therapist. And my grandpa and uncle are doctors.
The value of humor (Hu-mor) is very big in my family. We are always joking around, whether it’s making “funny” movies with my cousins on my dad’s side or sitting at the Passover table with my mom’s family and telling jokes. I think it is better to be a person who makes mistakes and can laugh at their mistakes, than to be someone who rarely makes mistakes but can’t stand it when they do. A lot of times people feel alone when they struggle, but humor will make people laugh together, make people feel better, and make the hard work easier.
My family has gone through a lot of struggles and changes. We will always stick together because we support and love each other. I have learned that the whole key to life is about love. According to my grandpa, “The key to life is marrying a dancer from Baltimore. . . ” And as my Mah-mah said when my brother was interviewing her, “It’s not about how much money you have, it’s about how much family you have. You can lose money, but you can’t lose family.”
Sitting down to write my values paper was not easy for me. I had to sit and think about what was important to me and this was the first time in my life I was asked to think about my values. I looked at the list of values from my bar mitzvah book and listened to all the family interviews that I had done when writing my family history paper. From all of that I came up with six values that mean the most to me and incorporated them with what I learned was important to my family.
My first value is Animal Rights: (TZA-AR BA-AH-LEY HY- EEM), which is defined as the rights (as to fair and humane treatment) regarded as belonging fundamentally to all animals. I love animals and I feel very badly when they are mistreated. About a year ago my mom and dad took me to visit an animal shelter in Brooklyn. It was very sad and made me a little depressed to see all the dogs and cats in the shelter without homes. Some of them were sick, some of them were injured, and most of them were abandoned. What I really remembered was the noise; all the dogs were barking so loud and pacing in their cages. I know they were saying “pick me, take me home.” The shelter was trying to care for them the best they could but it was not a nice place. Some people were adopting a few of the dogs, but most of them were in bad shape. Someone asked me if I wanted to take one out of them out of the cage, but I was afraid. We walked around for a little while and then we left.
That day I realized two things– one was that I really wanted a dog and two was that I wanted to volunteer when I was older and work in a shelter. So, I am trying to convince my parents that I am responsible enough to have a pet. I am the only one in my immediate family who really wants a pet. Though my family shares the value of fair and humane treatment to all animals, I have a stronger passion for animals. I do spend time with my cousins Julia and Emma’s dog Cooper and my cousin John’s dog Giatta. Over the winter school break I got to dog sit for Giatta. At first everyone was nervous about leaving me with the dog, since I had never watched a dog before. It is a big responsibility. Cousin John brought Giatta over with a lot of stuff; her food, toys and wee wee pads. I had to walk her, feed her and clean up after her. I learned that having to care for an animal is a huge responsibility and though it is fun to play with them it is a big commitment. You have to love and protect them also, because they are a part of the family. I hope that in time my parents will see that I can be responsible and get me a dog.
The second value I’m going to talk about is Humor: (HU-MOR). Humor is a big part of my dad’s side of the family. My Uncle Brad, Aunt Wendy and my dad are always playing jokes on each other. Now my brother Samuel has also gotten into the act of sending things to Uncle Brad that make fun of his political beliefs. Samuel says Uncle Brad has a funny political mind and that his politics are way out there. Uncle Brad is a Republican and he sent Samuel tea in the mail. Everyone thought that was very funny, because he is a Tea Party member and Samuel is not. I do not really get it, but my whole family thought it was funny.
I am also very funny, although not about politics, but I do love to tell far- fetched stories. Sometimes that gets me into trouble, but most of the time everyone just laughs and knows I have a good imagination. I like to tell funny stories to my friends and family. One of the funniest stories I ever told was when I was on vacation in Cape May with my parents, brother Samuel and my grandparents on my mom’s side Marie Ann and Alfred. I made up a story about a fisherman who was about to catch lobsters. Everyone was listening quietly to my story, they were all saying that I had such a great imagination and my story had so much detail. My mom said we should write the story down so we would remember it. When she turned around she realized I was describing the painting on the wall in the restaurant. Everything in the story was taken from pictures in the restaurant. I made everyone laugh — my parents, grandparents and even my brother. They all laughed so hard tears were coming out of their eyes. I felt so happy at that moment making everyone have a good time. That was a good family moment, as my mom likes to say. That is what humor does; it puts everyone at ease and makes people feel happy. I like being a part of making people feel happy.
The next value I’m going to talk about is Risk-Taking: (L’KEE-KHAT SEE-KOO-NEEM). What this means to me is taking a chance even if it makes you uncomfortable, or doing something that has the great risk of failure, but you try it anyway. Last year, we took my mom’s parents to Mexico and my grandmother Marie Ann wanted to go para-sailing. My mother, who is afraid of heights, did not think it was a good idea for her to go, but she insisted and my dad took her and she had a great time.
Both my grandfathers, Alfred and Robert were risk takers with their careers. My grandfather Alfred was the first and only child in his family to graduate college and he had his own successful architectural business. His father wanted him to finish high school and get a job. My grandfather Robert was an aerospace engineer who helped get the astronauts home when they were stuck in space on Apollo 13. I also enjoy taking risks by trying new and exciting things, from Zip-Lining in the Mexican jungle to riding the rollercoaster “Steel Force” at Dorney Park, to skateboarding off high ramps, to making new friends. I like to try new things because I don’t want to miss out on all the fun and adventure.
The next value I want to mention is Sports (ATH-LET-EE-KA). I love to play sports, whether its baseball, football, soccer or basketball. I have been playing on many teams since I was four years old. My favorite sport is soccer. I have been playing competitive travelling soccer for two years and I really enjoy it. My dad played soccer when he was young; he takes me to all my games and cheers me on. I love spending time with him and talking about the game afterwards.
I take after a lot of my cousins who play sports; my cousin Harrison played baseball and was a pitcher, just like I am. This year Uncle Harry came to most of my soccer and baseball games. He played baseball and softball and liked being on a team. You need to learn how to work together, listen to each other and solve problems. He said that when he was young he did not have any fancy video or computer games; playing ball with his friends was his favorite thing to do. I agree, though video games are fun, playing sports on a team is much more fun. I have made good friendships; we are all focused on the game and nothing else. Sports keep me active and healthy.
I want to now talk about the value Courage: (O-METZ LEV) Courage is defined as moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty. Both sides of my family showed great courage when they came to America for a better life. My mom’s side of the family came from Italy and my dad’s side came from Russia. My dad’s mom Shelly’s father Harry (which is my middle name) came from Russia and opened a furniture store. He and his wife Estelle worked hard to give my grandmother Shelly a better life. It takes courage to leave behind what you know and start over when you are unsure what is ahead. I have been told that I also show great courage. My life has not always been easy. I, like my great grandparents, migrated to America for a better life. When I was four years old, my parents came to Russia and brought me to the United States, and though I did not understand everything that was happening to me back then, I know now that it took courage to leave behind my old life and start a new life with family and friends. Though I make friends easily it takes lots of courage to put myself out there and be accepted. It is not always easy but I do not give up. I do it because I have courage. I get a lot of help from the adults in my life, but again it is my courage that gets me through it all.
My last and most important value is family: (MEESH-PAH-CHA). It is defined as a group of persons of common ancestry. My mom and dad’s family share a lot of the same traditions and have a lot in common, even though my mom’s side is Catholic and my dad’s side is Jewish. Throughout all of my interviews with my grandparents – Marie Ann, Alfred, Shelly and Bob – and Uncle Harry, family was what everyone spoke about the most. Their memories were of big family gatherings, stories about when they young, vacations they all took together and holidays that were celebrated. They all spoke about big family dinners with a lot of good food. My mom’s mother told me how her mom would cook all day for the holidays, and now she does it. She is the best cook ever; my brother Samuel says she cooks with love and I agree. I love her meatballs, sauce, chicken cutlet and mashed potatoes.
I also love to go on vacations with both sides of my family. We always have a good time and it has left me with great memories. Every year my brother, my cousins and I go to “Camp Botwin” for a week. My dad’s mom Shelly always has the whole week planned out; we go fishing, go to concerts at the park, go swimming and just have fun. We stay up late, we get up late and we can eat and drink (just soda) all we want! I love going there! There are always people visiting like Aunt Marcelle and Cousins Beth & David. I know Grams lived with many aunts and uncles when she was growing up also and likes a lot of family around. Family is important to me because they love me unconditionally. I know that no matter where I go or what I do, my family will always be there to support me.
In conclusion, I learned a lot about who I am and what I believe in. I learned more about my family and what values they believe in. I also learned that I can be an individual with strong opinions and beliefs and still have some of the same values as my family.
When it was time for me to write my family values essay, I looked back to all of the interviews that I did with my parents and grandparents to help me come up with 5 values that I connected with the most. These values are communication (Ko-moo-nee-katz-ee-yah), humor (Humor), family (Mishpokhe), hard work (Shver Arbetn) and education (Bil-dung). For each value I will give some examples of why each important to me.
Communication is a value that was largely influenced by my mom, dad and their life experiences. I chose communication as an important value because I’ve learned that if you don’t have good communication; relationships can fall apart in the easiest ways. During a conversation with my dad, he told me that when he was little his parents yelled, a lot. He always worried that they would end up getting divorced because that happened to many of his friends and their parents. He soon realized that his parents yelled to relieve the pressure, not suppress it. This taught him that discussing and yelling are better than keeping all of your feelings in, because they allow you to solve a problem you are facing. In the interviews with my mother, she said that when she married my father, my dad was a much better communicator than she was, and that in a relationship, it is always good to have good communication because if you address problems when they are small, it keeps them from becoming big and hard to handle. In my own life I have used communication to help solve a problem by talking to my friends, if I were frustrated or mad with them about something. This is what communication means to me: being able to solve problems easily, and resolving conflicts that you may have.
After talking to my whole family I can say that education is a very important value. My grandma Audrey worked in a school as a speech pathologist, and my Grandma Hallerman worked as an elementary school teacher. Also, my father is a school psychologist in a high school and my papa is a Doctor of Psychology and the chair of the psychology department at a University. During a conversation with my mother, she told me that she was the first person in her family to go to college away from home and she was really nervous leading up to the first day, but her time in college ended up being some of the best years of her life.
There were two important stories that really struck me from my interviews. The first was from my Grandma Audrey. During a conversation she told me that she never finished college when she was young, so after she had children, she went back and worked to get both her bachelors and masters degrees at night while she raised my mom and her sister. The second story is from my Grandma Hallerman. During her interview, she told me that her mother was very demanding about her grades. For example, whenever she would bring home a 95 grade, her mother wouldn’t congratulate her; instead she would ask her where the other 5 points went.
Education is very important to me I think it is important to achieve good grades. During all of my family conversations, there was one quote that came from my mom that I really enjoyed: “Education is learning in the classroom, but it also stretches outside the classroom to an endless choice of experiences.” When I talk with my parents about pursuing my dream job, which is to work in the movies, my parents always tell me that I have to learn to be good at math and science, in order to be able to work with all of the computers and machines that the career of moviemaking requires. Education is a very important tool that you need in order to succeed in life. One of the biggest things that I have accomplished in my life so far is finishing elementary school and finishing my second year of middle school. Education is an important value because without education it makes it hard to be competitive in the world.
I chose hard work as another important value because in order to succeed in life, you need to work to achieve your goals. An example of hard work that was really important to me was from my mother’s father, my Grandpa Sid. My grandpa was born right after the Depression. Many people were not working, and it was very hard for them to find work. As soon as he became old enough, my Grandpa found whatever work he could to try to help his family by working in butcher shops, factories, and more. He told me that he never really spent a lot of time with his mom and dad because he was always working to help support them. This was a very sad thing to hear, because my Grandpa is always thinking of others and always trying to make the people he cares about happy. He told me that his worst memory was being hungry and not having enough to eat. He also said that now, he likes to treat us and go places, or take us out to dinner, because he wants to be able to do things with us that he never could when he was a kid, so that hopefully, our lives will be better than his. After coming out of the army, my grandpa wanted to work in hotel management but couldn’t find a job, so he became an insurance broker and eventually was able to build up his own business where he has been working for 50 years.
Another example of how my values have been influenced by my family is from my parents, who believe that hard work is an important value in life and I agree. Whenever it is time for me to hand in any sort of project, including this paper, my parents always tell me that they want me to do the best work I can because they always want me to be the best I can be. One funny story that comes to mind when I think of hard work is from my papa. He told me that his grandmother was the superintendent in a building and somebody had ordered a stove. Since there were no elevators, she took the stove and carried it up to the apartment on her back. My papa always tells me to work hard. In order to give me an example of the benefits of working hard, he usually talks about how he earned his P.H.D. and his chair at the Jersey City University Psychology division through hard work and that if he hadn’t worked so hard, that many things that I take for granted would not be here today. Hard work is important to me because I know that throughout life, it will always be helpful to go that extra mile (even though you may not want to.) And with hard work, you are capable of doing things that you might not thought you were able to do.
Reading through and looking back on all of my interviews, family was a very important value. Family is especially important to me because of all of the things I am able to do that I love. When I think of family I always think of the big Hanukah get togethers that we have at my Grandma Audrey’s house with all of my mom’s side of the family. I always remember this event because it’s the big event of the year that I get to spend with almost all of my mom’s side of the family. According to my mom, when she was little her family would always have big celebrations at our Aunt Celia’s house. These would be the times when the family would come together and see each other to celebrate the Jewish holidays. Just like the traditional holiday gatherings that we have now. She also told me how my grandma Audrey took my mom and her sister to California for a whole month so she could really get to know all of her relatives that lived in California. This is a bond that still lasts today.
One story that comes to mind when I think about family is from my Grandma Audrey. She told me that when she was little, she lived in Brooklyn and a lot of her family lived in the same area with her, so after school she would see her grandfather at his barbershop and then visit her grandmother at the movie theater where she worked as a matron. This shows how close her family was. (Literally!) I always think of Thanksgiving when I imagine family because it is one of the most important times that I spend with my relatives. Another story that I remember from my interviews about family was from my mom. She told me that when she was little, she lived in the same building as her grandparents, so she could just run downstairs if she wanted to visit with them. She got to spend a lot of time with them after school, or on Friday nights for Shabbat dinner. Family is a privilege that not everyone is able to have, and having all of my grandparents and parents alive, makes my life that much better. Family is an important value to me because it is one of the great things in life.
Humor was a big value on my dad’s side of the family. My dad told me that humor was a very important value to him because without a sense of humor many things wouldn’t be bearable. He told me that even when his parents were frustrated and stressed, they always tried to share a good laugh with each other to make the situation better, which is what he does with me, my mom, and my brothers every day. He also told me that humor is what binds his family together through thick and thin, and that he can’t imagine any day without a good laugh.
Another example of humor is from my Papa. He told me that in his family communication and humor go hand in hand since his family loved to laugh and talk with each other. He said that his friends would always make fun of them saying that you had to take a ticket to get into the conversation because everyone was always fighting each other to speak. Another story that my dad always talks about that makes everyone happy is from when he was very little. When my dad was very young, his parents went away on vacation, and he stayed with his Grandma Barrows. While his parents were gone his grandma asked my dad to get dressed, but he didn’t know where his clothes were, since he was used to his mom doing everything for him. His grandma replied with a smile, “Well then I guess you better start looking.” And my dad was speechless. I chose humor as one of my important values, because it brings out the best in everyone.
All of these values are important to me whether I established them on my own, or they were influenced by my family. These values are the goals that I have set in order to become the person I want to be in the future. After speaking with my family and reflecting on my own, I believe that personal values are important because they help you make choices and be the person that you are.
Everybody has values, ideas, things, or practices that are important to them. To prepare for this essay I talked to members of my family about what have been important values to them and family members that came before them. I am especially lucky that I have a lot of family to interview. I came up with seven values that are important to my family.
Both my sister and I feel that bettering the world (Tee-koon o-lahm) and Charity (Tz-dah-kah) are important family values. Marcela’s parents, Silvio and Marta, fought against the dictatorship in Argentina and became doctors because they wanted to help people. Grandpa Mark, my dad’s father, donates money to charities every year. Grandpa Mark often wants us to donate money in his name, rather than giving him a present. For a while, we had a Tz-dah-kah box in our kitchen. We would put loose change into it and then donate the money when it got full. Grandpa Mark also volunteers in a fourth grade class at a school in a poor neighborhood, and is working to restore a prairie near his house. Also, Grandma Janet, my mom’s mother, lived on and studied an island called Futuna and wrote their first dictionary. Oma, my mom’s other mother, worked for women’s rights in Africa. My dad worked as a union organizer for a long time to increase the power that working class people have in our country. He also did a lot of work in high school and college to keep the United States government from attacking countries in Central America and to help those countries develop fairer societies. My cousin twice removed, Thomas Hirsch, is a leader in working to make Chile a fairer society. In my family, it is taught that you think about others, along with yourself.
Another family value I have is education (Chee-nuch.) It is a value of all of my family. All eight of my grandparents and four of my great- grandparents have been teachers, writers, or done other things with books and higher education. My dad is a bookseller and Marcela is an art teacher. Because they have been around education their whole lives, this is important to them. Education was also important as shown by the fact that 3 of my great- grandparents got PhDs and one got a Masters. They came from poor or rural families, so they wanted to achieve what their family hadn’t been able to before and be part of modern society by being educated. These family members are Grandpa Mark’s dad, his mom, and Abuelita’s mom and dad. Grandma Janet’s dad also had a PhD. There were jobs available for people who got these advanced degrees, such as art teacher (Helen Wyman and Marcela), professor or university teacher (all grandparents, my mom, and three great-grandparents), and scientist (Grandma Janet’s dad). This work gave them all interesting, stable lives. Education is one of my values too.
Music (Moo-see-ka) is also a big part of our family life, especially for Grandpa Mark and my dad. Grandpa Mark plays the banjo and my dad plays guitar. My dad was in a singing group for the congregation. Before that, he was in a chorus. In high school, he wrote songs and performed in a punk band. He idolizes Pete Seeger and my middle name is after him. My mom also loved listening to music, especially 60s, rhythm and blues, and African music she learned as a child.
My mom, dad, Oma, Opa, and Grandpa Mark like songs about change that needs to be made in the world, like labor songs and folk music. Papa was the drum major in college and was going to become a music teacher, but became an archeologist instead. As an adult, he loved collecting jazz records. When my dad and Grandpa Mark perform, they like teaching people songs and being in the spotlight in front of a crowd.
Friendship (Cha-vey-root) is another value important to my family. Everyone in my family values friendship a lot and are very friendly. Grandpa Mark is friendly; when he meets someone new he always shakes their hand. Grandma Janet is also very outgoing and positive. My mother was also very friendly. In high school she was friends with people from different cliques and races. My uncle John was elected prom king in high school for a lot of the same reasons. He was able to be friends with a lot of different people. Oma has friends who live in Africa, Europe, and the United States. She is still friendly with people she met a long time ago, like her college roommate. Friendship is one of my values too.
Art, or oh-mah-noot, and creativity, Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot are important values in our family that both Yelena and I noticed. Marcela is an art teacher at a high school. She does a lot of sketching and drawing. She is also a great painter. A while ago, when my cousins came over, she helped us decorate boxes with paint. Her boxes turned out very well. Marcela’s mother is a photographer and writes poetry. Grandma Janet, my mom’s mom, is always making things, and last time I went to visit her she taught us and my cousin Delanie how to do embroidery. Once my cousin Leila gets older, she probably will do the same things with her. I think she does this so that creativity will stay in the family through the generations.
Papa is creative as a silversmith and blacksmith. He made his mailbox. He made historic reproduction tools for movies and historic reenactments. Grandpa Mark’s uncle, Harold Bryant, was a well-known western painter. His sister, my great grandmother, was an artist, art teacher, and illustrator. Creativity and art play a big role in our family.
These values give you a picture of the family I come from and what is important to them. Some of these values are mine, some are not, and like all people, my values will probably change throughout my life.
My family is very extraordinary. They are incredible people. Their values help make them who they are. Some of them are passed down from generation to generation. Others are learned as they live their life.
Charity, or Tz-dah-kah, is a value of mine and my family. It is especially important to Grampa Mark, my dad’s dad and Abuelita, my dad’s mom. Grampa Mark donated blood regularly for as long as he could. He and Abuelita regularly donate money to different organization, such as children’s hospitals. For holidays and birthdays, Grampa Mark often wants us to donate money in his name, rather than getting him a present. For a while, we had a Tz-dah-kah box in our kitchen. We would put loose change into it and then donate the money when it got full. Also, if I’m walking around and I see homeless people, I will give them a dollar, if I can. People helped the Jews a lot during the Holocaust, so we should return the favor and help others in need. In my family, it is taught that you think about others, along with yourself.
Freedom, or Hey-root, is an important value to my Abuelita and her family. She was born in Germany right around the time of the Holocaust. When she was about four years old, she and her mom left Germany. Her dad came later. They went to Italy to get on a boat for Chile. They had to wait a day or so for the ship, and they didn’t have any money or food. A gentleman took them out for dinner and it is thought that he slipped some money into my Great Grandmother’s purse. The ship took a long time to get to Chile, about a month. They made it to Chile and met up with her dad. Abeulita grew up in Chile until she met Grampa Mark and he “kidnapped” her and they came to the U.S. Abeulita chose to leave her home in Chile and come to the United States. She really misses Chile and likes to visit as much as possible. She came because my grampa needed to be here, and she wanted to be with him.
The value fairness, or Tzeh-dek, is important to my Oma. She is really against racism. She grew up during a time when a lot of people were racist. She moved to Africa and worked there for women’s rights. She helped to make sure money from the government was also going to women. She would go around and talk to people about what government help they were getting. She would make sure that the money was being fairly distributed. My dad was at one point a union organizer. He was also making sure things were fair. If someone wanted a union for their company, he would go in and help set it up. I grew up learning to treat everyone fairly.
The value optimism or op-tih-mee-oot is important to my grandma Janet. She is always happy and positive. This puts everyone around her in a happy mood. She never complains and turns everything into a good thing. It is important to be optimistic because it makes you happy. One quote I associate with her is, “Oh Boy.” This shows how excited she always is. We often celebrate Christmas with her and she always says that this year’s Christmas tree is the best yet. Positivity is important to my dad. He’s always saying to be positive. If you are positive, it’ll make what you are doing more fun.
The value of culture, or Moo-sar, is important to my Opa. He was born in China and has visited there. As a kid, he lived in England. He then worked in Africa, where he met my Oma. He now lives in Germany with my Oma. He and Oma travel a lot. They’ve been to France, Africa, the U.S., along with other places. He also loves languages. He can speak German, English, French, Spanish and is learning Portuguese. Culture is also important to my Abuelita. While living in Chile, she worked teaching Spanish. Now that she lives in the United States, she speaks in Spanish and in German to her other grandchildren, my cousins. She wrote a book of translations of Spanish poems. Right now, I’m learning French in school, and we do some traveling.
Protection of the environment, or Ha-ga-not ha-tey-va, is very important to my Grampa Mark. He takes a lot of hikes. When he see’s trash, he picks it up. He has a garden in the back yard. It has raspberries, beans, tomatoes and other vegetables. Whenever we go to visit him we pick berries and vegetables and go on hikes. Grampa Mark knows a lot of animal sounds and how to track them. Nature is also very important to me. Every year we go on a three-day camping trip in the woods in Massachusetts. We sleep in tents and go on hikes. I also go to sleep away camp in the summer. We spend a lot of time in nature. We go on hikes, walk in creeks, and play in the forests.
Work, or A-vo-dah. is another value which is very important to my Papa. He was a blacksmith. He loved blacksmithing and made it his job. He put a lot of pride into his job and made beautiful things. He was even featured in a house magazine for his work. When he retired, he still continued blacksmithing for fun. Unfortunately, he can’t blacksmith now. But, he has a big drill in the garage and he makes things with it. Work is also very important to my dad. He buys and sells old Jewish books. This is what he loves to do. He turned his hobby into his job, like Papa. He puts a lot of pride into his work and continues working even after he comes home. I’m not sure what I want to be when I grow up, but I hope I put as much pride and hard work into it as they do.
Art, or oh-mah-noot, is an important value to my dad and step mom Marcela. My Dad plays guitar and was in a singing group for the last couple years. Before that, he was in a chorus and would often play guitar. In high school, he wrote songs and performed in a band. We also often have music playing. He idolizes Pete Seeger and Adrianna’s middle name is after him. It’s also important to Grampa Mark, who plays the banjo. At parties he will play his guitar and sing. Marcela is an art teacher at a high school. She does a lot of sketching and drawing. She is also a great painter. A while ago, when my cousins came over, she helped us decorate boxes with paint. Her boxes turned out very pretty and well done. Art is important in my family.
My family has many different qualities that make us unique. Everyone has something to offer and teach other people. Some people are better at certain things, but that keeps us from getting boring. My family believes in many different things, and each person has a strong opinion about what they believe. That is a good thing, because it keeps everyone’s values strong. The values are sometimes in people’s personality, which can cause some people to not get along that well, but that is usually not a problem. The main values in my family are charity, freedom, fairness, optimism, protection of the environment, culture, work and art. My family wants me to be the best that I can be, so they surround me with their values. All of these values helped to shape who I am today, and who I will be in the future.
My values are guidelines that are both enjoyable and essential to me. Some of my values are different than my family’s values, and some values we share. I know this because I have grown up with some of my family members, and others I have interviewed.
Artistic expression, Bee-too-ee o-mah-noo-tee, just goes above and beyond a value for me. Most of my life includes artistic expression. Little pieces of it float around in me every hour of the day in the way I walk, dress, wear my hair, speak, learn, hold my body. One of the boldest ways my artistic expression shows is through my dancing. In dance there are routines. Just like a morning routine. And, artistic expression just winds its way through my life routine. When I dance, I feel focused, with grace and sophistication. I really enjoy that feeling. My great Grandmother, Jeannette Henigson Cowen, danced with Martha Graham, so she had a relationship to dance like I do. My mom used to be involved with theater, which was her form of artistic expression. My aunt Jennifer is an artist, so she clearly values artistic expression. My Aunt Tara bakes and frosts cupcakes, cookies and cakes like nobody’s business, and is studying painting as well, so artistic expression is important to her, too.
Courage, O-Metz lev, is a central value to me because I am a person who has often been timid about certain things in life. For instance, I am sometimes scared to go into a dark room or to sleep alone, but I have been determined to overcome some of my fears. Recently I started walking by myself in the neighborhood; this took a lot of courage, but I am glad I did it. I now understand that this fear of certain new experiences is part of my personality, which is why courage is an important value to me. My mom just got a tattoo of the word courage, so she also values courage like I do. I admire my mom because she is very honest and courageous. After all, she has learned to tolerate highschoolers; what’s more courageous than that?
Music, Moo-see-ka, is more of a friend to me then just a sound, and therefore I consider it to be an important value. You can rely on music in a way. When you are sad, there are probably more than 500 songs about what you are going through. When you are happy or scared or in love, there are probably more than 1,000 songs about what you are going through. I know I have heard songs that sound like they are made for me and only me, just the way a friend can feel for you. When I listen to music, it makes me feel good. It makes me almost feel like singing sometimes or dancing. So music is also a key value for me. When a song comes on that my mom likes, she will say “Georgia, come with me, dance with me” and I will look at her with an “are you kidding me” look. Then she will start dancing with her mouth wide open, which is part of her unconscious style. She likes and values music just like I do.
Everybody in my close family loves listening to music – My dad’s side of the family likes the Rolling Stones, and Elton John, and whenever we visit my Grandpa Bill, we always listen to music – from YoYo Ma to Frank Sinatra, while we relax on the summer porch or in the living room in from of the fireplace. My grandpa Marty sings whenever we see each other, and when I was small he sang silly songs to me. He also graces our holiday tables with his tenor voice singing all the traditional blessings. My grandma Judy and uncle Matthew love show music, as does my mom and Aunt Jennifer. Even though I didn’t know him well, I know that my grandpa Kurt loved opera, and would sing arias around the house. Clearly, I come from a big family where people don’t only like music, but need it around them during their daily lives.
Honesty, Ken-oot, is a very important value for me. A few years ago I got into the habit of not telling the truth about some of my behavior and actions. I have grown a lot since then, and I no longer act in the same way. Now I feel so strongly about being honest that if I do the slightest thing wrong, I feel guilty and apologize even if there is no need to. I have learned that being honest from the beginning is a good strategy because it helps you not always feel so guilty and pressured.
Honesty is an important value for someone who wants to be a good person, a good friend, and a good member of the community. My mom and dad have always told me that I can be honest with them, and they promise to always tell me the truth about everything – even sometimes when I wish they wouldn’t be quite so direct. They also value honesty. I still remember my brother Jake telling me that when you lie, it is like having a bunch of bricks on your back, and how when you tell the truth, the weight is lifted.
One of my mom’s most important values is education, Chee-nuch. She helped found, and works as an Assistant Principal of, a high school called The Global Learning Collaborative. She also volunteers at The City Congregation and helps supervise the KidSchool program. Education of all sorts is one of my mom’s most essential values. I like to joke that everybody in my family goes to school because my brother and I go to school, my mom is an assistant principal, and my dad runs an organization called Counseling in Schools!
Education and supporting students is also one of my Dad’s key values. When the earthquake happened in Haiti, I remember my dad working very hard so that his organization could help Haitian students who lost or were trying to reach family members in Haiti.
Another one of my Dad’s values is Cha-shee-vah bee-kor-tee, not being afraid to ask questions. He thinks it is okay to question your religion if you have questions. Nothing should be cut in stone. You should always be able to question and to be your own person. That is what my dad believes.
In the process of writing this paper, I have come to a realization: I share more of my family’s values than I thought! It is likely that as I get older, I will add new values that extend from the ones I have shared with you today.
Values help us live, values help us choose. Life presents us with many choices; every day we make decisions large and small. What do you use to guide your decision making? Values! My family has given me a lot of freedom to figure out what my values are from what I learn around me. In this essay I will talk to you about some of the values that have really stood out to me from talking to my relatives. Some of those values are protection of the environment, education, family, community, art and creativity and last, but not least, tradition.
Protection of the environment (Ha-ga-naht ha-tey-va) is a value that stands out on my Mom’s side of the family. My Mom is always crazy about recycling, and turning off lights and air conditioning. I think she got this from my Great Uncle Doug, who was my grandfather’s brother. My Great Uncle Doug was very committed to preserving the endangered diamond back turtle’s habitat in Barrington, Rhode Island, where he and my grandfather grew up. He led an effort to prevent a petroleum plant from polluting the turtles’ habitat. To honor his efforts he received many awards including having a preserve named after him by the Town of Barrington: “The Edward Douglas Rayner Wildlife Preserve”. My Great Uncle Doug did all of this work as a volunteer, even though he had a full time job as a rug salesman and installer. I feel proud of my great uncle for doing something he felt passionate about and giving so much of himself.
My Great Uncle Doug’s love of nature was also passed down to my Mother’s brother, my Uncle Bill. My uncle is an Arborist who runs his own tree business; he is an expert on the health and safety of trees. He can identify any tree and decide which trees and branches need to be taken down.
I have tried to carry this family value forward by not taking bags when shopping, turning off lights and air conditioning when not using them and not using plastic utensils in my lunch. There is also a new program at my school, called teracycling, that recycles garbage that would usually end up in the trashcan. As a member of my school’s student council, I help inform people about the new program and motivate them to participate. Learning about my great uncle’s dedication has really inspired me to be more eco-friendly.
Being there for family (Meesh-pah-cha) is a strong value on both sides of my family. My Bubbie was sick with Alzheimer’s for a very long time and we all bonded together to take care of her. My Dad and my Zaidie did the vast majority of the work and were unwavering in their commitment to keep Bubbie at home with her family. I remember when my Bubbie first got sick and my Dad was constantly rushing out to Queens, sometimes in the middle of the night, to help Bubbie calm down from the many panic attacks she had early in her illness. As Bubbie’s health and mind declined she and my Zaidie moved into our apartment building so my Dad could help more easily. My Bubbie and Zaidie were at most family dinners for almost my whole life even when Bubbie was very ill and could no longer walk. After every single meal my father would take my Bubbie and Zaidie up to their apartment and help Bubbie into bed. My Dad did a ton of things for my Bubbie and Zaidie, but he never complained; it was as if it were second nature. My Bubbie died at home in January of 2011 with her family by her side. My Zaidie died suddenly 9 months later; my Dad helped him and was by his side until the very end.
The younger generation taking care of the older generation also happens on my Mom’s side of the family. My Great Aunt Nancy, my Grammy’s sister, lives with her daughter and son-in-law, my Mom’s cousins, Beth and Aaron. They have taken care of my Great Aunt Nancy ever since I can remember, including seeing her through the amputation of her leg and confinement to a wheel chair. Like my Dad, I have never heard Beth or Aaron complain, and also like my Dad, they seem to truly enjoy taking care of people they love.
I do not take my family for granted because I know lots of kids do not have supportive families. One way I do not take my family for granted is setting aside time every Friday for my Mom and I to do special things. I also have family dinners almost every night. Sometimes I get so caught up in other things I forget to make time for my family. This time gives you a chance to get closer with your family and learn things you would not have known. One of the most important aspects of family is being there for each other. Family plays a huge role in my life and I don’t intend to waste it. I value my family enormously and aim to keep it that way.
My family time gave me the chance to learn about my Bubbie’s educational history. It helped me realize how much she valued education (Chee-nuch) and that I should not take my own education for granted. Bubbie had to work incredibly hard to achieve her goals. My Bubbie was very intelligent and graduated high school when she was only 15. After high school, Bubbie was not given an opportunity to attend college because her family did not have the means and it was expected she would go to work. Eventually she became a secretary at a publishing company. Bubbie decided to go to college because she wanted to achieve more. She kept working full time and went to college at night at St. Johns University, majoring in English. It took my Bubbie 20 years to graduate college because she had the care of my father and a full time job on her hands. She eventually succeeded and then earned a PhD. Bubbie’s perseverance and hard work show me that she truly valued education.
Going to college was not a given for Bubbie, as it is for me. I know not everyone goes to college and has an education like mine, but hearing about my grandmother’s story made me realize how important education is and that it is not always at your finger tips. I value education because you are likely to need your education later in life. And what I find fascinating about it is you can never know everything, and you can always do more and learn new things. I am very proud that my Bubbie not only got her PhD but did it with passion and perseverance.
I am very social and greatly value community (K’hee-la) and through my family interviews I learned that that my family does too. Community to me is a group of people in the same location or a group of people engaged in the same activity, work or learning. Members of a community care about each other and like being involved in the group. Community means having other people to lean on. My mom told me that my Grandma did lots of volunteer work for the Red Cross, helping with blood drives. My Bubbie also did volunteer work for an organization called English in Action. She helped new immigrants learn English. She really enjoyed offering her teaching skills to others and helping them make a new life in New York. My Bumpa (my Mom’s dad) also did community service by serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission in the town of Guilford, Connecticut, where my Mom grew up. My Mom tells me that he spent many nights at meetings, all on a volunteer basis. My Dad worked for many years for an organization called Housing Conservation Coordinators, where he tried to preserve low income housing in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Though my Dad left HCC many years ago, he is still involved by being a volunteer member of the Board. He also attends many night meetings and donates lots of his time.
The importance of community has been passed down to me. I also live the value of community by being on my school’s student council.
Art and creativity (Oh-mah-noot and Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot) are other values that particularly stand out on my Mom’s side. My Grammy drew and painted using pen and ink, oil paints, and watercolors. Grammy’s work depicted detailed landscapes, buildings and still lifes. My Grammy graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Although Grammy died when I was very little, I feel I know a big part of her from all her art that surrounds me in my house. To this day my sister and I both take pleasure in using Grammy’s art supplies and camera. I really admire my Grammy’s talent. She was very passionate about art and she did not let her talent go to waste.
My Mom always says that she did not inherit Grammy’s talent, but I think she did in a three dimensional way. When my Mom was a teenager she had a pottery wheel in the basement and threw pots all the time. My Mom’s bowls and vases are now displayed throughout our house. Like my Mom, my Uncle Ben is also into three-dimensional art. He makes sculptures with found objects and implants small LED lights within the pieces. My Aunt Chelle is also very artistic and creative. She designs glass jewelry and created a board game called, “What Would Goddess Do.” She also paints, draws and makes her own stationary.
Although I don’t have the same artistic talent as my Grammy, I am fascinated by makeup, fashion and design. I am sure this has something to do with my Grammy’s creativity. I also learned through studying my family, that my Bubbie was also a painter and a fashionista. I believe that my love for fashion is connected to Bubbie.
My family values tradition (Ma-sor-et). My life is filled with traditions. Every year my parents and their friends from college—Wendy, Doctor, James, and Nancy– rent the same house on the beach in Rhode Island. Many friends and family come too, including lots of kids. We have lots of traditions within this tradition. We play the same games—jail and ghost tag. Doctor, one of the regulars, leads the “cabin game”—a crazy hunt for candy with ever changing rules. The kids and my Dad go to Wilbur’s General Store every morning for candy. We brave Jumping off the diving rocks at the beach. We take the same photograph every year lining up the kids from tallest to shortest. I look forward to the day when I am no longer the shortest! Most importantly, it’s all about spending relaxing time together.
Holidays are also a big part of our traditions. Every Thanksgiving my Dad’s side of the family comes over for a feast that my cousin, Winton, and my Dad prepare. I especially look forward to my cousin Harriet’s hard sauce. The next day we drive to Connecticut to my Mom’s side of the family and have another thanksgiving with my cousin Hope, my Uncles Bill and Ben and Aunt Chelle. My family hosts Passover every year. My Dad cooks tons of food and tons of people come for dinner. On that holiday I look forward to Harriet’s flourless chocolate cake!
We have Christmas with my Mom’s brothers and my cousin every year. We have Easter with my Mother’s aunts and cousins every year, which includes an Easter egg hunt. I really like tradition, even small ones–we have a great birthday tradition in our family. We load candy on the wings of our living room ceiling fan, then during the party someone says, “It’s really getting hot in here.” Someone turns on the fan and the candy goes flying everywhere and we all scramble to grab it. My Dad loves tradition—he has been playing Friday night softball with the same group of friends for over thirty years. And there is Camp David, a tradition started by our family friends David and Meryl, where the same group of friends get together for a weekend of bocci, soccer and lots of just being together.
And I have begun my own traditions. My sister, my Mom and I go out for tea with my cousin Rozzie whenever she is visiting New York from Israel. I most value tradition because it brings family and friends together consistently.
Preparing this paper has made me step back and take a moment to realize what I care about and why. Values help us live, values help us choose. Sometimes I use my values to make decisions without realizing it, other times I ask myself, “What do I really care about?” I learned the answer to that question while researching and writing this paper.
Family Values by Olivia Alcabes
November 17, 2012
Identity. Really, that’s what values are. Just another branch of who we are. What’s valuable to me, what means the most to me. They’re my top priorities and sharing them means sharing who I want to be. Not only are these values things I feel like I have, but things I want to get. I want to become more determined, I want to become more self accepting. My values shape who I am. My family values shape who we are, together.
It’s really hard to put values into words. Most of the time, we just go along, acting by them instead of describing them. Putting our life rules into a few simple words causes lots of long thinking on the roof, listening to music and downing juice boxes. Yet here I am, and I’ve done it all. Now all that’s left is to describe them to the rest of you.
My most important value is Creative Writing, or in Hebrew, K’tee-vat y-tzir-a-teet. I think of it more as a skill than a value. Although it’s most important to me, not many people in my family share my love for writing. It all started when I was younger, when my parents would read books to me. I was always saying, again, Mommy, again! When I was seven, I made up little stories for my younger brother, Daniel, called Mr. Man. I wasn’t even so good at reading myself yet. Still, I knew how to form the idea. Eventually, I made an entire series of Mr. Man, all involving some sort of giant fruit falling on his head and trapping him.
It only went uphill from there. Before long, I was writing little chapter books and poems. I’ve grown up with writing. To me, being unable to write would be like being unable to breathe. While I will admit I don’t love writing non-fiction, anything is better than nothing. Even this essay is making me feel better (I had a cold as I wrote this).
Creativity, or Y-tzeer-ah-tee-oot, is more than just writing to me. Creativity comes out in everything, from drawing to editing videos. Although creative writing might not be a value my family and I share, creativity is one. My dad got a degree in economics, but he wanted to do something more creative. With lots of hard work, he got into television. Now, he’s had a chance to see things he probably wouldn’t have seen before, and actually do what he wanted to do with his life.
My brother is creative in a way completely different than my dad and I. He doesn’t search to be creative, he is naturally. Yet he isn’t creative by creating things. He’s creative by coming up with new ways to look at them. All the time, he just randomly says something that takes me a moment to process before I realize just how amazing it was. I wish I were able to do what he does.
I look up to my mom in a way I don’t look up to anyone else. It’s like no matter what the problem is, she can always find a solution. She’s creative by helping people in ways I’ve never thought of. She doesn’t just have one solution, either. My mom normally gives me a variety of ways to get out of something, with each of them just as helpful as the last. It just goes to show how different people are, even mother and daughter. We have our similarities too, because two of our top values have to do with the arts. Mine is writing, and for my mom, it’s all about dance. Physically moving calms her the way writing calms me.
That leads me to the next value – Dance, or Ree-kood. Dancing is fun to me, but to my mother it’s more a passion. She loves the way it makes her feel, like the music and her mind and body are all connecting and becoming one. Not only that, but she loves to watch dance. To her it’s a universal language, expressing emotions in a way that nothing else can. She loves to dance, especially at bat-mitzvahs or weddings. She always tries to get me to come with her, but being the grubby teenager I am, I always say no. It’s amazing how brave she is, to just go out there and dance. I don’t think I’d ever be able to, especially if it’s not choreographed. I guess that’s what some people say about my writing, though. Everyone has their own special art.
Music, or Moo-see-ka, is the perfect value to follow dance. The first value my family and I think of equally. Music is my way of journeying out of this world, mostly just to think. I always listen to my iPod in the car, and half the time I’m hardly even paying attention to the words. I’m actually listening to music right now, as I’m writing this. It helps me think. To my family, it’s more about making music. My dad likes playing Beatles songs on the guitar, or listening to his albums. It’s very important to him and connects him to the world. One of my brother’s favorite video games is called Ocarina of Time, from the Legend of Zelda series. In the game, you have to play various songs on a little music instrument in order to acquire different abilities. As you can see, music can be in the most hidden places.
Other than our parents, our friends tend to have the most influence on us. That’s why Friendship, Cha-vey-root, is one of my most important values. I love my friends, and, to put it simply, I wouldn’t be anywhere without them. They’ve helped me get through hard times in life and vice versa. We’ve all shared so many laughs together, so many days near our lockers, just talking. They’re all my family.
Now, for the value of Family, Meesh-pah-cha. Without my parents, grandparents, brother, aunts, uncles and so on, I would be a completely different person. My physical attributes might be completely different (and what could I do without my hair?), and the way I think might have changed for good. I’m not the only one who appreciates my family, though. There wasn’t one person I interviewed who didn’t mention family. Family means a lot to my grandparents, they like to be a major part of their families’ lives. We all care so much about the past because we believe the past shapes our future. Both sides of my family were very informed about our history. It makes us feel like we belong somewhere and that we have people to rely on. I know things about my ancestors that I wouldn’t know if we didn’t care so much. Matter of fact, I know that one of my many great grandmothers had the same birthday I have, but 185 years earlier! Of course, immediately I assumed that I was a reincarnation of her. Maybe I am. I wonder if she was into writing?
My grandmother on my dad’s side, who I like to call Nona, grew up on the Lower East Side. Her family was big, but didn’t have the most money in the world. Despite that, they were very, very close. Her brothers loved to tell really bad jokes. It’s so fortunate that my dad is carrying on that tradition.
Another value everyone I talked to mentioned was Education, or Chee-nuch. For me, education is more important than something to help me get a good job. School is where I’ve met some of my best friends, and learned more than just a lesson. Before I went to school, when I was a toddler, the entire world made almost no sense. School’s told me why two plus two equals four instead of just making it a fact. My great-grandmother and her sister (on my mom’s side) both ended up with college degrees, which was a big accomplishment back then. Women from that generation wouldn’t normally get degrees.
My father’s father, who I like to call Papa, holds the value of education highly. Papa values it because of his father, because whenever my great-grandfather saw Papa’s homework and thought that his handwriting wasn’t good enough, he would rip up the homework.
Frugality, Khee-sa-kone, is another important value for us. One of my ancestors, F.A.F. (Ferdinand Auguste Freidrich) came to the U.S. in the mid 1800s. After passing inspection at Ellis Island, he was on his way to the train station when he wanted a cigar. He went around the corner to buy one, thought the price of 5 cents was outrageous, and never smoked again.
Determination, Hech-leh-tee-yoot, has the simple meaning of not giving up. Without determination, the world would literally be nowhere. It’s about caring so much, it’s impossible to stop without finishing. I don’t like to just leave something unfinished. Sometimes it’s hard, but I always try to do my best. To be determined, I have to be committed. I’m not the only one like this, though. Whenever my brother is into something, he’ll research it for months – he’s that determined. Determination is one of the values that I feel I should have more of.
Self Acceptance, Mesh-lee-mah eem atz-mah, is important to me because it means accepting myself for who I am, not what everyone wants me to be. I’m not about to be swayed by my friends to do something bad. If there’s something I believe in, I’m not going to stop believing it just because my friend says it’s uncool. This value, I feel everyone could have a little more of. Everyone’s insecure about something, but that doesn’t mean we should be hiding it. If I don’t understand something, I try to ask questions as much as I can, and urge others to do the same.
Independence, Atz-mah-oot, goes along with that. It’s important to have friends, but it’s also important to be my own person. I don’t want to be some robot that goes along willingly with everything, even though I will admit that sometimes I should go along willingly. These two values, self-acceptance and independence, have a lot to do with the age I’m at. They’re what most teenagers (or almost teenagers) deal with. Still, that doesn’t mean all you adults should turn a blind eye. Independence and self-acceptance should have a balance in everyone’s lives, not too much, but not too little.
Values are what shape me. They’re what I want, and who I want to be. My family’s values go alongside mine because they’re the people who have taught me to be who I am. I’m proud of the values that I chose, because I feel like they really are what I want to be. My family and I have some differences, but that doesn’t mean we are different. If we were exactly the same, it would be strange, unreal. The values we have are a big part of who we are.
When the time had come for me to begin working on my family values essay, I began by interviewing my family members and asking them about our ancestors’ history. I also asked them about what values are important to them. Eventually, I created a list of values shared by me and my family that was nine values in total.
The first is the value of community, or k’heela. Members in my family have helped each other in tricky situations for many years. Ranging from offering advice to assisting another person financially, my family has done acts such as this, thus creating a sort of community among us.
My family also believes that social change in the communities they live in is extremely important. For instance, my maternal grandmother Reva recently joined the board of her co-op in Queens in part to change the buildings for the other people in the complex. My paternal grandparents Jim and Jeanne also belong to the organization PROTECT! The Adirondacks, which is dedicated to preserving the Adirondack Park, where their summer house is located. Last, my grandfather Jim, whom I call Oopa, is on the board of the building that we live in so that he can ensure a better experience for the community of tenants in our building.
This also ties into the value of meeschpaha, or family, in that we have created a community among ourselves. In terms of family, traditions within our “community” are important. For instance, my name, James Daniel Ryan, has been passed down through the Ryan family for four generations so far in America. It began with my great grandfather, who passed the name to my grandfather, and so on and so forth. It was of great significance to the family, in that all of the fathers insisted that their sons carry the family name. I hope also to someday pass the name on to my son, if I have one, and he will continue to pass it on, l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
Second is the value of bettering the world, or tikkun olam. For decades, my family has been helping to better their communities and the environment. Members of my family have donated several hundred dollars over time to charities that benefit the environment. Back in New York City, my Nana Jeanne spends much of her spare time in the spring helping to work on our building’s garden by planting and maintaining it. In addition, my parents and I have always believed that the earth is the only home that we will ever have. We must therefore care for it and respect it as such.
For example, we respect the earth by recycling all of our cans, bottles, cardboard, and newspapers. I also strive to place any trash that I have in an appropriate recycling bin, as well as picking up litter and trash that others may leave behind.
Third is the value of charity, or tzedakah. For many years, it has been a family tradition to donate money or services to those who are less fortunate, disabled, sick, or those in need of general assistance. Also, I personally believe that one who is homeless or poor deserves at least a second chance at a better life. Due to this, I have encouraged my family to donate to the Red Cross in several instances, including the earthquake in Haiti.
Fourth is one of my family’s most important values, education, or cheenuch. For example, my maternal great grandmother Sally immigrated to America at the age of twelve, for, among other reasons, education. My maternal great-grandparents made sure their children had better educations than they did, and they, in turn, made sure that my mother and my Uncle Dave did even better than that. This is also true on the other side of my family, in that my father’s ancestors immigrated for education, among other reasons such as freedom and to escape certain undesirable elements of the government. My grandfather Jim was also a history professor, and taught much of what my father was not taught in school to him and his siblings, who passed along their knowledge to me. My father also teaches me most of the information that I do not always learn in school, generally in the fields of science and history. He also teaches me, upon occasion, certain life skills, such as cooking and home improvement, that I may need to know in my later years of life. He also teaches me basic skills for emergencies, such as how to put out a small fire to prevent it from spreading quickly.
I also believe that education is very important for many reasons later in life. For instance, I study Spanish because it may open up many job opportunities for me. My parents also encourage me to do well in school by helping me with concepts that I did not understand. Many of my other family members also helped me this way, and taught me about things that I still would not know in the fields of history and science.
My fifth value is that of good health, or breeoot. My grandparents always taught me that good health is important. They taught me that this is the only life you will have, and therefore the body needs to be well maintained for longevity. It is also important because, in some cases, the health of one person can affect many other people. This became clear when my maternal grandfather Jack, whom I simply called Grandpa, died in 2006. It was a great shock to all of us, and we grieved for a very long time as a result. His deteriorating health over time caused grief and distress for all members of the family. My father and I also work to stay in good health by staying active, eating well, and going to the gym often.
Sixth is the value of humor, or humor. This is probably one of the most important in the family because of the family traditions that tend to come with it. For instance, it is typical that if my grandfather Jim tells a joke, chances are the joke is either dirty, or pokes fun at my grandmother Jeanne. This good – natured humor also tends to carry on through the family, being that my father and I are able to make such jokes ourselves, as my mother can concur.
However, it is not just the corny jokes, but also the meaning of them that makes humor important to the family. It is not the time when the jokes are told, but usually the response and the laughs that make the sitting around the table telling bad jokes memorable to the family. It helps us remember the good times and lets us know that there are good things in life, and that family is one of them.
Seventh is the value of music, or mooseka. Most of the actual musical talent in my family comes from my father’s side, where my grandfather Jim learned to play guitar. While it is arguable that playing an instrument skips a generation in my family (my father, aunt Julie, and uncle Matthew do not play music, whereas I do and my cousin Evander is learning), my parents have played classic rock for my entire life such as the music of the Beatles, the Who, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, and others, which has inspired me to play music.
This value was greatly reinforced during the trip that my mother and I took in the summer of 2010, where we visited sites related to classic rock such as Cleveland, Chicago, Memphis, and Nashville. Aside from the fact that there were very few, if any arguments about music that we were listening to on the road, we had a great time visiting such sites as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Graceland, Sun Studio, the Gibson Guitar Factory, and RCA Studio B. We had such a good time because we both understood the history involved with these places. I learned the history from my mother. She knows so much of it, including what Sun Studio and RCA Studio B were in relation to the history of popular music. For those who do not know, Sun Studio was where artists such as Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and others at later points, such as Bono, recorded. RCA Studio B was the place in which Elvis Presley regularly recorded many songs after he left Sun Records.
Eighth is the value of respect, or kavod. My family has always valued respect for several reasons. First, respect can help to build relationships between two people. For instance, if a grandson respects his grandfather and vice versa, they tend to be closer to each other and understand each other more than they otherwise would. This has personally happened between me and both of my grandfathers, and continues to happen today in the case of my grandfather Jim on my dad’s side of the family. It is also important, for me, to respect somebody such as a teacher or mentor because it can help him or her to teach you better.
Finally is the value of work, or avodah. Work has been important to my family not only because it is a source of income, but for the benefits that result for the person doing the work and other people. For instance, work has led to the existence of many things that we take for granted today, such as inventions that make simple tasks much more convenient. Also, work and the money and skills that come with it have, in my family, been used to grow the family to its size today. I believe that work can also create a better life for yourself and others with its benefits. Work has always been, as far as my family and I are concerned, essential, and not working is considered to be a great liability to yourself and those you live with.
In conclusion, there are many values that I share with my family. Many of them are of great significance to me only, such as music and work, while others, such as education and humor, have brought together members of my family. While some are far more important than others, all of these have a role in our lives, and will for many future generations to come.
On June 27th, 2009, my family and I had to put our beloved dog of 17, Rika, to sleep. She had a disease that has been steadily making her lose all the muscle in her back legs. She could barely walk and she couldn’t do any of the things she loved to do like running, playing fetch, hiking, playing soccer and she was even having a lot of trouble swimming. Rika’s quality of life was deteriorating and my family and I did the humane thing, we put her to sleep. That day was the saddest day I’ve ever encountered in my life and I was distraught. Letting Rika go was really sad. We were all holding her and I knew we were all together. When we came home I sat down with her collar and tried to do something to cheer up. I tried reading, listening to music, and watching TV but the only thing that made me feel better was when I picked up my guitar and started to play, very loud. When I played my guitar, it was like I got a little push on the road to accepting Rika’s death. I’ve found that whenever I’m mad or sad or just in a bad mood, I know that once I pick up my guitar and use my creativity I’ll feel a bit better.
The value of creativity(Y’tzeer-ah-too-oot) is a thread that runs through both sides of my family. Creative expression is in people’s work, how they play and how they deal with things. For example, when my Mah-Mah (my dad’s mom) immigrated to America when she was 15 (in 1955), she played her violin while balancing in-between the bunks in her ship. She used to play the piano, the violin and the harmonica. Even after her strokes she responds to music. My grandpa’s mother was deaf and she played the piano for silent movies. My mother’s brother is a professional musician and her mother is a dancer and a teacher. My grandpa plays the guitar and the saxophone. Not only is he musically talented but he also holds the title for best story teller. His most renowned stories are his Bouncy stories. Bouncy is an Indian rubber man that Grandpa met when he was in India during the war. Bouncy and my grandpa have had countless adventures in jungles, lakes, and mountains and in every story they use some sort of skill, involving Bouncy’s ability to bend and twist, to save each other. Instead of telling war stories, grandpa tells Bouncy stories. My dad is also a musician who plays piano and guitar really, really well. In fact, he was my first teacher. My mom, has a masters in fine arts and now is an art therapist, combining her parent’s professions- doctor, arts and sciences and teaching. My dad also combines creativity and science. He is a chiropractor and he really set the musical tone in our house.
We have our art all around the apartment and there is an instrument in every room. I play music every day. In our household you could be hearing guitars, the piano, ukelele, drums and the clicking of the keyboard as Anna writes one of her many stories. Creativity is an important value for me because it gives me different ways to express myself and I really like that I can do that.
Hard work,( a-vo-dah ka-shey) and education ( chee-nuch) are also a common thread. Both my grandmother’s pursued their master’s degrees while raising children. There are teachers in my family and some of them are still going to school so that they can learn more. It is important to keep learning. The more you know, the better you can do. There are a lot of ambitious, educated people in my family.
My Mah-Mah was only 15 when she came to the U.S. Her father, a psychologist, wanted his children to have a good education. Her English wasn’t perfect. So when she had to study for a test she would memorize the entire blackboard and copy it down from memory on her test the next day (she always got 100’s).
When she had to take French she would translate the French into English and then translate the English to Chinese so she could understand it. She also studied on the roof of her slanted porch, thinking that if she dosed off she would fall. So she stayed awake. From the early 19th century to the present day my family has strived and sacrificed to have a good education.
My father and Aunt Lucille’s father died when my dad was 5. When my Yeh-Yeh married my Mah-Mah, they moved upstate and this meant away from my Mah-Mah’s family, and away from the church. Religion is a choice. My religious education is different than my parents. When my father was a kid he spent weekends in church. My mother went to Hebrew school 3 times a week. You can choose to be religious or you can choose not to be. As long as you have a choice you will have freedom (hey-root).
Sometimes though, you may not want a choice. Sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to do so that you don’t have to make a choice. Choice not only gives you freedom, but it represents that you are growing up. When you are a little kid you don’t have that many choices but when you’re older you have a lot more freedom and responsibility.
Another family value is empathy or compassion (Ra-cha-meem), the power to allow yourself to step into another persons shoes and understand their feelings. When something sad happens feeling empathy from someone can be more helpful than feeling sympathy. When Rika died, my grandpa wrote a very empathic letter to my family. The letter went like this:
“Dear Rika (Where ever you are),
Thanks for being the best swimmer, runner, and ball-retriever, with the best personality in our family. I will miss your wet nose prodding me to play and your ferocious bark that hid your sweet, gentle strength. You were a role model for all dogs and humans. Rest in peace.
This letter meant a lot to me and I really thank my grandpa for it.
The values of community (k’hee-la) and family (Meesh-pah-cha) are important to me and can mean many things. My Yeh-Yeh was adopted and he immigrated to America when he was 8. Mah Mah and Yeh Yeh both experienced a lot of switching around of communities. This must have been very hard. I have grown up with a stable community of family and friends and I think this helps me to find myself.
Both my Mah-Mah and my Yeh-Yeh left china to escape the war. Both of them have an extreme amount of courage (o-metz-lev). My Mah-Mah had to escape the communist attacks. Her house was destroyed twice and after the second time her family decided to immigrate to America. Once here the family had to find a home big enough for a family of seven people. Mah-Mah went to get room and board near her college. This took an extreme amount of courage because she was new to the country and by herself. When she was working as a dressmaker she would sit my dad on her shoulders to keep him from grabbing all of her stuff. Making a living for family of 3 was not an easy thing to do but she persevered and made it.
Yeh-Yeh has a complicated, difficult history. He was sent to the United States as a little boy and lived with his foster family. He was adopted but had no consistent family until he met and married my Mah-Mah and adopted my father and my aunt. Now he is devoted to caring for my Mah-Mah who has had a series of strokes. It’s taken a lot of courage for her and my entire family to work through this hard time. My dad often talks about how I have barely had any struggle (ma-ah-vek) in my life. I’ve never had to work, I’ve always had food on my table, and I’ve always had some form of happiness. Conflict helps you to learn life’s lessons and I am very fortunate.
Humor (hu-mor) is very much a part of my family. My house is full of silliness (especially during dinner). A great example of this is at Passover dinner. Almost all of my family from my mom’s side is at this dinner. It’s full of laughs, food and of course, the sing along songs that are filled with traditional good humor and my uncle Mark’s jokes. During hard times, humor can be the one remedy that makes people feel better. Even when people aren’t sad, humor is a great way to get everyone in the family to laugh and smile and be one big community.
One thing about being part of a community is giving back to it. (Tee-koon-o-lahm) My grandpa says that everyone should spend at least 2 years away from home doing something that benefits the community or their world. Once you do that you’ll know exactly what profession you want and what you want to do with your life. I think that this means that when you are away from home you need to make your own decisions and you get a better sense of what’s right and wrong for you and this helps you find yourself and this makes you more independent (atz-ma-oot)
This brings me to my final family values: wisdom (chach-ma) and Knowledge (Bee-na). Every person in my family has given me wisdom; whether it’s a certain way to play (my cousins), or a way to live my life (my adult relatives). Here are some wise quotes that I’ve gotten from my family members, starting with my mom.“Nicky, turn off I-tunes and do your homework!” She also tells me to know myself, and be true to myself and other people. My mother has also helped me with my writing for my Bar Mitzvah immensely. When my dad was teaching me guitar, he let me just fool around with the music until I was ready to really learn. This was a really wise decision because now I’ve developed my own creative style.
My Mah-Mah said during her interview “it’s not how much money you have, it’s how much family you have. You can lose money, but you can’t lose family”. I think that this is extremely true. (That’s why I backed up Anna’s drum solo at her talent show and she helped me with my community service.) It’s hard to admit but it feels good to help or teach anyone even if it is my sister.
G.G. my great grandma once told me that reading lets you live longer. The more you read, the longer you live. She was a prolific reader and died 2 months before her 105th birthday. Reading really opens up your eyes to the ever changing world around you. I know that my family is wise and I hope that I can pass the wisdom I’ve gotten down to the next generations that have yet to come.
Preparing a paper about my family’s values was important to me because it helped me learn more about my family’s beliefs and what is important to us.
One thing my mom values is Jewish education (Chee-nuch). I also value Jewish Education because I am Jewish and would like to know my Jewish history. I have been in the
City Congregation KidSchool since I was in first grade. I actually went to my first High Holiday service when I was in Kindergarten! Jewish education is important to me because it teaches us about our history, holidays and traditions as Jews. I know that when I celebrate Passover, I am celebrating the same holiday as my ancestors and other Jews around the world today. This makes me feel like a part of a community. There are many ways of celebrating these holidays and part of the fun of celebrating is seeing how other people do it.
My mom went to a secular Jewish school – a Shula – when she was my age. It was during the Civil Rights movement and she had one Seder dedicated to Martin Luther King. Mom learned Yiddish at her school along with history, literature, singing, dancing, and art. It was a very nice school, and mom wanted me to have a similar experience! For mom’s graduation, she only had to write two-paragraph essay. Hear that TWO!! Times have certainly changed.
My dad’s religious education was a little different. His family was part of a Reform congregation with a very charismatic rabbi. Dad went to religious school for many years, although he was never taught to read and speak Hebrew. He did learn a great deal about Jewish history and culture, which left a lasting impression on him. Dad was a Bar Mitzvah and he was confirmed as well. He even won an academic award. Dad’s views are a little more traditional than mom’s, and I know that we can be Jews in different ways.
My father’s great grandfather was a lay rabbi and a “healer”. He didn’t have a regular paying job; he tutored young boys for their Bar Mitzvahs. The community revered him as a real holy man. Mothers would bring their sick children to him and he would lay his hands on them to cure them. I think I can relate to the faith healer because he affected people’s lives on a spiritual level. He and dad’s other great great grandfather founded the synagogue in Yonkers. My dad’s grandfather, in reaction to all the intense piety, became an active member of the Ethical Culture Society. The Ethical Culture Society, like our congregation, emphasizes logic, reasoning, and ethics.
Education was always important to my mother’s family and to me as well. My great grandmother, who was born in Russia did not go to school but was privately tutored. She read Shakespeare in Russian when she was a girl. I find this pretty incredible. All of my grandparents went to college – most of the men on the GI bill after World War II. My grandmother was a college math professor. It was something she always loved to do, although it wasn’t easy being a woman in a “man’s” field. My dad’s father is a retired dentist and his wife, my nana, helped run his office. Two great aunts Lillian and Sylvia were schoolteachers.
Our next family value is caring for others, charity (Tz-dah-ka). My dad has worked for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York for twenty-five years. They are the nurses, therapists and home health aides who come to the home to take care of people. It was founded by Lillian Wald, a German Jew, on the lower East Side. VNS was really the only health care that poor immigrant women had when Lillian Wald started it. Mom, who is also a lawyer, represents a number of Jewish charities that do relief work all over the world.
At my school, Friends Seminary, we care a lot about charity. We worked all day last spring cleaning up East River Park – pulling out weeds from the cobblestones was no easy thing. We do a lot of clothing and bake drives. We donate clothes to whatever country or city needs the clothes the most. One Halloween, we collected money for Girls Learn International instead of UNICEF. It was for girls in India who could not go to school. They did not even have enough money for the village to build a school.
Personal responsibility (Ah-cha-ry-oot) is an important value to me. My mom and dad make a lot of decisions for me, but they try to explain why the decision was made. In this way, I can learn to make more and more decisions for myself. Right now, my mom lets me buy a lot of my own clothing, because I have my own style. But she’ll stop me if she thinks I don’t really need something, or if it doesn’t fit right, or if it is just too expensive. She lets me choose my after school activities – like wearable art which I love. You get to make whatever you want out of any material available at the school. The only rule my mom has is not to quit. Even though I may not like an activity, I will see it through to the end, although I am never asked to do it again! This is taking personal responsibility.
Friendship (Cha-vey-root) is an important value to me. To be a good friend you have to be caring and truthful. I have a lot of friends. I have a whole bunch of friends at school, and a whole bunch of friends at the
City Congregation KidSchool. A friend is a good person to talk to about your feelings or if you are having a bad day. Both my mom and dad still have friends from their childhoods. Mom’s Shula friend married mom’s cousin and mom keeps in close touch with another Shula friend who lives in Miami. It’s a lot easier now with e-mail! Dad has many friends from his Yonkers days. They also live all over the country. What mom tells me is that she feels closest with some of her oldest friends because they grew up together and really share the same values. My great aunt Lillian told me that she still sees her childhood friends, the “Twins”!
Another one of our values is hard work (A-vo-dah ka-shey). I think hard work is important because it shows that you can achieve many special things. It also shows yourself that you can overcome a lot of obstacles in life. Life has a lot of challenges, which you can overcome if you work hard. My great grandfather Phillip Beresin was a carpenter in Russia. He came here after the First
World War and owned a woodworking factory. He used to make elaborate spiral staircases and his work was so precise that everyone used to call him “Doc Beresin”. My great uncle Lou owned a lumber mill and my great great grandfather Joe Blum owned a cap factory, and my great uncle Hal designed our kitchen. My grandpa Max owned a company that insulated houses and he said the he was one of the first people in the building trades on Long Island that hired African Americans.
My mentor Lauren Block thought I should talk about horseback riding because I work hard at it and it can be scary sometimes if your horse is green. At camp last summer, I rode for four hours a day and had to clean out the stables. I love horses and I love taking care of them. So to me it does not feel like hard work – it’s fun – and as I told my mom I’m not sure “fun” is a Jewish Value, but risk taking (L’kee-khat see-koo-neem) might be.
Lots of things will change as I grow up, but I think my values – friendship, education, charity, hard work and personal responsibility – won’t.
As part of my Bar Mitzvah process, I needed to interview and question family members, about their ancestry and values. From my interviews, I was able to compile a list of values that seem appropriate and meaningful to me.
As my grandma, Toby used to say, “if you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything”, so it makes sense to begin with Health; in Hebrew, Bree-oot. Health not only represents an individual’s physical wellbeing but also one’s psychological balance and clarity of thought. My family has very good health practices. My mom used to travel to a gym in Staten Island three times every week. My uncle, Gary studies alternative medicine. He is always advising us about how to identify and avoid toxins in our food and environment.
I now know why Dad does t’ai chi. It clears his mind and helps him relax. There was a time when we were driving home from Boston, lost our way, and my mom was having trouble interpreting the road map. Out of the blue we saw a sign on the road that read, “WELCOME TO PENNSYLVANIA” in big letters, and in case you don’t know geography very well, Pennsylvania is not on the way back from Boston. Despairingly, my dad looked down into his lap and said “this is horrible.” He got out of the car in the gas station parking lot and did t’ai chi for twenty minutes and Mom, Jake, and I watched. People saw us watching him and asked if he was okay, we said, “Yes he’s fine. That’s
just what he does. It helps him calm down”.
To maintain good health, you need determination, (Hech-leh-tee-yoot). But determination is necessary to meet any goal, such as the goal to be free. I come from a family of very determined individuals. Philip Silverstein is a relative of mine who escaped from Belgium with his family at the beginning of World War II. Bombs were actually dropping on his hometown. Philip thought he was going to die, but his father didn’t give up. He hailed a train conductor and Philip and his family got on the train just in time. Eventually they found a way to sail to America and escape the Nazi advance.
In the early nineteen hundreds, my great-grandfather, Joseph Mann, was about to be drafted into the Russian army, where he might have had to serve for twenty years. Instead, he went to a barber and asked the barber to chop off two of his toes. He underwent this procedure without anesthesia. All he did was drink a couple of shots of whiskey (talk about determined!). The loss of these toes got him out of serving in the army and eventually he was able to immigrate to England to become a tailor.
Years later, he opened his own tailor shop in Brooklyn, and my grandpa Milt, as a boy my age, worked for him. One time there was a kerosene leak. Joseph immediately filled a bucket with water and threw it on the tank. This spread the burning oil all over the shop and there was a fiery explosion. Joseph was determined to save his customers’ clothes, but my grandfather Milt had another goal in mind: to save their lives, so he dragged Joseph out of the store. By the time they both got to the street corner and turned around, the entire place was consumed in flames. Milt’s determination over-ruled his father’s determination in this case, and I am glad it did!
In my family there is a strong value placed on Independence, (atz-ma-oot) – the freedom to make your own choices. My great-grandfather Joe Katz did not have the freedom to make his own choices when living in the shtetl in Poland. He couldn’t live anywhere besides the shtetl and there were very few job opportunities available to him as a Jew. He escaped from Europe, went to America, and became a delivery boy for a butcher in Brooklyn. He was free to make his own choices but he still didn’t achieve his goal; he wanted to have his own business. So everyday after he finished his deliveries, he watched the butcher cut meat so he could become a butcher himself. My mom’s father, Grandpa Saul, was the founder and director of his own private biological research laboratory. My mom and my uncle Gary also have independent businesses.
My grandpa Milt always told my dad when he was a kid; “You’ll never be happy unless you work for yourself!” My dad, however, didn’t follow this advice. He is a math teacher at Saint Ann’s School and is very happy working there. So I guess another aspect of Independence is thinking for yourself, and not always following your parents’ advice. My mom, as a kid, didn’t have a lot of freedom. Her mother chose her friends for her. As soon as she could, she separated herself from her family to figure out what she wanted for herself.
Independence, when taken to an extreme, may seem stubborn or antisocial. But my family values communication too highly to be antisocial. Both of my parents have chosen lines of work in language and communication: (teek-shor-et) is the Hebrew for Communication. My mom is a psychotherapist and my dad is a teacher. When we have a conflict at home, we usually tell the rest of the family, and ask for help on how to work through the problem. Then we can express how we feel in words, listen to the other person’s point of view, and resolve the conflict. Many people don’t take the time to work through interpersonal problems but we do and I think it’s worth it.
Artistic Expression, (bee-too-ee o-mah-noo-tee), is a form of communication that is both personal and universal. My Grandma Jane’s art is in almost every room in the house. She was a well- known artist and illustrator. My cousin, Judy has her own radio show in British Columbia, and both her children are artists and performers. Mom and Dad like the radio so much because they met performing Shakespeare on the radio. Mom and Dad always read aloud to the family from stories they have written or from their journal entries. And, when my brother, Jake was still in school, I always went to see his plays and sketch comedy performances. It was the best sketch comedy I have ever seen. I enjoy all of the art forms mentioned, and I value Artistic Expression for myself. I know that I want to make Artistic Expression a major part of my life.
As a family, Humor (Hu-mor) is a very important value for all of us. When we are together, we often play family games that end up with all of us laughing. We also love to watch funny movies together and read funny stories.
Another value in my family is Repairing the World or (tee-koon-o-lam). My mom, as a teenager, worked in the CORE office. CORE is the Congress of Racial Equality. Her mother donated pictures that both CORE and UNICEF used as holiday greeting cards. My cousin, Barbara works tirelessly for the Democratic Party in Minnesota. Yet despite all of this, I feel that the value of social action does not get enough attention in my family. I would personally like to dedicate time and energy towards improving the environment and the health of our world.
My final value is the value of Family itself, (or in Hebrew- Meeshpahcha.) My family has not only brought me into the world and helped me fit into the world, but it is through my family that all of these values have been transmitted. My father’s parents worked hard to organize events to bring all of the family together. These events included holiday dinners, birthday celebrations, and summer trips to the Nevele. Now that all of my grandparents are gone, my parents organize events to bring family and friends together like this Bar Mitzvah, for instance. I don’t think I would have recorded all of these stories and information from family interviews if I hadn’t had to write this paper. And now, by reading it aloud, the circle of community grows.
You would think that finding out your personal values would be one of the easiest parts of this whole project. I mean, who knows you better than yourself? Well, it’s not as easy as it sounds. Most of the time you don’t really think about what your values are. They’re just there, unimportant and undiscovered. I had to think really carefully about what my values are. Then I had to ask my parents to help, because your parents are hopefully a major part of your upbringing. They are always trying to impart good values.
My values weren’t the values of a very religious Jewish family, because my parents weren’t that focused on religion. They were more willing to let me see one idea from all angles instead of keeping me in one perspective and never letting me see things multiple ways. One of those multiple ways was what we call “confuse the neighbor season” where we’d have the menorah and the Christmas tree up at the same time. I never knew that it was a bit odd for someone to be Jewish and Christian. To be quite honest, even after I learned that it was unusual, I didn’t really care. I didn’t really think about the traditional and multicultural values that mom and dad were passing on to me until I started this paper. Because of this, I didn’t know much about my family history or any of the important multicultural aspects. Now that I stop and think about it though, I realize that there are people out there who will say that my beliefs are extremely strange, because I have both Christian and Jewish identities. That, coupled with my love for mythology, gives me a rather more colorful view on the world than most other people. I’m not complaining though, because I now have a view of all different kinds of people. That, I think, will come in handy later.
But as I said, getting the values out of my parents was only the beginning. Then I had to track down my grandparents, because your grandparents probably had to do with the values that your parents have now. This values paper was a lot harder than I ever thought it would be. But at least I got through it with reasonably good facts.
All together, I managed to boil down all the values in my head to eight different values. My first, and possibly greatest, value is Humor; Humor. As my friends will tell you, I’m usually talking, laughing or making jokes that don’t really make much sense. Mom says I got it from dad’s side of the family, and let’s face it, she’s right. Both my Uncle Gary and my Uncle Jeff have gone into the comedy business. They tell me that my dad was the smartest, because he went into computers. Apart from that, my place is usually a semi-nuthouse. We even make jokes during important Jewish holidays. The most famous one is in the holiday of Passover. There’s a part in the Haggadah where you’re supposed to say, “let us all say grace”. What we actually say is something along the lines of the following.
LEADER: Let us all say grace
The funny thing is that we do the same thing every year. It never gets old. Wherever I go, I always manage to find something to laugh about. Humor is one of the most important things in the world, because if you can’t find something funny or amusing, life’s gonna be pretty dull. It is necessary, therefore, to understand that humor is more than a fact of life. It’s a past time that will make your days more enjoyable. And let’s face it. Who’d want to live in a life without laughs?
My second value is Friendship; Chaveyroot. Friendship is central to the way I live my life. My friends are really important to me. We have fun together, and even though we sometimes get each other into trouble, we always know how to have a good time. There are times when we get a little short with each other. There are even times when we go a long while without speaking to one another. However, we always make up in the end. My dad always tells me to be nice to the new kid, if there is a new kid in class. Think about it. They just moved from their neighborhood that they knew so well, away from their best friends, and into a whole other world, where they don’t know anyone or anything about the regular lifestyle. Dad was the new kid on several occasions. He started out in Connecticut, then moved to Pennsylvania, and then New Jersey, and then moved to Virginia after he was done with school. He left his friends behind three times. But he still had a lot of friends. That’s why I try to be nice to the new kid. This also why I usually try to invite the new kid into my group of friends.
My next value is the value if Hope; Tikvah. You may not have considered this before, but you hope for things for every day. For instance, for my birthday, I might hope to get a new toy I wanted. I hope that I can do better in karate. Heck, I even hope that this paper will be a success. Two of my great-great grandfathers died when my great grandfathers were still kids. They were the sole breadwinners of their families. Imagine your father dying when you’re just a teen, and having to go to work to support your own family. It also means you can’t go to college– it sounds like a pretty hopeless situation, doesn’t it? But guess what happened? Their families did pretty well. Not rich, but well enough to not be affected by it. Hope is what kept them going.
My fourth value is Courage; Ometz Lev. There are many reasons why courage is one of my values. One of them is what happens to me at school. You might not consider this, but it takes a lot of courage to stand up to a bully. Believe me, I know. I was never seriously affected by bullying, although there were times when I might have been hurt by what bullies did. Whatever bullies threw at me, I either shrugged it off, or threw it back at them. It was my idea to start an anti-bullying club, which I am still a leading member of today. Bullying isn’t the only reason why courage is in my list of values. The Kramers were originally from Germany. It took a lot of courage for my family to pack up, leave all the familiar things in life, and move to a totally new world. Not only that, but also this world happens to be a world where you don’t have any money, any job, and don’t even speak the same language. Think about doing that. Seem easy to you? Courage was also a major factor in mom’s life. She was a lead role in many school plays. Do you think that you could muster the courage to get up in front of a lot of people and sing and perform? Or do you think you could muster the courage to march around on stage in your long johns (which by the way did happen to me in my 5th grade play)? It took a lot of courage for mom to perform, but I have her to thank for those gifts.
The fifth one is Concern for the Suffering of Animals; Tzaar Baalei Hayim. I’ve been concerned about animal suffering for a long time. My friend and I used to talk about doing activities to raise money for these different ideas. They seem really lame now, but back then they sounded really cool. I have three dogs currently, and I’ve had dogs all my life. Even as I type this, the dog that we hope to get certified as a therapy dog is staring at me (no joke, he probably wonders what I’m saying about him). I’m not the only person in my family who wants to help suffering animals. Both my Uncle Adam, and Aunt Autumn are veterinarians, and they have their own practice in Maryland. My cousin Meredith owns a number of horses, as well as other animals, where she lives down in Florida. Even my Grandma Joyce wanted to be a vet. Her mother told her that that wasn’t what girls did. I don’t know how she got away with that, but she did.
My next values are the values of Repairing the World; Tikkun Olam, and Guarding the Earth; Shmirat HaAdama. Again, there are many reasons why they are on my list of values. Think, for a moment, about how many bad things are going on: racism, sexism, bullying and a whole bunch of other stuff. And that’s only what’s going on between people. There are also all the environmental problems we have to fix; for instance, global warming, air pollution, the hole in the ozone layer, the destruction of natural habitats for animals that might soon become endangered. Polar bears are one of the largest land predators on earth. With all the global warming going on, their homes out on the ice are being destroyed. As the temperature gets higher and higher, the source of the polar bear’s food will move further and further away. Instead of making it harder for them to live, we should start trying to limit the amount of greenhouse gas that we create. You can do your bit by conserving energy any way you can. Animals aren’t the only ones in trouble. There are several places in the world with their own issues. I know. I have been to several places outside of the U.S., and I know that each individual country, city, and state has its own problems, both environmental and economic. My mom and dad try to help those countries, because some of them are quite nice. We went to Dominica a while back, and we saw the wonders of it. The island may be poor, but the views of it are simply fabulous. Its one of the things mom and dad have in common and passed on to me. We need to protect those places, and make sure they can be seen by others.
But that isn’t the only reason. I’m not the first person in my family to try to repair the world. My grandma did her bit. She taught at an inner city public school. She created a program that would teach pregnant teens and teen moms to be the best parents they could be while staying in school. She tried to get the school to create a daycare center for the babies, so their moms could go to class and not worry. Unfortunately, the school cut her funding, making it impossible to complete. However, eventually another school agency was able to complete her work, and opened a daycare program, dedicated to the teen parents, across the street from the high school.
My eigth value is the value of baseball. We couldn’t find the Hebrew word for baseball, so I can’t give one. I’m a huge Yankees fan. I’m not the only one who’s crazy about baseball. My grandfather on dad’s side moved from Chicago to New York in the late 1940’s, when the Yankees were going through one of their big dynasties. He was a great Cubs fan, and then was a big Cubs/Yankees fan. He tried to get my Uncle Jeff’s first words to be “Mickey Mantel”. His first words were actually “Pocket Book”. Well, you can’t have everything in life.
All in all, these values in your life are sort of like baseball. These values are the rules that guide your life. You don’t fully understand them all, just like no one understands the Balk rule. Sometimes you hit home runs. Sometimes you strikeout. Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. Every game is different, from one game to the next. Rules don’t dictate the game, but they do guide it. At any given moment, anything can happen. You’d better keep your eyes on the ball.
Before coming to the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism (or TCC), I did not know much about the Jewish religion or history. I had never gone to Hebrew school or celebrated the holidays in a religious manner. Attending TCC has provided an opportunity for me to learn more about my Jewish heritage from a secular perspective. I have been challenged to explore my family history, examine my family values and give thought to my own set of values and where they come from. The purpose of this paper is to share with all of you what I have discovered about the values that have been passed down throughout my family and those values that are most important to me.
Personal choices are what make up one’s life. They shape personalities and determine the outcome of every situation. What is it that motivates people to make the choices they make for themselves? I believe it is our values that make each of us different from one another and that inform our choices and behaviors. Values are moral principles that guide individuals’ belief systems and choices. For instance, if someone values creativity she may choose to have a profession that is related to art. Different groups, particularly religious groups, influence individual’s value systems. Some of my values are inspired by my cultural heritage, some I share with my family, but others are unique to me.
Ahmitut, authenticity, is a value that I share with several family members. My mother, Debbie, grew up in a Jewish family. When she was young her family belonged to a Conservative congregation. My grandmother, Lois, had a hard time relating to the services there. She desperately wanted to switch to a congregation that was more meaningful and interesting to her. When my mother was in fourth grade they discovered The Birmingham Temple, a Humanistic congregation in suburban Detroit, which was founded by Rabbi Sherwin Wine. It just so happens that my grandmother Lois and Rabbi Wine knew each other from high school. Almost immediately the Morrison family knew that Humanistic Judaism was their preferred belief system. Changing congregations, especially to one as “radical” as the Birmingham Temple, took courage to stay true to their feelings and belief system. Being an authentic person and behaving in a way that is honest was very important to my grandmother Lois and continues to be important to my mother and me.
I also strongly value self-acceptance, mash-lee-mah eem atz-mah. I have been encouraged to accept myself by my mom and my friends. I know I can trust them when they tell me to be comfortable in my own skin. With all the social pressure to look and behave in a particular way, I admire those who resist that influence. My grandmother, Lois, exhibited self-acceptance through her actions. She would speak her mind freely and did not care who heard. Lois is commonly described as having been silly. She would behave in crazy ways that she was not self-conscious about. My Papa John, my dad’s father, was also self-accepting and confident. Because of this quality other people listened to him and trusted him. He was given positions of authority at work and close friends turned to him for help and advice.
I share the value of kehillah, community and shevyon, equality, with my mother, father, and all of my grandparents. A phrase my father remembers hearing from his father is “The people who look down their noses at the milkman are the first people to complain if their milk is not delivered on time.” I understand this to mean that arrogant people who think that the world is organized in a hierarchy of human value do not understand that community is a circle of people depending on each other. My father’s father was a well-respected physician in a hospital who treated everyone who worked at the hospital with equal respect, regardless of his or her status or role. My father’s mother’s favorite memories of her childhood revolve around her neighborhood and family community. My mother’s father was a champion of the downtrodden, supported labor unions and was a huge believer in civil rights. He reached out to those less fortunate than himself whether through generous financial assistance or providing work opportunities those in need. My mother and father also value community, treat everyone with respect, and chose professions which contribute to the well being of the community.
A value I hold that closely follows community is that of true friendship, or chaveyrut. My grandfather often said, “Better to have a few real friends than many false ones.” He used to say this to my dad when he was facing social pressure to be in the “cool crowd” in high school. Though popularity can be fun sometimes, it is important to keep a level head and value true friendship and people you know you can trust. My mother’s parents had a group of friends they maintained from their own childhood. This expresses to me the importance not only of having friends but keeping them. I love to create friendships. I usually can become pretty close to a person within a short amount of time. When I create a close relationship with someone I feel deeply connected to that person.
Another value I share with my mother and her mother is the ability to look at a situation and find humor in it. I particularly value intelligent, clever humor. My mother believes that humor is both healing and connecting. Many times if she is stressed or in a bad mood, that can be changed with a few good laughs. I find that I laugh a lot with my friends. Sharing a sense of humor with friends brings us closer and creates a deep feeling of comfort.
One value that I learned from my father, his parents, and my mother, who was taught by her own parents, is empathy and compassion, or rachamim. This value is expressed by the phrase my grandmother often said: “Treat others the way you would want to be treated.” Being sensitive to other people’s feelings and treating them accordingly is very important to me. This value influences the way I make friends in that my empathic ability enables me to get close to people quickly and work through conflicts when they arise.
Critical thinking, cha-shee-vah bee-kor-tee and scientific reasoning are values that I have adopted from my father and his father. My dad grew up in a Christian family. They celebrated the Christian holidays, occasionally attending church on Easter and Christmas Eve, but they were not strongly observant. This was in part because my grandmother, Rose, was forbidden to attend church when she was a child. It is said that her mother had a traumatic encounter with a priest as a young girl and never attended the Catholic Church again. My grandfather was raised in a Protestant family and, though he believed in God, he was strongly devoted to science. Scientific proof and critical thinking were important to him, which sometimes conflicted with religious practice. My father feels similarly to my grandfather; the importance of scientific reasoning is more essential to him than his spiritual or religious beliefs. Though my mother and father come from different religious backgrounds, their shared value of critical thinking enhances their compatibility.
Repairing the world, tikkun olam, is important to my family and me. Of course, we try to conserve energy, reduce global warming, and definitely use less plastic but we are not only thinking of repairing the world in that way. Another important aspect of our lives is the political situation of our nation. My entire family felt very strongly about the presidential election, especially my mother and father. In an attempt to do her part in repairing the world, my mother went to Pennsylvania to support Barack Obama’s campaign. It is important to think about the future of our country and to try to enhance it. One way that I can incorporate this value in my life is to become more active in my school and town
communities. I can participate in making decisions for my school or help organize funds to raise money for the community. We can improve our world in many small ways and make a large impact. For example, I used to underestimate the importance of turning a light off in a room at home. However, if everyone turns a light off it can make a huge difference. I now understand that we should do everything we can, large and small, to repair our world. Someone who inspires me to repair the world is Ms. Walsh, a teacher in my school. She teaches an environmental class and works at a shelter when she is not teaching French! She is passionate about social action.
The value of hitlahavut, passionate commitment, is a huge part of my life. I am passionate about so many things: my friends, family, acting, and singing. Passion is what stimulates many of my hobbies and relationships. I function best when I have a strong connection with another person. For example, I learn most effectively when I have a good relationship with my teacher. Another great passion for me is acting and the theater group I attend. This group is important to me for many reasons. One is that most of the people who participate share many of my values. The entire group shares a sense of community, friendship, respect for each other and passion. We have developed great trust and created a sense of safety, which allows us to be our authentic selves.
Masoret, tradition, is a central value to me as well. One of my yearly traditions is going to Canada with my family and friends in the summer. We do it every year and I always get very excited for the trip. It is nice to look forward to something familiar with people you love. Another tradition in my family is celebrating Christmas with my dad’s family. We do not attend church but we spend time with each other and exchange gifts. We also celebrate Hanukkah, and, depending on when it falls, sometimes we are lighting the menorah and trimming the tree on the same day! Having traditions is comforting to me.
My enjoyment of tradition is compatible with my attending a secular humanistic congregation. I enjoy the traditional celebrations of Judaism and they are more important and meaningful to me than the religious practice.
Before working on this project, I had not given much thought to my values and what they mean to me. Working on this paper has not only shown me the huge impact that values have on the choices I make for myself, but it has helped me to understand how my family, and those who I am close to have influenced the development of my values. Though I never knew my grandmother, Lois, the research I have done has shown me how many values and personality traits we have in common. I also learned that I have a very similar view on life as my grandfather, John. I see how strongly my mother and father’s opinions influence mine. And as I stated previously, through this project I have not only learned about my family, but I have learned about myself as well. I am able to understand why I am passionate about the things that I love and how important that passion is to me. I understand more about where the strength of my opinions comes from and how much it means to me to stand by my convictions. In general, writing this paper has elped me to appreciate both the values I have inherited as well as the values that I have developed on my own.
Some of my values include humor, music, concern for the suffering of animals, compassion, love, equality/justice, and friendship. After interviewing members of my family about their values, I found that my personal values are very similar to many of my family members’ values.
I will give you some background information on each family member I interviewed. First, there’s my grandma, whose name is Esther. She lives in Cleveland. Originally, she was married to my Grandpa Jimmy, and now she’s married to my Grandpa Paul. She enjoys taking pictures of me when I first wake up if I’m staying at her house. She works as an English tutor at a college. Then we have my Grandpa Jimmy. My Grandpa Jimmy is married to my Grandma Arline and lives in Cleveland as well. He works as a lawyer like his father did. We like to see the Indians play when I’m in Cleveland. My Grandma Arline is an artist and likes to paint and make pottery. My Grandpa Paul is a consultant to businesses that need help. My Grandpa Paul and I like to goof off a lot and we have intense Uno competitions. My Uncle Bruce is a musician and lives here in New York. On Saturday, we like to hang out and see movies or visit some of our friends. My mom, of course, lives with me in New York. She is a teacher and a therapist and an author and likes to make collages. We love watching the Mets and getting mani/pedis. My mom loves making memories and looking back on her favorite memories of taking care of me! For instance, we love looking at photo albums and remembering what we did and where we were. Now that I have introduced my family, I will tell you about my values and give you a sense of how my values and my family’s values come together.
Humor: Humor: I feel humor is important because life would be very sad with out laughing! I use my sense of humor to cheer up my friends and family when they need it. Humor is a big part of my Grandpa Jimmy’s life. He always jokes around and makes people laugh. He has a very serious job as a lawyer but he always manages to sneak in some humor whether in or out of the courtroom. Some of the funny things that he does are acting like my cats are really dogs, and calling my cat Timothy by the name “Murray” and my cat TeaCup, by the name “TeaPot”.
Music: Musika: I have always had music in my life. (My mom reminds me that as a baby I would point to things that I saw and say, “sing”, and then my mom had to sing a song about whatever I pointed to.) Since my Uncle Bruce is a musician, he taught me a lot about music, The Beatles especially. He says it was no accident that so many well- known musicians, comedians and actors are Jewish. He thinks self expression and making people laugh have been valued by Jews throughout our history, maybe because they have had so many hard times. I think music is important to people because it is a way of expressing your feelings and your personal experiences. I listen to and perform music for recreational purposes. I sing in the chorus and in the rock band at my school.
Concern for the Suffering of Animals:Tzaar Baalei Hayim: I am the animal activist of the family and I have done lots of research on animal testing. I have always had 2 cats for as long as I can remember. I think it is important to protect animals because they can’t defend themselves against humans. I want to help end the cruelty of animal testing, the fur trade, and other forms of animal cruelty. Because I am concerned about the torment of animals, I feel that it is my responsibility to not buy or wear fur coats, boots, or anything with fur or skin. My Grandpa Paul also has a lot of respect for animals. He has a bird feeder outside of his house and refills it everyday in the winter. When the squirrels try to steal the food, he goes out there and scares them away. He’ll do that even in the bitter cold.
Compassion: Rachamim: (Yiddish) Rachmonis: I am very caring and if I have a friend who’s hurt, I will stay with her until she feels better. It’s important to me to be a caring person because otherwise the whole world would turn against each other. (They kind of already did!) My Mom talked a lot about the value of Tikkun Olam, or Repair of the World, which is about caring for others. She is a social worker and a teacher. She teaches teachers about what kids need and how they need to be treated. One time I was with my mom at her office, and I heard her have a phone conversation with a principal. My mom told the principal that this kid needed special attention and what to do. She also writes books about how schools can help kids heal and express their feelings and troubles. ( I once went to a book signing with her, and I actually got to sign some books.) My grandmothers also talked about caring for others. My Grandma Esther values consideration. She told me that when she was a kid, her parents told her that she needed to be considerate of her downstairs neighbors, and not to make too much noise. (I live next to and under 2 neighbors who should have been taught that lesson when they were kids.) My Grandma Arline thinks it is important to share our good fortune with others who are not fortunate. She shows that value by doing volunteer work in her community, at schools and homeless shelters. My Uncle Bruce talked about the value of harmony. He thinks that harmony is an important part of his life because without it people wouldn’t be able to work together. For my uncle, spirituality and harmony are an important part of taking care of the world.
Love: Ahava: I have a very loving family and very loving friends. I value love because without it, no family would be able to hold together. Love is the glue that holds a family together. I use love to stay connected with my friends and family. I have a loving, nurturing side that I use when someone I know gets hurt, emotionally or physically. Without love and determination, my mom would never have been able to adopt me! My Mom said she has learned a lot about love from raising me. My Grandma Esther has learned a lot about love and compassion in her life by having two kids of her own, and now having a totally awesome grandkid, me! She is one of the most loving Grandmas in the world. I love her, and she loves me so much. My Grandpa Paul had some family drama when he was a child. He took comfort in his grandmother’s love and support. All of the love that he got from his grandmother taught him to be a terrific grandpa to me. He is really a loving person and knows when to be funny and nice, and when to be serious. I love him for that reason.
Equality and Justice: Tzedek: I feel that everyone has the right to be whoever they want to be- regardless of their skin color, ethnicity, gender or abilities. This is an important value to me because I know it is right. I show that I value equality by having friends of all different religions, colors, and genders. One of my community service projects this year has been to raise money to train puppies to become seeing eye dogs for people who are blind. The dogs give blind people an equal opportunity to be mobile and independent. I also joined a group at school last year that raised money for The Bank Street School Of Cambodia. I decided to do this because we saw how the people in Cambodia live. They are very poor and don’t have enough money to build schools, yet, they have an equal right to education. My family members have fought for justice and equality in their own ways. My mom has worked in mental health clinics that gave excellent care to families in poverty. Being a lawyer, my Grandpa Jimmy’s biggest vaen he’s working is justice. If you are a lawyer, you have to make very good calls and make sure that fairness is achieved for your client and also for your opponent.
Friendship: Chaverut: And finally, I value friendship. I have some friends that I have known for 8 years, and some not even for a year. I value friendship because if you don’t have any friends, your world would be lonely and who could you hang out with?!! I try to be the kind of friend that will be there when my friends need me. Many of my family members have had friends that have been true friends over the years, and have become like part of our family. I hope my friendships will be strong and lasting. In my Havurah class that I went to before coming to The City Congregation, each session ended with a song called “Shalom Chaverim”, Good-bye Friends. But after that line the Hebrew translated to mean “Til we meet again”, showing the Jewish value of ongoing friendship. This value is important to me as a teenager.
In conclusion, these Jewish values have come to be mine through my own personal choices and through the values handed down from my family. I feel strongly that these values are an important part of my life because without them, my life would be off balance. I think that one of the ways that my values keep me grounded is by actually believing in them. If I didn’t believe in these values I would have my head in the clouds and not be able to focus on anything that I think is important.
Each person has a set of values derived from family and experience. These values shape the way people think and act. My definition of a value is something that you try to include in your everyday life, or is something that goes with a belief that you have. For example, if you believe that it is up to you to relieve suffering in the world a value of yours would then be compassion, as it is a value of mine.
My great-great-grandfather Meyer Cohen and his values were a big influence on my father’s side of the family. Meyer was born in around 1880 in Kishnif, Moldavia. He was a violent Russian anarchist who was exiled to Siberia at age 15. After two years in Siberia he struck out for China. His journey east to Shanghai took about two years.
With the financial help of friends and his brother in Boston, he got together the $60 he needed for passage to America around the turn of the century. He lived in San Francisco and worked there as a tailor at least until 1906, the year of the great San Francisco earthquake. The story is that more than one of his friends who knew about his bomb-throwing days asked him jokingly after the quake, “Meyer, did you do that?” Not long afterward, he became an organizer for the International Ladies Garment Union and traveled all over the U.S. – to St. Louis, Hartford, New Rochelle, and Chicago, among other cities.
Meyer toned down the anarchy and embraced the freedom of thought and speech this country offered, but he retained his independence of thought and general sense of defiance.
An example is the name he chose for his daughter, my great-grandmother Sophie Bloch. Sophie was named for Sophia Openskaya, who was accused in the assassination of Tsar Alexander the Second. Sophia was innocent, but was arrested anyway and faced execution. She decided that if she was going to die, she was going to make her death a statement. She claimed that she was the mastermind behind the death of Alexander. Everybody believed it and she became a martyr and a hero to anarchists everywhere.
Great-great-grandfather Meyer respected Sophia Openskaya and the stand that she took. I don’t know if he knew at the time that she hadn’t engineered the assassination, but I share his admiration of her for sacrificing her life to save others who would have died even though they just knew anarchists or agreed with their ideas.
In valuing defiance and freedom, Meyer thought that there should be no government, and that getting rid of the head of government was an effort to free oppressed people. I’m not an anarchist, but can see why Meyer was. I am more hopeful about government’s ability to change because I live in a society far more democratic than czarist Russia. Great-great-grandfather Meyer also highly valued education and love of family, but I’ll come back to that shortly.
Meyer’s individualist streak was also a primary feature of my paternal great-grandfather Joe Cohen and his son, my grandfather, Stan Cohen. Great-grandpa Joe moved his wife Lily and 7-year old son Stan from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1939 where they had no extended family. A gifted mechanic, Joe moved for the opportunities that prewar airplane construction afforded. He eventually owned his own equipment rental business.
Thirty-one years later, his son Stan moved his wife Frances and my dad, Andy, and my dad’s sister, Lisa, to Phoenix, to take advantage of the opportunities of the real estate market there, soon setting himself up as an independent real estate appraiser. Through two generations, my family has been able to go, settle and become successful wherever they are.
Persistence, self-reliance and community are major values for my mom, Beth Heinsohn. Selfreliance has always been a major value for my mother, and she tries to pass this on to me by letting me be independent and self-reliant. My mom’s always been a persistent person with a lot of questions and an inclination to do things on her own. As an adult she put these qualities to work as a journalist. Once she gets going on projects, she doesn’t stop until they’re done. She’s always the one checking my work and making sure that I am doing the best job I can.
Community is also really important to my mom. After several years in Los Angeles, where I was born, and a year in Moscow, my family moved to New Jersey, looking for a community in which to put down roots. The two most important ones are my school, Hoboken’s Elysian Charter School, and The City Congregation. Mom was a trustee on the school’s board and on the Finance committee in its first five years, giving much of herself and her time to help it succeed. My family’s participation in the Kid School and holiday celebrations means the world to her. Though not born into or raised in a Jewish family, Mom has embraced Humanistic Judaism and has found herself fully included in the warmth of The City Congregation.
Hard work, persistence and self-reliance are values my mom got from her parents, Bob and Anne Heinsohn, who got them from their parents and grandparents.
The Heinsohns, Granne and Gramps, as I call them, got it into their heads in the early 1960s to raise their family on a farm. While they were in graduate school in Michigan, they saw people with farms and they thought that after they had their degrees, they could move back East to teach and work a small cattle farm. They had no firsthand knowledge of farming, but that didn’t stop them from buying a Pennsylvania farm in 1963 when Gramps signed on to teach mechanical engineering at Penn State University.
On the farm, they had cows, a big vegetable garden and many other animals over the years — 5 dogs, 7 cats, and once, 3 pigs. They weren’t in it for the money; they enjoyed living off the land. At first, they were a bit overwhelmed, but they just pressed on, putting one foot after the other and getting the job done.
Today they still live on the farm and I visit them during school breaks. They don’t raise cattle anymore and only have one pet, a black lab named Emma. Whenever I visit them, my brother and I love to walk Emma and during the winter, we sled and toboggan down the hill, while in the summer, we climb trees. Visiting my grandparents is always fun and I have some very fond memories of being with them.
My mom got self-reliance from the farm because there was a lot to do and the kids were expected to contribute their efforts and share the workload. Besides my mom and her sister, Janet, there were foster brothers, Terry and Steve. Working a farm takes more than a few people and the family did everything themselves. My Gramps didn’t know how to do anything with cows so he had the veterinarian show him. Gramps fed and watered the herd twice a day, with Granne and the kids helping when he was out of town. Everybody helped round up the cows when they broke out of the barn or the pasture – sometimes in the middle of the night.
There was more hard work on the farm in vegetable “freezing parties.” In the summer, everyone on the farm would pick and prepare vegetables from the garden to freeze so they could be eaten the next winter. It would take a long time; pick vegetables in the morning, cut all day, blanche and bag after dinner, sometimes until midnight. It had to be done all on the same day or else the vegetables would lose
Along the way, Gramps became interested in the history of his and my grandmother’s families. He collected the existing genealogical documents and began assembling the family tree. He brought his interest to life, so to speak, by naming the cows after our ancestors. My mom remembers that the first bull was named Amos and the first cow Lydia.
In later years, Gramps persuaded family members to write their stories and then assembled them along with accounts he researched and wrote, into a book with photographs. Here it is. And then he kept going. He traced his mother’s lineage back to the Mayflower and has become a historian and active member of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Mayflower Society. Some family members listed in the genealogy go back to 16th century England. Currently he’s tracing his father’s lineage back into Germany. He’s found records of the family dating back to the 1500’s.
To me self-reliance is thinking and acting for myself. My parents are always trying to foster selfreliance in me by letting me do things on my own that they are pretty sure I can handle but are also challenging.
I see persistence going along with self-reliance but I also see a role for community. I think that having a goal is important and that everyone should have something to strive for, but you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.
Community and self-reliance are the yin and yang in my values system, the values that contrast but are also complementary. Community is something I need more than self-reliance but it has its limits. It is important for me to contribute but sometimes I need time for myself. I cannot expect others to solve my problems for me. At the same time however, I know I can rely on my friends and family for support when I need it. Having my community behind me gives me the strength to be self-reliant, which makes me a stronger contributor to my community.
There are two important communities in my life – my congregation and my school. Humanistic Judaism says that we are all part of a big community and we should work together and get each other’s opinions. We do things that involve everybody; like the Kehilla Circle, our social action projects and the discussions that take place during holiday services. Everybody at City Congregation comes together and makes you feel like you’re part of something.
Community is also an important value in my school, the Elysian Charter School. My parents chose this school because the direction of work comes from the community of students (our interests) and the community between teachers and students (the way the teachers challenge the students). Our teachers assign work that teaches us and is meaningful. We are encouraged to make connections — in our work, between teachers and students, between same-age students and between younger students and older students. They also encourage you to ask questions. My school is a community because we all work together and help each other.
A value that my school and congregation share, and that is important to me, is education. Education is also important to my family. My Granne, Gramps, Grandpa Stan, Aunt Janet, Uncle Bob, Uncle Howard, Aunt Lisa, Great-Uncle Ming and Great-Aunt Helen and Mom all went to graduate school and six of them are teachers. My Grandma Fran has also been a teacher.
There’s also a strong tradition of self-education on both sides of my family. My Great-Aunt Joyce told me that, as a political science major in college, she was deeply impressed by the home library of Great-great-grandfather Meyer (the anarchist). It was a wide array of history and political books. Neither one of my grandfathers was particularly intellectual in college or graduate school but both became avid readers as adults. I think it is no accident considering how smart my grandmothers are.
My dad, also very well-read, educates me by monitoring my interests and trying to match them to new books.
Through my media-oriented dad, I’ve come to value humor, another important tradition on both sides of my family. My dad introduced me to The Onion and the Daily Show. My family knows the importance of humor and always appreciates a good laugh. When I visit Granne and Gramps in Pennsylvania, we always watch Monty Python. My friends like to joke around a lot and so does my family, so I am always laughing.
There’s a lot of kidding in this humor and I believe as my father does, that we kid because we love.
Love is being appreciated for who you are. Love is also being cared for. My Great-great-grandpa Meyer took Great-grandma Sophie to the opera and to concerts, sharing the music he loved with someone he loved, and proudly introducing her to his friends. To Great Uncle Chuck, whose dad died when he was little, Grandpa Meyer was a loving father figure and, in Uncle Chuck’s words, was “a gentle guiding voice in my life.”
My Granne and Gramps opened their hearts and loved every person and every animal that came to their house. They expanded their family of four to include two little boys, brothers named Terry and Steve, who lived with them for a number of years, and for a time to a family friend who wrote a book while living with them.
My mom and dad are like that too, sharing the things and people they love with me. I think that love is very important and everyone should be loved. My parents love me and I think that all kids should have a nice place to live and somebody that loves them.
In love are the seeds of charity and charity is an important value in my family that I share. Charity to me is helping someone by giving money or actually improving somebody’s life in some way. I’ll talk more about my personal experience with charity later.
I believe in charity because I feel that I have enough in my life to share with others. My parents are always there for me, provide me a comfortable living and lots of opportunities for me to better myself. I also know people who are not as privileged as I am. I feel that everybody should be able to have those opportunities and that we should all do what we can to better the world. I like helping people even though it’s hard work sometimes. I feel that we all share this world so we should make it a nice place for as many people as possible.
As I studied my family’s history and examined the values that have been passed down to me, I found the story of Meyer Cohen, my great-great-grandfather from Kishnif, to be the most compelling. He wasn’t much older than I am now when he stood up for his beliefs and was exiled for them. His struggle to live the way he wanted to live and to express his beliefs freely embody some of the values I hold most strongly and that are common to both sides of my family. Knowing where my values come from has given me greater confidence in their ability to guide me.
Values to me are like a guideline to life. Whether I am in school, at home, or on the lacrosse field, I rely on my values. And this Bat Mitzvah process has helped me develop a well-prioritized value system; it’s easy to make good decisions and choices, and to be the best person possible.
This is not by coincidence. I’m part of a large family with strong and significant values that I naturally aim to follow. I guess you could say I have a lot in common with my family.
My most important value, the value that I couldn’t live without, is the value of family, mishpacha, which always comes first with me. You don’t get to pick and choose your family, so you learn to love them, and that love, ahava, grows increasingly every day. My family love is different than other love because I know they love me unconditionally and are always there for me, both emotionally and physically.
I have been truly lucky to have most of my family live nearby. This aspect of our relationship reinforces our closeness. We might stop by each others’ apartments to use the bathrooms, pull out a loose tooth, share a spontaneous dinner or just to visit. Holidays and family vacations are frequently shared with aunts, uncles, and cousins. This summer I was fortunate to spend sixteen wonderful days with my grandparents in Europe.
My great-grandmother Nana Anne used to say, “I’d moider (murder) for my family.” Although I wouldn’t go quite that far, my family stands as my most important value. We remain warm, loving, devoted and loyal to one another.
Another value that is equally important to me is trust, emunah. When people trust one another, comfortable relationships are easily formed. I am always told that if the bond of trust is lost, privileges, belief and confidence is lost as well. This value of trust is especially significant to my dad. Raised in a single parent household, he and his siblings, my Aunt Faith, Uncle Dave, and Aunt Sandy, formed trusting relationships and learned how to cooperate with each other to make life easier. Since my dad’s most important value is trust, it has certainly rubbed off on me. I try to live honestly, trusting and trustworthy.
The next value, humor, humor, is not merely a way to feel light-hearted and happy, it is also a powerful coping mechanism. For example, I learned that my Poppy Bill used humor as an ice-breaker when he met someone new. He could always be counted on to give people a laugh or share a dirty joke. When his friends were sick and homebound, he would call them daily with a joke.
Humor is a way to see the positive side of situations and to not dwell on the negative. It is said that people laugh to avoid discomfort. I think that is true but people also laugh because it just feels good.
When Poppy Bill died at 93, our family mourned and felt sad, but in order to celebrate his life, we told funny stories about him; how we played with his double chin, and his silly songs he invented and strummed on his infamous ukulele. It became obvious to me that we were using humor to cope with our loss. Humor has the power to sooth and help us view life with optimism.
I’ve also learned that trust and humor go hand and hand. For instance, when people share a trusting relationship, they tend to be more open and more humorous with each other. When people don’t trust each other they act exactly the opposite, cautious and timid.
The value of charity, tzedakah, has had a large impact on me since my family has a long history of altruism and generosity. My grandparents, Dotsy and Buddy, are founders of Parker Jewish Geriatric Institute, a rehabilitation and health care facility for the elderly. My aunts, uncles, and parents are also committed to tzedakah.
In addition to my family being charitable, they are also dedicated to social action. My paternal great grandfather Paul was involved in the garment worker’s union that fought for the rights of oppressed sweatshop laborers.
Community service, heetnadvoot is equally as important a value as charity. I believe that I am held responsible to do community service as a young and capable teen and I take that responsibility seriously. I’ll talk more about that later.
As a practicing social worker and therapist, my mom’s contributions through community service are numerous. While still in college she volunteered for a suicide hotline. She currently participates in Project Liberty, which provides counseling and therapy to individuals needing support from the events of 9/11.
My dad serves as a trustee of the Associate Board of Parker, an organization dedicated to participating in events that improve the quality of life for geriatric patients.
And my brother Hank already understands the value of community service, collecting donations for Leukemia, Breast Cancer and AIDS research through lemonade stands.
Evidently, my family has a long history and tradition of community service, and I too realize how important it is to help other less fortunate than I am.
The similar value of community, kehilla, also stands out because I learned through family interviews that my ancestors were community-minded.
My maternal great-great grandparents started a restaurant in England that became the community center for soldiers from the Russian Front to mingle. My maternal great-grandparents started a temple in Bayside, Queens and were life-long members. My other maternal great-grandparents started a community music school where they employed wives of soldiers in World War II.
My paternal grandparents were also extremely involved in their community. My grandfather, Aaron, literally built the succah and my grandmother, Selma, was president of her Hadassah chapter and was a lifelong Woman of Valor.
Overall, my own unique and well-structured value system is something that was imprinted early within me and as I grow older, I’m sure I’ll acquire new values.
In addition, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that not only do I have similar values to my family, but for the most part my priorities are similar to my family as well. Also, I realized that my father’s side and my mother’s side shared the same values as well.
I define ‘values’ as the ideals an individual or group believes in and wants everyone to work toward. We try to act keeping these principles in our minds and our hearts. We do this because it is what we have been taught and what we hope to teach someday. Here are some of my family’s values.
The first value is perseverance, haht-mah-dah. Both sides of my family came from humble backgrounds. My mother’s side were Irish peasants, my father’s side were Russian peasants. Both sides came to America because it was and still is the land of hope and opportunity. But my family understands that to succeed, it is necessary to work hard and persevere. My mother, who is in the film business, told me this story about persevering. In 1989, she was a Line Producer on a documentary about the life of famous music producer Quincy Jones. She had to film Quincy Jones in Mexico, which involved a commercial flight from New York to Los Angeles, and then two flights to the Southwestern coast of
Mexico. It was necessary to transport all the camera, lighting, and sound equipment on these planes and to be ready for anything that happens when you follow a celebrity around for a week. However, there had been a misunderstanding between my mother and the equipment rental house. Late in the afternoon the day before the early morning flight, all the equipment was delivered to her office. The gear was packed in two huge wooden freight containers that would not be allowed on the planes. She ran to a luggage store and bought thirty padded duffle bags and packed everything so that nothing would break. When she was done, there were 100 pieces of luggage. Eighteen hours and three plane rides later, every piece of equipment except for one small screw for a lighting pole, reached its destination.
My father told me about how once when he was around ten years old; he and his family were eating dinner at a Chinese restaurant. Upon leaving, my Dad realized his retainer was missing. When they went back to the restaurant, he ran into a problem: the kitchen staff only spoke Spanish. The Chinese hostess explained to them in Spanish that they had accidentally thrown out my father’s retainer. Thus commenced the long part of the evening when my father’s parents dug through the trash outside the restaurant to find the retainer. My parents really nag me about this: if you make a mistake, it’s okay as long as you work your hardest to correct it (or have your parents do it).
Sometimes it is hard work to act with your values in mind. Honesty, keh-noot, is a tricky value to uphold all the time. Being honest is important in two ways: being honest to others and honest to ourselves. Honesty can be simply telling the truth, and for something so simple, it can get really complicated. Sometimes this is because the truth can hurt someone or because the truth can be
Once, my mother was at the big, crowded gym complex at Fairfield University with her family. She wanted to go in the Jacuzzi, but the jets were off. My mother did not have her glasses on, but she managed to see a large white lever near the tub. When she asked my Aunt Tina if it was the lever to turn on the Jacuzzi, Tina, only half-looking, said she thought so. My mother pulled the lever. It was the fire alarm. Hundreds of people were evacuated from all over the gym. My mother knew she had to tell the pool manager. Other people might have let it go, but not my mother. My parents have always taught me to do the right thing, even if it makes you look like an idiot.
It takes courage to admit mistakes (believe me, I know). Courage, o-metz-lev, can be doing what you feel is right, even if it goes against what society says. My maternal great-Grandmother had courage, even though some questioned and judged her. Back in 1915, the infant mortality rate was much higher, and the tragedy of babies dying was a relatively common thing. I had a grand uncle, Milton, who died when he was just two days old. My Great Grandmother, Mary Barry, was Catholic, and she raised her seven other children in the church. Milton, because he lived only two days, was not baptized. Mary’s priest told her that Milton would spend eternity in purgatory. The unfairness of this idea so upset her, she left the church. Two years later, when she gave birth to my Grandfather Ted, she refused to raise him Catholic, even though everyone else around her was devout. It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, especially when everyone else is against you.
Standing up for your beliefs and equal rights, dibur b’kol ram, is something both sides of my family have shown me. My Great Grand-Uncle Charles C. Moskowitz, was a very skilled basketball player. In 1913, he transferred from the City College of New York to New York University. He was invited to join a fraternity at NYU due to his athletic prowess. However, when he asked if several of his close Jewish friends could join, his request was denied. When he brought this up with his friends, they decided to form Alpha Epsilon Pi, known commonly as A E Pi, to be a fraternity for Jews. Today, A E Pi is the thirteenth largest fraternity in the United States and the largest in Canada. Its more famous alumni include CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer, Paul Simon, Art Garfunkel, Jerry Lewis, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, and Gene Wilder. I’m proud of my Uncle Charlie – he worked for the right of everyone,no matter their race or color or creed, to get drunk and pull pranks. Of course, he also went on to become the president and treasurer of MGM Studios.
My next value is education, chee-nuch. My grandfather Irwin, never graduated from college because he had to work to support his family. I’ve been told one of the proudest days of Irwin’s life was when my father received a law degree from Cornell University. He was even prouder when my dad got his first job with a respectable law firm.
Just like today, when my parents encourage me – I use that as a polite word – to work hard in school, Irwin wanted his son to know more and go farther than he did. This drive to learn comes from both sides of the family, as my other grandfather, Ted, started the Connecticut Community College system, because he wanted poor and working-class people to be able to have the opportunities that come only from a college education.
With a proper education, people can go on to do great things and better themselves, their families, their communities, and the world. This means improving the world, tikkun olam. Not only did Ted and Irwin try to do this, but my parents do this as well, by donating to charity and participating in anti-war and political protests. My father became a lawyer to help people, and my mother became a filmmaker so that she could teach people. I uphold this value today by doing community service such as tutoring children, which you’ll hear more about later.
Bettering the world can be done with humor, who-more, and is almost as powerful a force as love to make people happy. Before my grandfather Ted died, he had been in failing health for a while. Once, my Aunt Tina took him to the doctor and was asked to name what he was suffering from. She listed congestive heart failure, diabetes, kidney failure – she went on and on. Ted looked at her and said, “Well, aren’t you the cheery one!”
Both sides of my family showed great care and love during Ted and Irwin’s final days. The difference between unhappy and happy final days is often the love of the people near you. And if love can ease a dying man’s pain, it deserves to be my last, but certainly not least important, value. Love, ahava, is the glue that holds families together, because if a family does not have love, it falls apart. This happened in my mother’s family, and now my parents are adamant about making a love-filled environment for me. How do they do this? About twice a month between October and March, my parents enjoy a certain kind of hell. Often getting up very early in the cold, cold morning, they shuttle me across frozen, depressing landscapes to get to an overheated, off-smelling, uncomfortable miniarena, enduring hours upon hours of mind numbing boringness to watch me swim for approximately sixty seconds. Yes, my parents attend all my swim meets. There are, of course, only two explanations: they don’t have anything better to do (and don’t worry, they’re not that depressing), or they love me enough to put up with this. And even though I repeatedly tell them that they don’t have to put up with it anymore, they do because they want to see my stroke get better. Which is, undoubtedly, some kind of
It is not my job to say which of these values is the most important, for they are all equal. These values are special things, belonging to my family. They have been taught in my family for generations and I hope they will be as important 100 years from now as they were 100 years ago.
Interviews. When you do a lot of them it gets to be a routine, something you do without thinking. I must have interviewed at least seven or eight people, and by the end of that time, I was barely thinking about the microphone or the tape recorder. I was listening to stories. Exciting ones, scary ones, and sad ones. Stories about the old country, about immigration, and about life in the New World. All of these
stories had one thing in common: their values.
My first, and one of my most important family values is Jewish Heritage, or in Yiddish, yidishe yerushe. To me, this is about knowing who I am and who I am descended from. Both of my mother’s grandfathers were named Anschel, but her mother’s father changed his name to Arthur, while her father’s father kept the name Anschel. Arthur’s family lived in Storozynetz, a city in the province of Bukowina, which was in Austria-Hungary, conquered by Roumania during WWI, and is now in the Ukraine. During the Austrian sovereignty, both Storozynetz and Bukowina in general were mainly run by the Jews, which was very unusual. It may be the fact that he came from a place where the Jews were
independent that caused Arthur to be so ambitious later in life in his furrier business. Even during Roumanian rule, the Jews were powerful and noticeable. They ran schools where Christian children learnt along with Jewish ones, and all the teachers were Jewish.
In the last 100 years, my family has been searching for freedom, in Yiddish frayhayt, and acceptance, onnemen. And to reach freedom, some of them risked everything. Freedom is freedom to be yourself, freedom to worship your own gods, freedom not to. To me this is extremely important. It was so hard for Anschel, trying to leave Poland, to immigrate to the United States, that he decided instead to go through Canada illegally. He paid, in my grandparents’ words, “some guy who charged a lot of money” to drive him across the border, and when they passed Immigration, they looked into the car, but not under the blanket where he was hiding, and he got in safely. He must have been terrified, but he went ahead anyway, risking his safety for that of his family to come.
Before Israeli independence in 1948, only 90 Jews were allowed to enter Palestine each month. The Haganah, an Israeli independence organization, was attempting to get them in illegally. Part of my family wasn’t able to leave Storozynetz before the war, and went to a death camp, from which three were among the few survivors. After the war, they decided to go on a Haganah ship, the Geula, which was trying to break the British blockade of Palestine. The ship was captured, and they spent two years in a prison camp on Cyprus. But they kept hope, and after Israel became independent they were able to go there in the end. I will be visiting them there in a few weeks.
And what were those hopeful Zionists and immigrants searching for? Justice, yoysher. They believed that the system would be fair to them. Justice is also about doing the right thing and standing up for other people’s rights. My father’s brother Dylan is an appellate lawyer working to defend the rights of those on Death Row. He believes that the death penalty is unfair because he thinks it’s morally wrong for the state to kill people, that the death penalty is racially biased, and that if some one is executed it is too late to free the innocent. He also believes that people have a constitutional right to defend themselves in court, even if they can’t afford an expensive lawyer. So he does public defense cases because he thinks it’s right.
A major factor that helps a system of justice is education, khinekh. If people want to know what is wrong and how they can fix it, they need education. I think education is important because people have to know things in order to make good decisions. When I was two years old, my parents, along with six to eight neighbors, worked for six months to create the Garden Preschool Cooperative, a non-profit preschool where I went for two years and that is still in existence today. When my paternal grandmother Carol went to medical school at the University of Virginia in 1957, the school had only just started accepting women, and there were a lot of barriers that had to fall, like teachers treating her differently and expecting her not to be as smart. Even so, she was in the first graduating class that had women.
Doing something like that takes individuality, individuelkayt. Individuality means doing your own thing and not staying the same way just because that’s the way you have always been, and it takes courage and perseverance. I think this is definitely one of my values. My father is constantly changing professions. He has been everything from a newspaper reporter to an economic consultant to a professor of computer science to a landlord. And that’s just an overview. Six years after my mom graduated from high school, she ran into the mother of one of her former classmates, and when my mom said that she was in school the woman asked, “Medical school or law school?” Actually, she was in art school, and when my mom said neither, the woman replied “Sorry. MBA?” It never occurred to her that anyone in that society would take a job that wasn’t expressly designed to earn money, but mom had done it anyway.
Where you have individuality you often find humor, maybe because humor is personal and individual. Humor, humor, is more than just being funny. It means laughing and having a good time while you are telling a joke. I love a good joke, and humor is one of my values. Humor has always been important for both sides of the family, but particularly my dad’s side, which practically lives off humor. When my father and my uncle Dylan were both living with my grandpa, they used to have contests to see who could make him laugh so hard that his coffee came out of his nose. At the end of the year, the score was about three to two, my father can’t remember in whose favor.
For a system of justice to work, people have to be honest, enlekh, with each other. Honesty is also about being honest with yourself as well as with others. When my maternal grandfather Gerald had a growth in his chest, before the doctors sent back the test results, people were saying that if it was cancerous, they shouldn’t tell him. But his wife, my grandmother Rita, decided that she had to tell him, even if it was cancerous. Personally, I think she made the right decision, because if it was cancerous it would be more important for him to know. Luckily, it wasn’t. When my great-grandfather Arthur’s business went down, he took out a lot of loans and tried to put the business back together. He failed, but rather than declare bankruptcy, he personally paid back every debt from his own wallet. He died without any money to spare.
And with whom are we more honest than with our friends. Friendship, frayndshaft, is about being with friends and helping them through hard times. I care a lot about friendship. Years ago, two of my mom’s good friends were Glenn Lieberman and Dale Emmart. At a party, she introduced them, and they eventually got married. Our two families became very close, and when their children, their daughter Ana and I, were born, we became good friends ourselves. That is the magic of a strong friendship. It’s almost like having another family.
If a friend came across bad times, most people would help them. Helping others, best rendered in Yiddish as breythartsikayt, or big-heartedness, is helping anybody who needs help, friend or not. It means helping a specific person in a one-on-one situation. One time someone asked my grandfather Gerald for money because he didn’t have enough for the subway ride home. Instead, my grandfather drove him home, completely out of the way.
And where do we learn these values? We learn them as a child, from our families, undzere mishpokhes. As a value, family is about helping and caring for and about your family, no matter what. It is one of my most important values. When Louis Cohen, my Great-grandfather Anschel Cohen’s oldest brother, came to this country from Poland, he founded a business. He was in the schmatte, or garment, business, (what else?) and he worked very hard to bring the rest of his immediate family to America. When they came, their jobs in his factory depended on their ages. The next oldest was the foreman, then came the cutters, and, finally, the youngest became sewers. His nephew, my maternal Grandfather
Gerald, barely saw his father because he was working in the factory, so he decided that when he got married he would work hard, but still spend as much time as possible with his family. He came to all of my mom’s special occasions, like her graduation and her birthday parties. When my paternal grandfather Alan had only a few months to live, my uncle Dylan went from San Francisco to South Carolina to be with him and care for him right through to the end.
And now you see the daunting task ahead of me. Find some coherent meaning, philosophy in all of this. And I definitely don’t want to use anything that isn’t original. As my father’s father’s brother Frank put it “I don’t want to sound like a phonograph record.” So what can I say? I do sense a sort of family philosophy, but it’s hard to put into words. Nevertheless, I’ll try. Here goes:
Life is tough. Get used to it. But don’t get so used to it that you just sit there and mope and don’t do anything about it. If you haven’t got anything to do with all your possessions, give them to someone who needs them. Remember: if life is tough on you, it’s probably tougher on someone else. Don’t complain. Remember what our ancestors had to survive: Nazis, Cossacks, Czars. This makes you feel very lucky. Still there are others today who suffer the same kinds of problems for the same kinds of reasons, and it is our responsibility to help them.
At the same time, have fun! We surround ourselves with family and friends so that we can hang out and talk, play, joke. We have our individuality so that we can do this without boring others or becoming bored ourselves. And last, but definitely not least, we have humor. Humor helps us weather the bad times and enjoy the good. All of these values are important, but humor holds it all together and lets us survive and enjoy life.
From interviewing my family members, I have learned a lot about my family’s values. I notice that some values stay the same from generation to generation, while others change over time or become more important in a new generation. Some of the values that my grandparents’ families had and that they taught US were: courage, hard work, the importance of family, and keeping your culture.
The most important value that is illustrated by my grandparents’ stories is courage, in Hebrew ometz lev. Both my grandparents were from Hungarian families in the same town in western Romania, or Transylvania, called Timisoara. Both families had to leave their homes, everything they had, and everyone they knew.
My grandfather’s family stayed in Romania during the Nazi occupation. They were never sent to a concentration camp, unlike some people they knew. 50 miles to the north of Timisoara, in Hungary, all the Jews were taken away to the concentration camps. In Timisoara, the rail cars were already parked in the station waiting to take the Jews, but the Jewish community could bribe the Romanian government and so they delayed the deportations, and then the war ended.
Then the Russians came and saved the town from the Nazis. When they came, they took over all the private property, including the paint factory that my grandfather’s father, Eugene, owned and where he worked. One morning, Eugene went to work, and there was a guard at the door saying “you can’t come in”. He accused Eugene of “stealing money from the people,” and so he was sent to jail. In jail, he was beaten up and whacked on the soles of his feet, and he suffered a heart problem that he never recovered from.
Before his trial, he was released from jail, and grandpa’s mother, Baby, helped him escape from the country by hiding him under a wagon load of hay and asking farmers to take him over the border, to Hungary, at night. Then grandpa, his sister Judy, and their mother, left a few weeks later and walked over the border, illegally, at night. My Grandpa was twenty-two at the time. All he brought with him was two notebooks with the formulas for paints in them.
Then my Grandpa went to live in Israel, and worked on a kibbutz, as a chemist. While he was there, he met Bosci, who was my grandma’s aunt. She suggested that my Grandpa should meet my Grandma, who by then lived in the U.S. When Grandpa later came to New York, he met Grandma and
her family, and they got married in 1953.
Grandma’s family was also courageous. She and her parents Nanny and Leslie, went from Romania to Nicaragua in 1938, when she was 2. They didn’t know anybody, and they had to start over. Grandma went to Catholic school and the nuns said she would burn in hell because she wasn’t Catholic. They made her stand in the corner while they were saying the morning prayer. The other kids made fun of her because she wasn’t like them, and said she had a big nose because she was a Jew. She wanted to blend in and be like the other kids. It took courage for her to go to that school and be different.
Then Grandma and her family moved to New York when she was eleven, and started all over a second time. She knew a little bit of English because she learned it in school, but her main language was Spanish, and she also understood Hungarian and some German.
It took a huge amount of courage for my family to escape Europe. It must have been very scary to have to go through what both my grandparents went through, with people who wanted to kill them, first because they were Jewish, then because they were property owners, and then because they were trying to escape. From when both of my grandparents were little kids, they had to face oppression and people not liking them because of who they were, and it took courage to last through it all. By taking a big risk that could have gotten them killed, they made themselves safer in the long run. They all stuck together, and helped each other, and it must have been very scary. It makes me proud to know that I have a family that would do such daring things to protect themselves and the future generations.
Hard work, avodah, is the second value that my grandparents’ stories illustrate. Without hard work, our family would not have comfortable lives, safe homes, and good education. My grandparents had to work hard to be successful when they came to a new country and had to start over. Grandpa started his own company and built it up through hard work into something big. In the 1990’s, he was able to buy his father’s factory back from the government in Romania because the dictator, Ceaucescu, was overthrown, and people could own property again. This shows that he had tremendous respect for his father, who had died in the 1950’s. It was revenge in a good sort of way – it was making things right. He wanted to keep the factory in the family.
My mom always tells me that I have to do the best I can in everything, and that it will pay off in the end. People have many talents and abilities but without hard work they might not develop enough. It might not seem rewarding while you’re doing it, but at the end you can step back and be proud of yourself. An example of hard work in my experience is researching and writing these papers. I have been working on them since February 2006, with a seemingly endless amount of corrections and edits.
The third value is family, mishpachah. Family is important, because you always have someone to look out for you when you need support. When Grandpa, his sister, Judy, and his mother, Baby, were going to flee from their home in Romania, they could have let my Great-Grandfather stay in prison. But they rescued him and they all escaped together. In my generation, even though we don’t have to overcome the same hardships, my cousins, Zack, Nick and Shane, and I are close.
The fourth value is keeping and honoring your culture, kee-bood ha-y’roo shah. As far back as anyone can remember, everyone in the family was a secular Jew. They thought it was important to preserve the culture and history of Jews, but they were not religious. When Grandpa was a teenager, he wanted to be religious but his parents didn’t want him to – they said he was being “too Jewish.” He wanted to show that he was Jewish because he didn’t want to be intimidated by the Nazis. The Nazis made the Jews go to special schools and the Romanians beat them up and spit at them in the streets. Those incidents made him want to be Jewish even more. Now, Grandpa and Grandma are secular Jews, and in fact they are members of The City Congregation.
My Mom has not been faced with the kinds of challenges that my grandparents had, but she also values keeping your culture, courage, hard work and family. She was the co-President of The City Congregation and is still on the Board because she thinks it is important to preserve and teach about Jewish culture and values. That is partly because she knows what her parents went through. Other important values for her are social justice, tze-dek, and equality, shiv-yon. She believes that everybody should have equal opportunities no matter what their circumstances are. Because she values these things, she was a Legal Aid lawyer for many years and helped low-income people keep their homes
when they were being evicted.
Mom’s partner, Cynthia, keeps her culture and her religion. She identifies as an Episcopalian, and occasionally goes to church. She also values education, chee-nuch, and diversity, rav-go-nee-yote, and works as a director of multicultural affairs in a school because she thinks it is important to help everyone learn together. Another value for her is optimism and hope, tik-vah, or looking on the bright side. This is because her mother grew up in segregated Washington D.C., and had to sit at the back of the bus or in the balcony at movie theaters. Cynthia was taught to believe that the future would be better.
Some values that Mom and I share include giving your time and money to people who need it, tzedakah, and concern for animals, tza-ar ba-ah-ley hy-eem. Giving charity was a value in earlier generations in my family. My great grandparents, Nanny and Leslie, donated money and art works frequently to various organizations. It makes me feel really good to give charity, and do community service. Every year, Mom, Cynthia and I donate some farm animals to people who need them through an organization called Heifer International. I will talk more about that later.
The reason why we choose to donate animals is because we really like farm animals and we know how important they are. Our family has a farm in upstate New York and Mom and her sisters and brother grew up going up there with their family as often as they could, and working on the farm. Now my cousins and I and our entire family go there and get together. And my Aunt Debby has a smaller farm on Martha’s Vineyard, which she runs with my Uncle Al. I love going there. I feed the animals, brush them, play with them, take care of them and collect the eggs from the chicken coops.
I have had many pets, including my orange feline wrecking ball, Busky. My Uncle Michael is a veterinarian, and I admire his work. Although I do not like to be around sick animals, because it makes me scared, I have lots of respect for my uncle, because he saves lives of animals.
My personal values include music, humor, sportsmanship, and friendship. Music, musika, is extremely important to me. I play the drums, and I like to perform with other kids. I like lots of different kinds of music. My Aunt Dia works at Sony Music and she gives me CDs. I used to like classical music when I was really little, and I was fascinated by all the instruments in the orchestra.
Humor, hoo-mor, makes me happy and makes me forget about my problems. There are many comedians whom I admire. Humor is a Jewish value because when people experience hatred or prejudice, humor is a way to be happy for a short time. This is probably also one of the reasons why there are also a lot of Black humorists.
Sportsmanship, mees-hock, which literally translates into fair play, means the ability to accept victory OR defeat with dignity. Everybody knows that you can’t be a sore loser, and you can’t get all upset after you lose. But in addition to accepting loss with dignity, you have to be able to accept victory with dignity, which means not going crazy and rubbing it in the other person’s face and bragging. You can be happy but you shouldn’t make an excessive show out of it.
The last value that I’ll mention is friendship, chaveyrut. I have many friends, and I do not know where I would be without them. Having a friend makes me feel liked and accepted, and really happy to have someone who shares my interests. It makes me feel important when a friend asks me for advice. When a friend is having a problem, I try to help him or her. When I have a problem I go to a friend who understands and has something to say about it.
I have learned lot about my family and about myself from interviewing my family members and writing this paper. The shared values that I have talked about are important because they are part of what helps us keep our identity and our culture, and makes us feel like a family. My personal values help define me as an individual.
My full name is Benjamin Simon Weissbrod Sternhell. I am named Benjamin after my Grandma’s brother Bernie, who was named after Grandma’s Grandpa Benjamin. I’m named Simon after Grandma’s other Grandpa Simon. I’m named Weissbrod after Grandma’s side of the family. I’m named Sternhell because that is Mom’s last name and was my Grandpa’s last name.
I was going to also be named Free after Grandpa’s mother Frieda, but Mom changed her mind. I want to add the name Free someday, so my name will be Benjamin Free Simon Weissbrod Sternhell. (… Maybe not.)
Benjamin means son of my right hand. Simon means he who hears. Weissbrod means white bread. Sternhell means starlight. I like all these meanings except Benjamin—because I’m left-handed!
You can see from the story of my name that one of our family values is family. My family is very important to me. We have Thanksgiving with Aunt Emily, Uncle Scott, my cousin Dan, Grandma—and Grandpa before he died. We have seders with all my Sternhell relatives, plus Mom’s cousin Ellen and my great-aunt Gloria from the Weissbrod side. The Sternhells also have a family email list so we can all write to each other even though we live in different parts of the country.
Our family has always enjoyed being together. When Grandma was a little girl during the Depression, she and her parents and her brother Bernie lived with her grandparents, Rose and Simon Weissbrod, and her aunts and their husbands and children all in a four-room apartment in the Bronx. Maybe the grownups didn’t think that was so much fun, but Grandma and Bernie did.
Later Grandma’s family lived on the top floor of one Bronx apartment building and her four uncles and their families lived on the other floors, one on top of the other. When my great-greatgrandparents Rifka and Benjamin came to visit every Sunday, they stopped off to see their children on every floor, starting at the top and walking down.
When Mom and I asked our family email list what our family values are, our cousin Josh said, “I think our family values are easy: unconditional love and unfettered criticism.” Paul said, “I would say that we value progressivism, a strong education, vigorous and healthy debate, and getting together as a family. We value Judaism as a source for our traditions and for our togetherness, if not always as a
source of religion and moral guidance.”
Our family’s basic values are love, family, social justice, education, and loyalty. My greatgrandparents were more conservative and more traditional than we are now—they were Orthodox Jews—but they took the huge step of leaving their country and moving to this new world.
Most of my great-grandparents came here from the part of the world called Galicia when they were about the same age I am now. I’m not sure a family value is courage, but I do think what they did was brave.
My grandparents—Grandma Claire and Grandpa Sidney—were liberals who supported the Civil Rights Movement and broke away completely from Orthodox Judaism. They sent Mom and Aunt Emily to a Reform temple—but Grandpa was an atheist.
When Mom came home from Hebrew School in fourth grade talking about God, Grandpa sat her down and explained that God doesn’t exist. He believed in education—he wanted Mom to study about Judaism—but he also believed in speaking the truth.
Mom and most of her cousins have been involved in political movements like the anti-Vietnam War movement and the feminist movement. Now a lot of us oppose President Bush and the war in Iraq, and the way rich people are getting richer and poor people are getting poorer. I tried to work for peace by going to anti-war demonstrations with Mom and my friends. We didn’t stop the war, but we did try.
One of our strongest family values is questioning authority. None of us like to be told what to do. (This is very true of me!)
Grandpa was so much like this that he never became an officer in the Army—he wouldn’t follow orders—and he always fought with his bosses at work. And when he was my age, he refused to have a bar mitzvah himself.
At all our family seders—when Mom was a little girl and when I was younger too, until Grandpa died when I was 9—the family always made sure that Grandpa read the passage about the wicked son. He liked being the wicked son—and I think a lot of us like talking back, being rebellious, and thinking differently from how most people think.
There’s another way I like being different: I also have a birthfamily. I don’t know what all their family values are, but one of my birthmother’s values and one of Mom’s values are the same: creating the best possible family for me.
And I know my birthmother valued education. One reason she chose Mom to be my mother was that Mom sent her a picture of our apartment with shelves full of books on every wall.
When I was born in Sioux City, Iowa, Mom had been wanting a baby forever. She flew to Iowa to be there when I was born. She was crying the whole time, on the big plane from New York and the tiny plane from Minneapolis. Someone asked her if she was going to a funeral. She said, “No, I’m going to a birth.”
My birthparents aren’t Jewish and when I was born—ten days before Christmas—my birthmother said that she was giving Mom the best Christmas present in the world. Mom agreed.
I think it’s great having a family and a birthfamily. It’s like a privilege, something special to talk about. But I like the last name Sternhell a whole lot.
So what’s the family value here? Well, love, of course, and celebrating our family history whatever it happens to be. And creating our own family, and enjoying and appreciating the family we’ve got.
I’m a Sternhell/Weissbrod/etc/etc—and I think that’s pretty cool.
Values are guidelines for life. They give our lives meaning and direction. They help us set goals. So if we decide on our values, we can really decide how we will live our lives.
We don’t choose our values all by ourselves. We are influenced by others, and especially by our parents. We are also influenced by our experiences when we are growing up, just like our parents were. Even though my values might change during my life, they will always start with that influence.
After talking to my parents and grandparents about their values, at first their values did not seem that similar. But as my mother says, all values are connected in some way. For example, you cannot respect your parents if you are not honest with them. And you cannot really love someone if you are not kind to them.
From my parents, I first learned about Love — in Hebrew, Ahava. Their unconditional love always made me feel very secure. Love is one of my most important values too. Love means caring for someone, being there for them, giving them affection, and not hurting them. I will value love in my life by trying to understand the people I love, their needs, and who they are. I will try to solve my anger and my bad feelings so that love won’t die.
Healing the World, Tikkun Olam, has also been very important in my family. My dad’s father Robert became an attorney so that he could help others. He worked very hard for civil rights, tenants’ rights, human rights, and improving his community. He says it made him feel good to be on the side of the good guys.
My father has participated in many civil rights and humanitarian political causes. He chose a career in social services, working with welfare recipients and homeless people. Healing the world is one of my values too. I would like to try to make the world a better place. Through my community service and other Bar Mitzvah work, I came to realize how important this is to me personally, because everyone
deserves the same justice and should have the same rights. I will always try to speak out about things that I believe in, to help make the world better for everyone.
When I was talking to my parents and grandparents about their values, the one value everyone agreed on was Family, or Mishpacha. My mother says that her large family was always together on weekends when she was growing up. She feels like her cousins are more like brothers and sisters to her. Even now that they live all over the United States, they stay very close to each other with a family
My Dad’s mother, Dottie, said that family gave her a sense of belonging. She always loved her children and her grandchildren so much, and she loved sharing holidays and family gatherings with them. She tried to attend every single event I had, from birthdays to graduations, to class presentations and talent shows. I know that throughout my life my family will always be there for me, and I will be there for them too. I value my family.
Friendship, Chavayrut, is also very important to me. True friends can feel like family, and bond in a way that might never be broken. I feel that my friends and I are loyal to each other, and that I can trust them. I hope they also trust me. I will try to support my friends, even if it means putting myself in a bad spot.
Being Charitable, Tzedakah, and helping others is also very important in my family. My Mom’s father, whom I call Poppy, grew up during the depression, and they didn’t have much money. But he remembers that they always gave to charity. He says that his own parents, my great-grandparents, used to take in strangers who just arrived in this country. If they had no other place to stay, they could stay with Poppy’s family. He and all of his five brothers and sisters would be squeezed into one bedroom, so that the new arrival could have the other. I can see myself how my Poppy continues this tradition of charity by doing whatever he can when someone asks for help. I have seen how important charity is to people in need, and it has become one of my values, too.
Poppy also values Humor, and so do I. Having humor means to laugh in life, and not to take everything so seriously. In particular, I like to find the irony in situations. Poppy says that sometimes you have to decide if you’re going to sit and cry or lighten your situation by trying to laugh, even if it’s at yourself, to find a bit of joy. For Jews, who have been persecuted throughout history, humor has often
been another way to survive. Humor is also important to me because it has helped me to make friends. It’s a universal way of communicating.
When talking to my family about their values, no one mentioned Concern for the Suffering of Animals – Tzaar Baalei Hayim, Happiness – Simcha, or Music — Musica. That doesn’t mean they don’t value those things, but it wasn’t a main focus for them when they were growing up. I have been influenced by my parents’ values of course, but I am also developing my own values through my own thoughts and experiences.
All of my life, I have felt empathy for animals. I can’t stand to see an animal suffering. Concern for Animals means understanding that they are living things with feelings. When I wanted a dog, I chose to adopt one from North Shore Animal League instead buying one, because I wanted to save his life and give him a loving home. My dog Harry is now a best friend. I am continuing to help animals by supporting a foster dog through the North Shore Animal League.
I have learned to love Music, and I have learned to play the drums to express that love. I think that music is so important because it lifts the spirits and gives people a sense of hope.
Happiness is the feeling that allows us to enjoy life without worry or sadness. Happiness is important so that our lives are not cluttered with the chaos of worrying, and so we can live a better life. I think I am a happy person, and that means that I’m also optimistic and have a bright view of the future.
My mother’s family and my father’s family are from very different cultures. Not only that, but one family has always been secular, and the other religious. Yet, my parents’ marriage shows how people connect with each other through shared values.
I’m glad that my parents are raising me to be a good person, a person with values. All values are connected, and when we choose our values we are all trying to live a better life. We just might choose to focus on one thing or another a little differently. Right now, this is my focus. These are some of the values that are most important to me, and how I hope to live by them.
Everybody has different values, but it seems like people within a family often have the same values as each other. And these values get passed down through the generations. The main values in my family are compassion, family, truth, community, and education.
Both my mother and her mother, Grandmother Helen, believe in compassion, which in Hebrew is called rachamim. They each get teary-eyed when they listen to sad stories. For example, when my mother was a freshman in college, a girl on her floor was telling her about how her own grandmother had just died, and my mother cried even harder than her friend.
My Grandmother Helen also told me a story about compassion. It happened when she was first married. She had bought two expensive dresses and was coming home on the bus. There were two people in front of her talking about how they couldn’t afford the roof over their heads this month. My Grandmother Helen felt so bad that when she got home she told my Grandfather Daniel that she wanted to return the dresses, but my Grandfather Daniel said that if she returned the dresses it would make things worse. Not only would it not help the people on the bus, but the person my Grandmother Helen bought the dresses from wouldn’t get paid as much.
A very important value to my Dad’s father, Grandfather Sam, is family, mishpacha. When he was in the army and he hadn’t seen his parents for a while, the army gave him a chance to leave for a short time, but he was only allowed to go to Minnesota and his parents lived in New York. So his father came all the way to Minnesota, even though they would only see each other for a brief time.
My Dad’s mother, Grandmother Shirley, also valued family. When my father proposed to my mother, and she said yes, my Dad called his parents in Florida to tell them the good news. In the 25 minutes it took my parents to drive home from the restaurant, my Grandmother Shirley had made a list of all the people she wanted to invite to the wedding. Her list was very long! But my Grandmother Shirley didn’t want to eliminate anyone because they were all family, and she was close to each one of them—even the distant cousins. My dad says he got his belief in family from his parents. He thinks family is essential because you can rely on family members to get support.
Another value that my dad thinks is important is truth, emet. He says, “Truth is important on many levels. It’s essential for one’s relationships because that’s how you build trust.” He and my mother believe that if you do something wrong, you should take responsibility for your mistake, and not lie about it. This is something my great grandfather believed in too because when my Grandfather Sam and his sister were kids, they went to their aunt’s store in the Bronx and took some candy without paying for it. On the long train ride home to Brooklyn, my Grandfather Sam’s sister took the candy out of the bag, and when my great grandfather realized that they had taken it without paying, he made them take the long train ride back to return it. They had to apologize and promised that they would never do it again.
There are times, though, when a person might do something that seems “wrong,” but my Grandmother Helen says you shouldn’t necessarily judge the person. She told me a story about when she was married with kids and was taking some school courses with a friend. One day, after they had attended three or four sessions, the friend called and said she had a cold and wasn’t going to be able to make it to class. So my Grandmother Helen collected the course material for her friend, and then she drove to her friend’s house to give her the copies. When she rang the doorbell the babysitter answered and said that the woman was out. My Grandmother Helen didn’t judge her; she just realized that some people have weaknesses as well as strengths.
My Grandmother Helen’s mother used to say, “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” This is similar to how my Grandfather Sam was raised. He was told to be kind to everyone. When he was growing up, his family was poor, but they still gave food to a sick neighbor who was out of work. My Grandmother Shirley also believed in being good to other people. She raised a lot of money for a Cerebral Palsy organization.
My dad values community, kehilla, and social justice. He says that people should be treated fairly, and not judged by their economic status, skin color, or their religious beliefs.
My Grandfather Daniel, whom I was named after, believed in education, cheenuch, so much that it was like a religion to him. His religion was mathematics, education, and learning. When he asked a question and got an answer, he would always ask another question.
My Grandmother Helen also loves learning. When she was young, she enjoyed what she was learning at school. My Grandmother Helen still pursues learning because it makes her life more interesting.
My dad thinks education is one of the strongest Jewish values there is. The reason he says it’s a Jewish value is because Jews from long ago spent their lives studying the Talmud and that this has been passed on to us in the form of receiving an education. But unlike those Jews, who only allowed men to study the Talmud, my father believes in gender equality.
Many of my values are the same as my family’s values. I think listening to others is important because you can find out so much about a person from what they say.
Compassion and love are similar values because you need compassion to feel love, and love is essential because without love, you could feel lonely. You know you’re loved when someone really cares how you’re feeling. They’re interested in what you are doing every day, and they don’t get sick of you no matter how much you’re around. Being loved is a way to mark that you exist and matter to
Family and friends are special to me because you can rely on the people you feel close to. They can help you through bad situations, and share good times with you as well.
I value education too because I think it makes me a more intelligent and interesting person. I also think that education will help me make better choices in the long run because I’m aware of the different possibilities.
There’s one value that I have that’s different from those of my family and that’s music. When I listen, it helps me unwind. Even though nobody in my family mentioned music, I know that music has been important to many of them. My Grandfather Daniel wanted to be a conductor if he hadn’t been a mathematician, and he used to spend hours listening to classical music. His brother was a popular musician who made records in the 50s.
Looking back I see that my grandparents all strongly believed in family and education, and this has been passed down to my parents, and they have passed it down to me.
A few months ago my good friend Ethan, who is great tennis player, used tennis as metaphor for his Bar Mitzvah family values paper. I thought it was a good way to engage the audience, so I decided to use soccer to assist with my family values.
Soccer, for those who do not know, is often called the “beautiful game” and is the most popular sport in the world. Every 4 years the World Cup virtually stops the world in it’s tracks, even more than the Olympics that I will talk about later tonight. Why is it the beautiful game? Well I think it is called that because it requires precision teamwork, beautiful passing, trust, agility, selflessness, intelligence, a good defense, rhythm and humor.
To assemble my team of values, I first asked a small group of my relatives to find a family picture and write about what values they felt were shown by the photos. I also gave them a list of values and asked them to rank them in priority order and then explain their ranking. How my family responded was interesting, [except for a few (DAD) who did not do it at all.] Some ranked them 1 by 1, 1-11, which is the number of players on a soccer team, while others did the rankings in groups. Before reading any responses I did my own rankings. I wanted to compare my rankings with my relatives’ rankings. I then analyzed the “data”. From all of this I “drafted” my team of values.
My number one value was friendship, “chah-vey-root”. There is nothing more beautiful to me than a good friendship. It is like being a center midfielder, because you need to be there for both the defense and the offense. Friendship also embodies all the other values I will discuss. You share your thoughts with friends, help each other with homework or on the field, you are truthful and loyal to them, you share humor with them, and they can help you be courageous.
Cousin Jesse ranked friendship first saying, “There is nothing more important. Compared to friends and family, everything else on the list comes a distant second.” I always knew that Jesse and I had a lot in common, good looks, soccer and brains.
My Aunt Geri said that “true friendship is one of the greatest gifts of living.” Andrea said “I couldn’t live happily without my friends. WE support each other emotionally, complain to each other, teach each other, and have fun together. It reminds me of my long time friends Sasha and Jake Haase. We all work together and score goals and they helped me be MVP this season.
But, in thinking about the meaning of friendship, I remembered a time in the beginning of 6th grade. My really good friend Gabe K was having a difficult time adjusting to Baruch Middle School. He was very unhappy because he did not know many kids. I talked with him on the telephone reciting my Gabriel Iglesia routine to make him laugh. Because I was helping Gabe I did not even realize I was on the telephone for 15 minutes, a telephone record for me. Mostly Gabe needed some laughter and emotional support that a true friend can give.
Number 2 on my values team is my sweeper, humor, “hoo-more.” On the field I often play sweeper. I protect the goalie, and I move trouble out of the way. Humor helps one stay optimistic about life. I use humor a lot, making jokes to my friends, teachers, parents, and Kyra. When I think someone is in a rough situation and can use a good laugh I make a joke since it will help them, and besides, no one can resist a good joke from me.
Many shared cousin Mara’s view that “having a good sense of humor and not taking yourself too seriously was very important,” as long as we remember that “teasing can be hurtful so it must not be “hurtful teasing”
I think that is why my parents sometimes say before they tease each other, “take this as a joke.” I guess that’s good self-protection. Grandpa David said, “You should take life seriously but always look for things to laugh about.”
This summer on the last night of camp, Eli, Pablo and I gave everyone a good laugh with a silly skit. This comedy was a great anecdote for so many campers who were sad to be leaving camp.
I agree with my uncle Jon that “you must be able to laugh out loud even at yourself”.
Education, “chee-nook”, is my goalkeeper. If you have a good education, as my father Brian would say, nothing can get by you, and you can depend on it to help you win in life, not just on the field. Also, everyone in my immediate family and extended family, are all well educated. They have inspired me to push my limits and never give up on my schoolwork. My plan is to get into Stuyvesant HS, like cousins Jordan and Jesse and my Dad.
One surprise was that both Aunt Geri and my mother had the same response about education. They listed it last. Wow. If it was last, why go to school. Then I understood. They both thought that you need to be “educated” to accomplish the other values, so that maybe the whole scheme of values is circular. It was striking that they both had that same thought.
I think my mother was right since she said that “learning is being able to analyze and think critically about things,” which includes understanding my values. Luckily critical thinking is pretty natural for me. I am always questioning what I am told (which does not always make my parents happy.)
Cousin Jesse was short and to the point. “Education is something that’s good for you, as long as it does not require spending 3 years in law school.” (I know all the lawyers in this room agree.) Cousin Andrea said I always like to learn new things, not always academic and I like to learn by listening. I agree.
My right and left wings are Music,“moo see ca”. They set me free to create. I enjoy listening to music as well as playing music with my buddies, Josh, David, and Jack, and I am so lucky that my friend Miles gives me free piano lessons. Music is a way of expressing emotions as well as calming me. It is a secret language that my musician friends and I understand. We can discuss rhythm and beats in short hand. Music is also entertainment for those listening. I also use music to let out my anger. When I am really mad I bang on the loudest drum.
My mom does not mind, but worries that the neighbors will get annoyed. I am lucky that cousins Robert and Dana have taken me under their drumming wings.
Grandpa David and Grandma Carla said “It’s the music within us that adds a tremendous amount to how much we enjoy the world.”, “Music is a solace, a universal language. Music is a currency tome. I speak in lyrics from the billions of songs I know, and a ways have a song in my head.”
I think, for me music and soccer are connected, because soccer has an unwritten and universal language that choreographs the game.
Courage, “oh-metz lehv”, is center forward for me. It is being up front trying to challenge for a goal. Having personal courage helps me in a lot of situations, especially tough ones where you have to stand up for what you believe in. I think that like all people I need to have courage every day to deal with any problems, big or small, from a kid calling you a name to a kid pushing you on the floor.
When talking about courage my cousin Stu said it best when he said “courage will be telling Anna and Benny that I do not want to go on the roller coaster. It’s being honest with yourself so you can face other people’s reactions.”)
This Bar Mitzvah is actually the best example of my courage because I had to face other people’s reactions. First, after seeing how great Kyra did at her Bat Mitzvah I was very nervous that I could not prepare such good papers, and present them so well. But I think I have well-written and thought out papers, and so far so good on the delivery…. Right?????
But the real courage with this Bar Mitzvah is this doing this type of Bar Mitzvah. Since attending my friends’ Bar Mitzvah’s, starting with Eli and David’s, it really struck me how different this is from theirs and my other friends. I am concerned that my friends and their family will think this is a “weird” Bar Mitzvah and not really Jewish. And I am ambivalent about my Jewish beliefs. I accept that this type of Bar Mitzvah is what my family believes, but I also came to appreciate the value of the traditional Bar Mitzvah service and other traditional events like Shabbos dinners. I do partly wish that my Bar Mitzvah was like my friends were, but also realize that through this Bar Mitzvah process I have learned a lot about myself, my family, and an important part of Jewish history. Like my friends, I had a goal to be a bar mitzvah, and I am glad I had the courage to achieve it. I also hope that my friends and their family now understand and value this Bar Mitzvah ceremony too.
Justice and fairness, “tzedek tzeh-dek,” – are my twin pillars on defense. To me these values mean that everyone should be treated equally and fairly, and not be discriminated against because of their race, ethnicity or culture. Treating people fairly means showing them respect even if you are not friends with them. Treating people equally means not necessarily treating them the SAME but treating them based on their needs. In my household, I play close attention on how fairly my parents treat me as compared to my sister. But lately I have realized that my sister and I have different needs and wants, so we can’t be treated exactly the same.
In my parent’s stories about work, I see how they try to ensure that justice and fairness is done for all the people that come to court.
Grandpa David said that “everyone deserves a fair break and a chance in this world”. “Its what’s drives us,” said Jesse.
Truthfulness and honesty, “emet”, round out my team of values. I think it is basic to any relationship with friends or relatives. Being truthful to a parent can lead to independence because if you are honest to a parent they believe you will be responsible and use good judgment, so they will feel more at ease to give you freedom. Being honest about something you have done but were not supposed to do, helps to lessen the consequences sometimes. If you do something you are not supposed to and if you don’t tell the truth about it, the consequences are greater because there will be consequences for what you did and for lying.
I believe not telling the truth involves saying something not true. If you are not asked and don’t volunteer information, that is not a lie. Another way to say this, an omission is not a lie.
One time in 6th grade when my friend David came over, we rented a movie on “pay for view.” It was not the most age appropriate movie. When my dad came home and asked what we rented, I couldn’t lie, because he would find out and because telling the truth is very important. So I just told him the truth. He was a little annoyed but he said it was better than lying. (By the way the movie was BEERFEST).
For my mother truth (along with honesty and loyalty) is the ultimate or most you can give another person.
What a person’s values are is really about who they are and how they live their lives. We usually just live without pausing to really think about what we are doing and why. But I must admit this paper has really made me stop and think!! It helped me focus on what’ s most important to me when interacting with the world. It makes me more aware of why I do what I do and for that I am glad to have done this paper. If the beautiful game is a metaphor for life, then I believe that my chosen team of values will be a winning one.
In life every single human being has a set of values. When you are born you instantly start learning and developing different values. Even though I’m still pretty young and my values might change between now and when I’m older, I think most of my main values will stick with me for life. To find these values I asked my Mom, Dad, Grandparents, and other relatives for some stories. From those stories I’ve been able to extract a list of my top values.
My main value is family, meesh-pa-cha. I love them, I relate to them and I always have a great time with them. Most important, they’re always there for me no matter what.
Values are not upheld individually, they work together to form an internal compass that helps to guide you. Family and charity come together as a tradition of helping and being there. This was started by my great-grandfather George. He is my great-grandfather on my mother’s side and is my Poppy’s father. Up front, George seemed like an okay guy, but secretly he was unbelievably charitable. Since he was the head of the family and was the oldest, he felt it was his responsibility to bring the family together.
He paid to bring all of his family from Europe and he also paid to bring his wife’s side of the family together from all over the world as well. Family meant so much to him, if he had an immigrant working for him, he’d even pay to bring their family to the U.S. To me, my family is my set of special friends. I can’t ever stay mad at them for too long.
My great-grandfather’s value of supporting the family has been passed onto my generation. My family always gets together for the holidays. They come in for Thanksgiving. We get together for Chanukah, Passover, birthdays, special events and just because we want to have a little fun.
My family is not only very close, but also very humorous. This leads me to my next value, humor, hu-mor. Bill Cosby once said that, “Through humor, you can soften some of the worst blows that life delivers.” My family isn’t made up of famous comedians but we certainly know how to laugh-and mostly at ourselves.
A great example of our family’s humor happens like clockwork on Thanksgiving when my mom cooks her infamous turkey. One time we left a non-oven thermometer in the turkey and cooked the turkey with the thermometer only to discover that non-oven thermometers melt when cooked. We laughed at the idea of mercury poisoning and ate the turkey anyway. We all survived. Another Thanksgiving the turkey wouldn’t defrost, when in the first place we ordered a fresh turkey!!!! Instead of freaking out and complaining that we didn’t have a good Thanksgiving, we imagined a hysterical driveby turkey toss through Citerella’s window with Meme, my grandmother, being the pitcher. So I guess you could say that we made the best out of a bad situation.
I’m always laughing about something with either a friend or family. I’m mean look at me, I’m here today having my bar mitzvah at a comedy club. It can be anything from bad delivery food, to a smelly cab ride, or even a screaming crazy person on the bus. Mostly, I’ve really learned how to find the humor within any unpleasant situation.
A lot of comedians are pretty smart people so that often leads to their success. This brings me to my next important value, entrepreneurialism or the value of taking initiative, yoz-ma. An entrepreneur is defined by dictionary.com as “a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” This value of being an entrepreneur runs widely on both sides of my family.
I have a great-great-uncle named Sam Getz who was a building developer, who built many of the high-rise apartments on the Rockaway Penininsula. I have another great uncle, Joe Garnick, who had a successful metal fastener business, which he relocated to Dallas Texas, from Connecticut, in the early 1960’s. There weren’t a lot of businesses owned by Jewish people in Texas at the time. Which made
him very unique.
On my mom’s side of the family, I have my uncle Todd, and my uncle Adam. My Uncle Todd had a big position at a big corporation, with good pay and good benefits. But he left it to start his own business. He always wanted to open up a hotdog store. So that’s what he did. He now is the proud owner of the very successful Jonnies Hotdogs, in Wayne, Pennsylvania. He started off with one store and now has a franchise business.
My uncle Adam started his own business. His company helps set up safeguards for other businesses in potential danger. They have lists of emergency contacts, they schedule when for a company to back up its files, and they also work in project management. And circling back to my greatgrandfather George, he was enormously successful in the garment industry. As his business grew he gave jobs to his brothers in his business, dress manufacturing. They sold and manufactured all of the dresses at his factory. And coincidently, Meme’s grandfather even worked for Poppy’s father! Later, her father became very successful in the garment industry as well.
My family’ success in life tempered with personal hardships have inspired them to give to people the support that we have created within our own family. Let’s just say, we like to share the pleasure we created and are privileged to have. This brings me to my next value, compassion, rach-a-meem.
Great-grandfather George brought his family from Europe then assisted his employees to bring their families together. My Uncle Adam is on the board of the March of Dimes as well as setting up his own charity to honor his daughter who died as an infant. For the past 13 years, the Rebecca Chusid fund brings toys to under privileged children during the holidays. My Dad’s family has set up a children’s charity in Florida to benefit kids with AIDS, in the memory of my late cousin David.
Following in my family’s footsteps, my dog Louie is now a certified therapy dog visiting people and children in hospitals and treatment centers. I share the pleasure I have with my little dog with other people that really need to share in the love I get every day.
Last but certainly not least on my main values list, the value of creativity, y’tzir-ah-tee-oot. It comes through in many different forms. Art is a way of self-expression. Art is embroidered into every day life. Art touches everything; containers are art, Doritos are art, chairs are art, toilets are even art! What I’m really saying is that everything in this world is designed somehow or thought about creatively, and that makes it art. Art is not just an object, it is also beauty; a pleasure to look at, a display of emotions and thoughts, someone’s mind on paper or canvas, in music or a photograph.
My mom is an art director for an ad agency. She has always worked doing what she loves. In the past she has worked in graphic design, she even went to SVA. She knows how to paint and draw well too. So that has had a big influence on me. Actually right now I am thinking about being in the arts when I grow up.
My dad on the other hand has a different type of artistic influence on me. My dad is a very accomplished guitarist. He’s been playing since he was ten years old. Right now he’s actually in a band called the Wicked Messengers, and he’s really good! He has a lot of other musical knowledge too, which influences me to want to learn to play different instruments. He also always helps me on writing problems that I have. I can always rely on him since he is good writer and has been a publisher of music magazines and still works in the music industry in marketing. Both my parents do what they love. I hope I will be able to do the same.
It goes further than just this. I have ancestors that were involved in all different types of arts. On my mom’s side I have Jeshzua Perle who is a famous playwright and documented his experience in the Warsaw ghetto during WW2. On my dad’s side I’m related to Stan Getz the famous Jazz Musician.
I have used many examples of family members and their accomplishments to illustrate the passion of their beliefs which in turn helped to get me started on understanding what is important in life to me. All of these values will be my guide lines on the bumpy road of life. These values all interlock with each other and help me figure my life out every single day. Thinking about them has made me realize what I’m made of, where I’ve come from and where I might end up too.
Many family histories of Jewish kids in America begin in the early twentieth century. My family story begins a lot earlier. My father’s mother’s family is not Jewish, and came from Western Europe in the 17th century. And on my mother’s side, her mother’s ancestors came from the Ukraine in the mid- 19th century—a lot earlier than the big wave of migration when many eastern Europeans immigrated to the United States.
For this assignment, I interviewed my grandparents and parents to find out about their personal values. Then I wrote this paper based on my grandparents’, my parents’ and my own values. Some of the values are shared widely in my family while others are more personal.
The theme of family, Mishpachah, was mentioned frequently in my interviews. For me, family is important because they will love you no matter what happens. I know that I can always talk to my parents or my brother about any problem that I have. Everyone in a family plays a different role and, although we do not always get along with your everyone all the time, I have found that we always get through it, and we eventually come back together–even after a conflict.
Each of my grandparents had only one sibling, as do I. That means that I do not have a very large family, and we do what we can to stay close together and to have good relationships with one another.
Every year there are two occasions when I see my extended family. On Passover, I see my dad’s side of the family. We are usually together for about 3 days and we celebrate and have lots of fun. On Thanksgiving, I see my mom’s side of the family. These are two very important times in the year for me because they are when I get to see almost all of my close relatives and I really feel connected to them. I know that I am part of a bigger loving family. When I look at all of my family members, I see many different generations and pasts. It is in moments like these when I feel truly connected to all of my
I think that it would be hard to have a good life without a loving, caring family. Hopefully, they back you up when you are having a rough time. However, your family is not there just to help you with your problems. No matter what you’re doing, it’s great to have your family there with you. My mom points out that sometimes family can be complicated, and that family relationships, like all other relationships, should not be taken for granted.
To me, Honesty or Emet is another important value. Good family relationships could not exist without honesty. It is hard to live a good life without honesty. I think that while it is a great thing to aim for honesty, it is impossible to be honest all of the time. One of the trickiest things is when you are trying not to hurt somebody’s feelings. In my opinion, if you are not being completely honest with somebody for a good reason it is okay. The only good reason is if you are protecting someone. I do not think that you should lie for your own benefit.
My grandfather Jerry says that his dad taught him to be honest. At his Laundromat, his father was always honest with costumers. He never tricked them or gave them false information.
It is hard to grow up to be honest if your parents are not honest with you or even with each other. You need the experience of being told the truth to learn to be truthful. If you are not honest, it is hard to have a good relationship with someone. My Mom is almost obsessed with honesty because she had some very bad experiences with dishonesty when she was growing up. Lies cannot be undone, which is why they are so damaging. In all of my ancestry, honesty has been very important. Because everyone moved from Europe to the US, it was essential to be honest to make a good impression when they were building a new life.
Hard work or Avodah Kashey is a commonly occurring theme in my family’s history. On both sides, I have relatives who moved from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine to the US. Emigrating involves hard work to earn money for travel, food, and housing. It can be especially difficult if you are moving to a country with a different language, as most of my ancestors did. My great-grandfather came from Poland to Texas. After he crossed the border, he kept traveling, and everywhere he went he asked, “Where are the Jews?” (in Yiddish). When he found them, they helped him and he was able to establish a life. It was a tremendous amount of work to build a new life from nothing.
There are different kinds of hard work. My brother said that when he applied to high school it took a lot of hard work. In addition to the work, it was also a stressful time because of the pressure of trying to impress the interviewers and the anxiety of waiting for the results. But my mom believes that “anything worth having is worth working hard for.”
Hard work can vary from trying hard at your job to trying to do well at school to being committed to something. Even just being nice to a family member can sometimes be hard work! I know my ability to work hard will be useful in so many ways in my life.
I think that the value of hard work is related to family and honesty. To maintain healthy relationships, it requires hard work and honesty. These qualities allow people to trust and rely on each
Happiness or Simcha is one of my most important values. To me happiness is as essential as food and water. If I am in a good mood or I am happy, I can probably have fun doing almost anything. Being happy is great because it can spread. I know that if I am in a good mood, my brother will get into a good mood.
Actions, personalities, and moods can really affect how other people treat you or how they act around you. If you are purposely mean or just in a bad mood, others might treat you the same way. However, if you are happy, they are more likely to treat you nicely.
I know that for some people, happiness is hard to come by. One way to be happy is to realize what you have. My Mom loves the Buddhist meditation on tooth brushing. When you are brushing your teeth, think about what you have. You have a toothbrush, toothpaste, running water; you have a hand, and you even have teeth. So many people in the world don’t have these things, which is why it is important to stop and realize how lucky you are, and how little reason you have to be unhappy.
I know that for my grandparents, growing up during the Depression and WW II, happiness was sometimes hard to attain. In spite of this, my mom believes that she developed her capacity for happiness from her mother. My mom always seems happy to me and makes an effort to help my brother and me to be happy. So maybe I inherited happiness from my mother.
Education or Cheenuch is important because I believe it is essential to be educated. My great grandfather once said “I don’t care if you are a taxi driver, as long as you have a college education.” So, in my family, education is sometimes more important than profession. My grandfather said that his education was what allowed him to live such a different life and be more successful than his father. He said emphasizing education for his kids helped them to be successful. However, there are other ways to learn besides schooling. My dad began looking into Buddhism about 20 years ago because he was interested in learning about spirituality and personal growth. My mom says, “Every day I learn something new.” My mom has been through high school and college and she is still learning. I hope that I will continue learning my whole life.
Courage or Ometz Lev is something that I have seen repeatedly in my family. One very courageous moment for my dad was at one of his jobs. He was working as a social worker with a family who had some legal trouble. Although it was against his work policy, my Dad testified for the family because what had happened to them was unjust. This decision took courage because he was risking his job and perhaps future jobs by testifying.
It takes courage to move to a new country where you don’t speak the language. Some of my ancestors’ stories were extreme. My grandfather’s grandfather chose to cut off some of his toes so that he could escape joining the army. This was obviously a great sacrifice and took a lot of courage. Afterward, he went to great efforts to get his family to the U.S. On both sides of my family, people had the courage to pick up their lives to live in another culture, even when they weren’t forced to by poverty or war.
Guarding the Earth, Shmirat HaAdama, is very important to me because I care what happens to the earth. I do not understand why some people don’t care. The earth is our only home, and we should protect what little beauty we have left. One day we could live on a barren, industrialized planet. My strong feelings about the earth are probably influenced by my Dad’s Buddhist outlook and my Mom’s work for the Environmental Defense Fund.
In the end, I have found out that my family has many common values and that people’s histories can affect their values and what they believe. One thing that is interesting to me is the fact that all of my parents and grandparents came from different families and yet they have shared values. I also learned that my own personal values tie me to my ancestors; my parents have similar values as their parents. This shows that my own values are connected to the values of those before me in my family tree.
To identify my family values and beliefs for this essay, I gathered ideas by talking and writing to my family to see how my relatives values may have impacted me. I would like to thank them for all their help and I feel very lucky to have so many family members to learn from. I ended up getting so much information that I ended up with a huge mound of ideas. It was like a challenging math problem. I had multiplied two fractions without cross canceling first. So I had to reduce the big fraction, or mound of ideas. Frankly, I couldn’t figure out what to do. I decided to start with a completely blank slate. I choose four very important values, from all the helpful information I gathered. My essential values, the ones I live by, are: family, creative expression, education or learning, and compassion.
Family, mishpacha, is value # 1 on my list. My family is so important to me because my family is always there for me, and I will always be there for them. I put them first 99% of the time. They also value family, and support each other. I have two stories that show how my family supports each other. My grandpa Max’s brother, Sol, was 17 when their father died. Sol assumed the responsibilities of being the wage earner and care taker for Great Grandma Ida, and Grandpa Max and Uncle Arthur who were just 7 and 10 years old at the time. Uncle Sol supported them all. This really demonstrated the importance of family to them. And, throughout their lives they always cared about each other, even though they lived miles apart. But the true sign of Uncle Sol’s commitment to his family was that he did all this, even though Max and Arthur were only his half brothers. But did this stop him? No!! Great Uncle Sol was there for them completely as if they were fully related.
My second story is about my father’s side of the family. Its about my paternal great grandfather’s death, His name was Sol too. When Great Grandpa Sol died, my Grandpa David had just started college and hoped to eventually attend medical school. Great Grandpa Sol’s death put this dream in danger. You see, Grandpa David’s mother, Regina, did not have enough money to support her family, from her job in the tailor shop. Would Grandpa David have to quit college and get a full time job to support His family, like Great Uncle Sol? No!!! When Great Great Uncle Dave heard about Great Grandpa Sol’s death, Uncle Dave summoned my Grandpa and Great Grandma Regina to his office. Uncle Dave, who owned some hotels, was the most financially successful person in the family. He said he would make sure that Regina would receive an envelope every month to help support her, so that Grandpa David could stay in college and pursue his dream of being the first doctor in the family.
Grandpa David’s approach to medicine is like his approach to all things in life. He listens carefully, thinks hard, and finds creative solutions. He does not quickly resort to medications and surgery. His caring and thoughtful approach to medicine is his way of expressing himself, what I call creative expression, ytzeerahteeoot. When I first heard of this value, at my friend Liana’s bat mitzvah, I was not sure it fit me. But once I thought about it, I realized it is a significant part of me. I love to express myself creatively, whether it’s painting, dancing, writing, decorating, or singing. I think it’s so important to be able to express yourself in creative ways, especially in the arts.
In my family history, there were many people who were involved with creative expression. I can trace it back to my Great Aunt Rachel. Though she died when I was too young to know her well, I can tell she was definitely a creative spirit, from the beads, necklaces, and antiques she had. My mother told me that Rachel was not only a jewelry maker but “a dancer before her time.” She broke every mold and flew high. There are even pictures of her leaping in the air while dancing. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of me! (maybe that’s where I get it from). But, the creative juices come from everywhere. My grandma Carla’s grandfather played trumpet in the NY Philharmonic, and her father played cello in an orchestra, and all my cousins Stu, Dana, and Carly seems to have that bug too.
I think if you don’t have creative expression in your life, you are not complete. It can take many forms, writing songs, singing, painting, building things, cooking, caring for children, and even sports. Sometimes creative expression is found within your family culture, such as my mother’s Sephardic background. Because my maternal great grandmother’s family was from the small Greek town of Ionnaina, we follow the tradition of cooking hard boiled eggs for hours in onion skin filled water so the turn golden brown. Also, we still use the Greek phrases, kukla, which means doll and sagapo, which means “I love you,” and dance a Greek folk dance called the Misilou. These and all forms of creative expression make you unique, and it can help you to be a better person by connecting you to others.
Education, cheenuch, my next value, is one of the biggest building blocks in life. It helps you exceed your limits as a person, and grow. Schoolwork is not always fun but it is important to exercise your brain. My parents have always stressed the importance of learning and education. They probably got this value from their parents. All 4 of my grandparents completed college. Grandpa David was the first in his family to go to college and then to get a medical degree. My grandmother, Nona, and Grandma Carla both got their degrees when my dad and mom were growing up. Quite a feat!! Watching their mothers in college and graduate school must have made a deep impression on each of my parents, which they have passed on to me. My parents have had such an influence on me about the importance of education, I have only missed five days of school my whole life!!! (I know that is crazy!!).
From the time I was three, I knew about prestigious schools that I called “Ivy Greens” instead of Ivy Leagues. Now everyone in my family, even Gabe, calls it that too. From a young age, I have watched my cousins Matthew, Jordan and Jesse attend great schools like Swarthmore, Haverford, Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania Law School. My mother is thrilled when I talk about wanting to go to Brown or Yale. Gabe recently asked my mother if she dared him to get into MIT. She happily took the dare!!! Education is so deeply rooted in my blood, that I will automatically share its importance with my kids. You can reach so much farther in life, if you are educated. It is the truth!!!
I also believe that you can learn from being aware, beyond what you learn in school. People can learn from all experiences if they are thinking, and incorporate into their lives, all that they see, hear, feel and touch. My parents have encouraged learning in all different ways by choosing schools that do not focus on having the highest test scores, but ones that provide a diverse environment for me to learn in. They hoped that by gaining more than just “book smarts” I’d become a more compassionate, generous, person. And this happened. In my 4th and 5th grade class, one of my close friends was in foster care. He leads such a different life than me, but we were able to learn from each other. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that we became friends given that my parents work with foster care children every day at work.
The next value I would like to talk about is compassion, rachamim. When you are compassionate, you reach out and care about others. You are not just kind, you try to help people. When I think of someone in my family who is compassionate, I think of my paternal aunt, Sue. She is so compassionate, she does not just try to help people once in a while; she does it every day in the work she does. Sue is a teacher for children with special needs who are physically or emotionally challenged. Even at the toughest of times, with the most difficult kids, she tries hard to help in some way. She tells me stories in such detail and often they are very sad. One happy story was when some of the kids she worked with were taking the big city tests. In the middle of the test, one student called out and said “Mrs. Zimmerman, Mrs. Zimmerman, I know this!!” This made Aunt Sue smile, and it made ME smile too.
I try to be compassionate too. I try to always lend a helping hand. When I heard my dance teacher say that she was hoping to celebrate her 30th birthday in a quiet wooded area, I offered our family home in Otis, Massachusetts, without asking my parents, knowing they would agree, and they did. Their support helps me to know that they too believe being compassionate and generous are important. I listen to friends’ problems, give rides home to those in need, and give extra money for school trips to help those who can’t afford them. No wonder everyone loves me!! Just kidding, just kidding!
I am not just compassionate towards people but, like my aunt, I try to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice. I love animals and I think it’s important to care for them. I have been on a lifelong campaign, to get a dog!! For years, if something went wrong and I got upset, it would always, always go back to the fact that I didn’t have a dog!!
Another way I try and show my sensitivity is by being careful with the environment. I am concerned because people abuse it so much, and we cannot regain it. Cousin Karen Gruebel is involved in protecting the environment, through her work as a geologist. After getting her Ph.D she has used her education to better the world. I think if I got a dog, it would protect the environment and everything
Family, creative expression, education and compassion are my core values. But a core does not stand alone, it has other layers. These other layers are my other values: equality for all, honesty and flexibility, and the list goes on. You have heard references to many family members, and not too much about my own parents’ values. But I think that as you listen to this service, think of them. Their values and beliefs are reflected by my having this type of bat mitzvah service. This service demonstrates more who they are, and what they have passed on to me, then anything I could write or say.
We are made up of so much, from so many. And as we grow older, we can grow that much more. I have gotten so many things from my family and friends. This assignment has really helped me evaluate who I am now. And as I said in the beginning, who knew that for such an essay I might be doing math, especially reducing fractions.
As I talk about my family values, I am referring to about 20 interviews I had with members from both sides of my family. I am also referring to my analysis of the behaviors of those in my family that I did not get to interview. People in my family value aspects of education, cultural appreciation, compassion, family, honesty and respect.
First, I will talk about education, cheenuk. Most of my great grandparents were immigrants. When they got to America, they needed to learn English and be properly educated to attain jobs and live successfully. My maternal great grandfather, Leo, came over to America from Austria in 1905 when he was sixteen. He learned English without an accent and took pride in reading three different English newspapers a day, and he made sure his son, my grandpa “RoRo,” remembered these accomplishments. Leo’s value of being informed has been passed down to RoRo. RoRo reads the newspaper everyday, and if you didn’t read ANY article he brings up, he will ask you accusingly, “What? You didn’t read the paper today?”
A second example I have of the value of education, involves “Mama,” my maternal great grandmother. “Mama” graduated from Yale’s sister school, Vassar College in 1925. She then went on to nursing school. She was the first woman in our family as well as one of the very few in her generation to achieve either of these educational feats. And, even with a male physician as their first child, her family encouraged her to follow her dreams of becoming an educated woman- they paid for her college tuition as well as the nursing school fees.
The next value is cultural appreciation, ha-ah-rah-chat tar-boot. Something that really shows how my family values cultural appreciation and diversity, is the fact that I have family and friends who are Daughters of the American Revolution, Columbian, Japanese, Hungarian, Chinese, Austrian, Spanish, Albanian, Israeli, Greek, Russian, Puerto Rican, Peruvian, Mexican, Italian, Caribbean, African American, (and apologies to anyone I missed).
Most of my family enjoys traveling to different countries all around the world. All of my grandparents have traveled to more places in their lives than I have ever heard of. Personally, I love to travel, and to learn to speak foreign languages.
My family and I believe that everybody is special and contributes to the beauty of this world. I have friends of many cultures, and people in my family have married people of other backgrounds than their own because variation and difference is what makes the world go around. We do not need to be isolated within our cultural communities.
An example of my family not letting culture stand in their way is a story about my paternal great grandma, “Nanny Anne.” Because Nanny Anne was not accepted as a Russian, because she was Jewish, she immigrated to America. The move prevented her from seeing her father for many years, and gave her a terrible experience with travel, as she came to America in steerage. For those of you who don’t know, steerage was a way of travel on the bottom compartment of a boat for those without much money.
In steerage, people were so tightly packed, sometimes they literally could not move. There were no bathrooms, and many people died or got very sick along the way to their destination. But, Nanny Anne got to America and started her new life despite where she was from or her poverty. When Nanny Anne got older, she showed her respect towards all cultures in small bits of community service she performed in helping her neighbors. Whenever she had a recent immigrant as a new neighbor, she would learn enough of their language to chat with them. I think that this is a portrayal of how my great grandmother valued cultural appreciation and compassion because she was understanding, kind and generous to all of her foreign neighbors. This leads me to the next value that a lot of my family has in commoncompassion, rachameem.
My family cares about animals, donating to charity, and many other values related to being kind and considerate of all living creatures and our environment. One example is the fact that my parents are psychologists; they spend their days working to help people cope with their problems.
Also, my maternal grandma, “Emmy” leaves big bags of refundable bottles in front of a local soup kitchen for homeless people. To preserve their dignity, she does not give these bottles directly to the poor. My great aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob who live in Florida show compassion for animals. They have ten cats, two of which were adopted from an unwanted litter, eight of which were strays. My great aunt Nancy and Uncle Bob also run a foundation for the care and protection of animals. They want less euthanasia and more adoptions.
Another value my family stresses is the importance of family, mishpacha. You should hear the amount of stories told by my dad’s side of the family. Every time I see them, I learn at least five new things about my family’s history. Even though my mom’s side does not constantly tell stories of their family’s history, they, like my dad’s side, try to see each other often and keep in touch with one another.
One story that has been told to me by my dad’s side of the family that represents how my family values family is one about my grandma.
In 1970, “Grammy” was close to getting her PhD in physics. Although this was a lifelong goal of hers, she gave it up for her family, when her first husband Elliott died. She decided to work in the family business because she knew it would provide her with more money than if she became a physics teacher. She needed to make sure she earned this extra money, because if she didn’t, her three sons, my dad and my uncles, would have had to move schools and homes for financial reasons.
The other family values I will talk about are honesty, emet and respect, kavod. My family values telling the truth in important situations whether or not they are asked to do so. They also do not believe in “finders keepers…”
As Grandpa was on one of his two daily walks in Great Neck, he found a wallet in the street. Knowing that he wanted to return it, he brought it home where he discovered that it contained two hundred dollars in cash, as well as various identification papers of the owner.
Grandpa went to the post office with plans of returning the wallet anonymously because he did not want many thank you’s, or a reward for doing what he knew was the right thing. He wanted it to be a quick, simple procedure that would be over with as soon as he mailed the wallet back to the owner. However, when he got to the post office he learned that in order to send a package, a return address was required. So, sticking to his original plan of hiding his identity from the owner, he made up a name and address and sent the package.
My family’s values are important for me to know about because I can and have learned from them. Their actions and beliefs have served as a foundation for my own way of life. As I grow older I continue to learn from their values and I create my own. MY personal values include loyalty, creative expression, humor, respect, and memory.
I find loyalty, nehemanoot, very important because everyone deserves someone they can rely on, to be there for them and to respect them. Being loyal is not only being nice when you are being noticed, but to stand up for someone or an idea when they are not around or not popular. When you trust someone, it is because they are loyal to you, it means you believe what they tell you, even when others say something different.
I think that being loyal to yourself is very important. This involves making the right choices for yourself, instead of ones that you will regret. Some people have a bat or bar mitzvah because they are obligated to, or because everyone else has one. I am having a bat mitzvah because I think it is the right choice for me. Being loyal to yourself means trusting your instincts and only doing something when you are sure YOU are the one who wants to- not anyone else.
Creative Expression, yitz-eer-ah-tee-yoot, is a part of my life. As many of you know, I like to laugh, create visual art, work with computers and technology, play the trumpet, dance, play basketball and other sports. I also enjoy other people’s creative expression. I think this value is important because if we were all to express ourselves in simple ways, life would not be as fun, diverse, or interesting. I think that with creativity, we can bring out the best in all of us.
Humor, hu-mor in Hebrew, is very important in my life. Because so much is serious, I believe it is very important to laugh and have fun no matter how hard things may be. Even though times may become difficult, a negative attitude will not make anything better. Laughing comes out of appreciating the good in life. I wonder, what is the point of living if you are only living with a negative attitude?
I value respect because everyone deserves to have their dignity preserved. I model respect by thinking about others’ feelings before I laugh or talk. No matter how much we may dislike someone, we all should be treated in a fair way.
My final value is memory, zikaron. I value memory because no matter how important the present is- the past can teach us lessons. Learning about the past helps us make the right choices for the future. Being loyal and respectful to those who died is of great importance as well.
Through the work I have done to complete this paper, I have gained a greater understanding of who I am and who my family is. It has been a truly rewarding experience.
A value is something that you keep close to your heart, or something you believe in and want to project to others. For this paper I spoke to many relatives who told me stories about themselves and their families. The values here were derived from those stories and passed down to me.
Family, in Hebrew, mishpacha, and friendship, chavareem, are the two most important values to me. In all my interviews these values kept coming up over and over. My parents and family are the people I know I can count on, and depend on. Family is the bond of life so I am not surprised that it appeared in many of my relative’s stories.
My great grandmother on my dad’s side, Millie Lewis, who I call Nan, was born in what is now the Ukraine, in 1906. She had a big family that came through Ellis Island and eventually moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. They all lived on the ground floor of an apartment and rented out the top two floors to other families.
Her mother, Ida Alluhut, always had a full house of friends and family and there was always room for more. As Nan said “even if you could only visit for a short time it’s okay because at least you visited.” When Nan died last December at age 99 I remember her saying that and it made me cry.
My great-great-grandmother on my Mom’s side was Sarah Katz Rosenbluth. Every Passover, even when Sarah had grandchildren, the entire family would move into her house for the whole week. This way only one household had to change the dishes and they could all be together. Every Sunday there would be a large family gathering at Sarah’s house. It was that important for all of them to be together.
Education, cheenuch, is very important in my family. I believe that in order to be successful in life you need to have a good education and I need and want the knowledge and culture to go far in life!
Education has been important to Jews since ancient times, when the Torah was read aloud seventy two times a year. It was the obligation of anyone who could read, to read it aloud and just as important for the people who couldn’t read to listen. This was meant for everyone, men, women and children, and is maybe the basis for the fact that we value education so much today.
Despite the fact that my great-great-grandmother Sarah, and my great-great- grandfather Louis Rosenbluth didn’t go to college themselves, it was their highest priority to send their children to college. They sent all the boys and girls even though it was rare for women to go to college in those days. They knew that knowledge was the key to life and success.
Leonard Orkin, my mom’s dad, comes from a small town outside of Boston, where his was the only Jewish family. His dad was the town tailor and his mom a homemaker. He received a full scholarship to Harvard. It was a place that made him question every thing and shaped his ideas causing him to be open to rights of others, seeing the true facts and not taking anyone’s word for what they said, this is where he became a critical thinker.
My dad believes in intellectual curiosity and that education never stops, at home he emphasizes the importance of study and hard work. Work, avodah, is a part of life and it is always better if you enjoy it, so I’m glad many of my relatives value their work. I think of work as a value because it is the foundation for every other part of life. I also believe that if you enjoy your everyday job you will do it
better and you will be a much happier person.
My grandmother on my dad’s side, Bobbie Lewis, lived in west Philly with her parents and two siblings, Harvey and Elaine. One day, when she was in 1st grade, she was walking home from school for lunch and she saw her street full of fire trucks and lots of people standing around. Her house and family hardware store was in flames.
The fire started in the basement and destroyed everything they had. She had to stay with her Aunt Sylvia until they rebuilt their home and hardware store from scratch. That experience really taught her the value of hard work. She has worked her whole life to support herself and her family. Last year she had a major stroke and she worked so hard so she could be here today and see her grandchildren
My great-grandfather on my dad’s side, Gus Lewis, brought his tiny arcade photography booth in South Jersey up to two full-sized studios in Philadelphia and Chester. He made them such a part of his life that one was in his own house. It was called Lewis Studios and by the time Gus retired he was very well known in Philly. His son, my grandfather Stan Lewis, as a child worked in the back rooms of the studio during the day. He had to wait until the workday was over to be able to go hang out in his room.
When there are people who are less fortunate then you, you should help them make ends meet and live life happily. A great gift of Charity, or tzedakah, was when Pop, my great-grandfather on my mom’s side, received money from his family, who were already living in Massachussetts, to get here from his small town in Russia.
That gift started my family in America.
My parents and grandparents both give a lot of money to charities every year. They give to charities that help impoverished people in other countries and locally. Now I also give some money to charities when I can.
I believe where you live is usually a big part of your life. That’s why Justice, tzedek and Community, kehilla are two of my values. Community can be anything from family to village and town, to the world as a whole, so I believe it is right to keep all of these places clean and keep them working well. Whether it be by lowering your CO2 emissions or picking up litter in your neighborhood, it is really important to help out. My dad helps design green sustainable buildings that are good for the environment, like his new building, Seven World Trade Center.
Gus Lewis, through his business clubs, encouraged people to buy U.S. bonds during WWII and Israel bonds throughout his life. He was also block warden during WWII telling people what to do in case of an air raid.
Louise, my mom’s mom, has always been very active in getting the right politicians elected in order to better society.
My mom is one of three co-chairs of the Irvington Education Foundation Gala which raises a significant amount of funds for the Irvington schools.
My last value is Humor, or hu-mor, but it is not the one I believe least in. I believe that if you are a humorous person and don’t go over the limit you can be someone people like being with. It also keeps a smile on your face and makes your outlook on life much better. Laughing is also really good for you and can actually make you live longer.
Looking at my values, and speaking with my family about theirs, has shown me that most but not all of the values I have are passed down to me by my family.
Most of their values were passed on by their parents and relatives and it keeps going back and back. Who knows, I probably have some of the same values as an ancestor of mine who lived a thousand years ago.
I’ve been shaping by personal values since the age of five, when my mother and I joined the City Congregation and I first started attending KidSchool, which emphasized Jewish values. In preparing for my bat mitzvah, I’ve looked at my world, who I am and what’s important to me, and I revisited my values, highlighting the ones by which I live my life, values such as determination, education, friendship, loyalty, and pursuing my dreams. I’ve always lived by these beliefs, but for the first time, I looked at them closely, where they came from, why I make certain choices. I looked at how they were shaped by my parents, their history, and how these beliefs have become my instincts.
Many of my values are connected to being a performer. I see performing as more than just an activity, as a passion that I plan to pursue throughout my life. Being aware of my values and their roots will help me make decisions as I move up in the acting world, as well as in the wider world.
Determination – n’chee-shoot — runs deep for me, since I come from a long line of immigrants who came to this country with little and, by their own hands, crafted good lives for themselves and their families. Abraham Winick, my maternal great-great grandfather, saved enough money in Russia to come to America, then saved up enough here to bring over his son Benjamin — my mother’s grandfather. They then saved enough to bring the rest of their family over. Ben Winick came to the U.S. at the age of 13 with a third grade education, determined to create a better life. He went from street peddler to being one of the first to sell his wares from the back of a car in 1916. He later built a successful Venetian blinds business. His company even had its own forest in Texas. During World War II, he sold the cords made from the trees to the government for use in parachutes.
My mother’s grandmother also came from Russia determined to have a better life. She used her talents as a seamstress when she arrived in 1920 at age 20, working hard to help provide for herself and her siblings. She married Ben and together they created a good life for their children, who grew into an extended family, many of them here today.
Then there’s the determination of my paternal grandfather, Stanley Silverstein, who survived the Holocaust. His remarkable will — and good instincts — got him through six years of unfathomable conditions, from the Lodz Ghetto to Auschwitz to the forced march through winter to concentration camp in Austria, where he was liberated at the age of 17. Even after liberation, he traveled in secret, much of it by foot, from the southern tip of Italy to northernmost Germany to re-unite with his sole surviving sister. After first immigrating to the newly formed state of Israel, he came to the U.S., where he worked in a factory and as a building superintendant. He provided for his family, put all three of his children through college and graduate school or medical school, and saved enough to retire to Florida.
Grandma Leah and almost all of her family survived the Holocaust thanks to her father’s foresight in fleeing to Russia. There, they had to survive exile to central Asia and their post-war escape through the Iron Curtain before settling in Israel, America, Germany, and elsewhere. Grandma had planned to travel here today to celebrate my bat mitzvah with me. But Grandpa Stanley passed away three days ago at the age of 81, unable to fight off yet another of the heart attacks that plagued him for almost 25 years. His passing is sad, but even in death, his strength was evident, his doctor having told us for the past ten years that it was only through his sheer will and his love of life that he was able to live long past the time his heart should have failed him.
My parents were determined to be successful in their careers too. They worked hard and fulfilled their dreams. My dad achieved success by being part of the first generation of personal computer programmers and as a businessman. My mom decided in college she wanted to be a newspaper reporter, put in the hard work and achieved it. Then she was successful in her second career in public relations. They both worked hard, faced rejection and competition, got what they wanted and are proud of their accomplishments. I know I’m willing to work hard, face rejection — as I already have experienced — and appreciate success. I will try not to lose sight of my dream and my belief in myself. I am determined to move on to the next audition and the next, and do my best.
Another important value passed down from both sides of my family is education — chee-nooch. Both of my parents and their siblings, as well as many other relatives, took advantage of the opportunity to get a good education, an option not available for earlier generations. Ben Winick, as I said, came here with only a 3rd grade education. His wife had even less, since Russian girls were not sent to school. My father’s parents were surviving the holocaust during what would have been their high school years and never had the luxury of making up for it afterwards.
But subsequent generations were given the love of learning. My mother’s Uncle Herman is a physicist at Stanford known for his cyclotrons (whatever that is). My dad’s sister, my Aunt Helena, has a PhD in political science and is a college professor. Both my Uncle David and my cousin David are doctors. And my dad has his all-but-dissertation PhD in economics. My mom and many others in our family strove to get the best education they could too. I believe in education too and plan to carry on that tradition.
From the age of two, I’ve wanted to be a performer. I’ve been getting theater training ever since. I have also been academically diligent. I chose a high school based not only on its theater program but its academic strength too. It will help me think critically and deeply. If my acting career does not take off, a good education will help me excel in other fields.
Loyalty — ne-he-ma-noot — has been valued by my family for many generations. Loyalty is knowing at least person will always stand by you during good times as well as difficult times, in an emergency and even when nothing much is going on. Loyalty is connected to trust. When someone is loyal to you, you can be open and not feel judged; you can get love and help. Loyalty helps you know you are not alone in the world.
One’s first loyalty is often to family — the Winicks sacrificing to bring each other to this country, one by one, to make a better life together; Grandpa Stanley sticking with his sisters in concentration camp and surviving together with his sister Gutcha, who died just a few years ago. There is also loyalty to “landsmen,” people from the old country, people Ben Winick helped throughout his life, and fellow survivors Stanley and Leah are friends with to this day. Loyalty to friends, and their belief in them, help my grandparents them believe in themselves – a tradition that is carried on by me with my friends and family.
I also count being loyal to myself as an important value, especially in the world of theater. It’s easy to be full of doubt and fear when I audition against my competition. But staying loyal to my belief that I can do it carries me through.
Then there is friendship — cha-vay-root — one of my most important values. A vital aspect of our lives is our interdependence, our reliance on family and on others. “Others” mostly means friends, in my book — like a second family, except that they’re your age and often are going through the same things you are. They can relate, they are an outlet for heart-to-heart conversations, they can appreciate jokes your parents would not. I consider myself lucky to have good friends from school, camp, the Poconos and the children of my parents’ friends. I treasure every one of them. I don’t know where I would be without them. True friends also support one’s dreams — cheering the successes, giving encouragement when things go wrong. My friends have supported my theater aspirations. They’ve understood when I am not available after school because I have rehearsal or class. And many come to see my shows.
My mom learned the importance of friendship from her mother and grandmother, who kept their many friends throughout their lives. So has she, with friends from as early as elementary school. My mom has passed this value to me — I try to make and keep friends, have relationships as warm and supportive as she has. Although my dad is more reserved, he too has many friends, from as far back as high school to people he met at the last Ranger game.
These are the values I consider important, that I try to live by. Many were passed down from generation to generation in my family, l’dor v’dor. I will develop others as I grow up, as I gain the greater understanding that experience brings, but I don’t expect to lose these particular beliefs. These are also the ones that connect me most as an actor. I believe that if I stay true to these values, my performing career and my life as a whole will be meaningful and enjoyable.