Students explore their family history and discover their families’ values and the roots of their own beliefs and principles.
Lana SchwartzOctober 14, 2017
Jakob Shonbrun-SiegeJanuary 7, 2017
Mia Shonbrun-SiegeJanuary 7, 2017
Jonah Edelman-GoldOctober 23, 2016
Camila GrunbergJune 25, 2016
Jack FlesherJune 12, 2016
Raven Kaplan-KarlickMay 21, 2016
Safia Singer-PomerantzApril 30, 2016
Alexander Kol HarrisMarch 5, 2016
Julian GerberJanuary 9, 2016
Maya Mondlak ReuveniOctober 3, 2015
Sophia SingerSeptember 27, 2015
Liana HittsApril 26, 2015
Austin ShatzNovember 22, 2014
Benjamin BottnerOctober 11, 2014
Liliana FranklinApril 27, 2014
Samantha StreitApril 5, 2014
Julian KeifetzOctober 13, 2013
Jolie ElinsOctober 12, 2013
Caleb KleinSeptember 29, 2013
Anna YoungSeptember 22, 2013
Alex BotwinSeptember 21, 2013
Jordan HallermanJune 30, 2013
Adrianna Keller-WymanJune 15, 2013
Yelena Keller-Wyman June 15, 2013
Georgia Dahill-FuchelJune 9, 2013
Ruby Rayner-HaselkornOctober 27, 2012
Olivia AlcabesNovember 17, 2012
James RyanOctober 22, 2011
Nicky YoungJune 13, 2010
Alicia BlumMay 8, 2010
Isaac MannJanuary 17, 2010
Ryan KramerDecember 5, 2009
Emily DykeOctober 25, 2009
Yoela KoplowMay 23, 2009
Abigail Lienhard CohenNovember 12, 2005
Alanna OlkenNovember 5, 2004
Alex RawitzFebruary 23, 2008
Anschel Schaffer-CohenJune 3, 2006
Ben FarberMay 12, 2007
Benjamin SternhellJune 17, 2006
Benjamin WeitzSeptember 9, 2006
Danielle NourokOctober 21, 2006
Gabe ZimmermanDecember 20, 2008
Jonah GarnickDecember 1, 2007
Jonah Lieberman FlintMay 16, 2009
Kyra ZimmermanNovember 18, 2006
October 14, 2017
When I first got this assignment, I was like, “Come on! I have music, dance, acting and singing classes plus auditions and hanging out with friends. How am I going to have time to write a Bat Mitzvah values paper?!” But then I realized that those are my values; so maybe this isn’t going to be so hard.
Values are important because they help guide you when things get hard. I wrote a family history paper and learned a lot about my family and their values. It helped me figure out what my values are. Today, I want to talk about creativity and artistic expression, humor, courage, education, and friendship.
Artistic expression and creativity (bee-too-we o-mah-noo-tee) are very important to me because sometimes they can help you express ideas that you can’t articulate, and you can show more emotion through them. I sing, I act, I dance and I play music. I’ve learned a lot about that from my family. Creativity and artistic expression have always been encouraged.
My mom has pretty much every talent in the arts. She’s an amazing dancer. She’s been dancing since she was four years old when she got diagnosed with scoliosis. She was accepted into the dance program in the magnet school she attended for middle school. She figured out that dance and choreography helped her get over being shy. She went on to perform in national and international tours with shows such as “A Chorus Line” and “West Side Story”. She taught dance and is now writing a book.
My dad started as an actor when he was a child. He was even up for the final two in Kramer vs. Kramer but refused to kiss Meryl Streep on the cheek because “she had cooties”. He went on to start an underground newspaper at his high school, wrote a bunch of comic books, and directed and produced a film. He’s now developing several shows for the stage, which I hope to be in.
My maternal grandmother, Rita Langer, is an artist. She paints collages, portraits and abstracts. She has them all over her house, and we even have some in our house too.
My maternal grandfather Roy Langer, (Tata), was an amazing comedian and ventriloquist. The dummies could express what he might not be able to say, but they could get away with it. He won “Best Young Ventriloquist In America” and went on to co-host the Horn and Hardart’s Children’s Hour on NBC.
My paternal grandmother, Ellen Weiss, was a dancer with the famous June Taylor dance company. She also knits, sews and cooks.
My paternal uncle, Michael Schwartz, is an incredible fashion photographer who photographs celebrities and even brought one of them to my house.
We have actors, clarinet players, and my paternal great uncle, Jack Lawrence, was a very famous songwriter. Some of you may have heard his songs such as: “Somewhere Beyond The Sea”, “All or Nothing at All”, and “Once Upon a Dream”, just to name a few.
This is definitely a value that has been passed down to me. I hope to always keep artistic expression and creativity in my life.
Humor (Hu-mor) is another value that’s very common in my family. I like this value because when things get tough, I can always find humor in situations. It helps to tone down the drama. And that’s important because there’s a lot of drama when you’re a theatre kid.
When my family is arguing, one of us will just burst out in laughter and this happens all the time. Even at my Grandfather Tata’s funeral, there were lots of laughs. People who got up and spoke told funny stories about him, and it helped ease the pain.
Everybody is always up for a good time, whether it’s following my directions when I’m directing them in a homemade movie, or telling jokes like my Grandpa Fred or telling jokes like my great grandfather, Pop. One Thanksgiving, I made my family, even those who have never danced, do the “whip and nay nay”. They were good sports and just went with it.
I’ve developed a sense of humor from my family. Humor has definitely helped me through a lot of transitions in my life, and that’s a value that’s important for me to keep.
My family has taught me that if you want to achieve something and have the life that you want, it all starts with education (Chee-nuch). When my great grandparents lived in Russia, Poland and Hungary, they didn’t have much education. There, education was a privilege and not a right.
When they came to America, education was a right. So, my great grandparents worked during the day, and went to school during the night so they could get better jobs. Education can only make me better at what I do.
In our family, we have BA’s, BFA’s, MA’s, MFA’s, medical degrees, law degrees, PHD’s, and even a rocket scientist. Some family members earned their degrees later in life.
I only hope that I can work as hard and be as successful as the rest of my family. How else am I going to get to Harvard Law?
The reason why so many people in my family have been successful is because they had the courage (o-metz lev) to try big things. One of the things my parents and I did in 2015 was move across the country in an RV. This took courage because we left everything we’ve always known in Los Angeles and started over in a new place because my family thought we’d have more opportunities. We actually got in an RV, which we’ve never driven before, and spent ten days living in it and visiting places we’ve never been before like the World’s Largest Fork and The Vacuum Cleaner Museum.
My Great Grandpa Murray had courage to run and become a NY State Senator. And after that, he started numerous businesses. My Grandpa Fred is a litigator (which I also hope to be someday), and it takes courage to get up in front of a courtroom and fight for your clients.
When my dad wrote his underground newspaper, the principal said that he wasn’t allowed to give them out on school property. He went to Grandpa Fred’s law office and came back to the school with a whole presentation on how it was completely legal to give them out on school property. The principal had to let him. And then after that, everyone, even the principal, wanted to be included in the paper, even if they were being made fun of.
My mom had the courage to go to Europe at 21 for the first time, without knowing anyone, and perform in musicals. She lived there for three years. She had to learn new languages, the money, and make new friends. She visited thirteen countries, and even had the courage to visit a concentration camp.
My grandpa, Patom, left his secure job as a VP at a big company selling china to start his own company.
My uncle Eddie traveled all over the world during his medical studies and even challenged himself to learn different languages.
And let’s not forget, the courage for our great grandparents to come over to America and start a new life.
I feel like courage is an important value to me because it helps me get through all my auditions, classes and even making new friends.
Friendship (Cha-vey-root) is one of the most important things in the whole world to me. But it really doesn’t matter how many friends you have, it matters if you’re a good friend.
My parents started as friends about 35 years ago. They went to the same middle and high school and they are still close friends with a lot of people who also attended those schools.
A true friend is unselfish and accepts you for who you are and doesn’t take you away from other things or people that you care about. I’m fortunate to have those kinds of friends.
When I moved away from my friends and I had to make all new friends, I didn’t know if my old friends would still be there for me, but they are and they’re always so supportive. That taught me not to take friendship for granted. My Aunt Mary told me some of her values are compassion and forgiveness, which I think are important for being a good friend.
Whenever I go down to Florida, my Nana Liz, Aunt Alison and Aunt Nicole always have plans with friends. They know everyone in their neighborhood, and they always make everyone feel welcome in their homes. When I’m there, their homes are usually buzzing with people coming in and out. It’s fun. Same thing with my paternal great Grandmother, Grams. She always has people in and out of her apartment.
Being with friends makes everything better. We always cheer each other on, whether it’s for auditions, dance class or talent shows. I love and value my friends (and family) more than anything else in the world.
As you can see, I inherited many of my family’s values, and I hope to continue passing them on. Writing this paper helped me to see the connection between my family’s values and my own. Being a Bat Mitzvah, I see myself emerging as a more independent person with values that will guide me throughout my life.
January 7, 2017
Every person, every family, every group, every state, and every country has values that pertain to them. And even though you may not agree with them, values are important. They define you. So, here are some of the values that I believe define my family:
The first value that I believe pertains to my family is education, chee-nuch. Many people in my family believe in the importance of education. For example, my grandfather, William, was the first one in his family to go to college and my grandmother, Selma, was an ELA teacher who went back to school to become a librarian. My father’s grandmother, my great-grandmother, however, did not get the luxury her daughter, Selma did. She only got up to a 5th grade education for she was told that all she needed to know how to do was write a shopping list. She worked many jobs just so her brother could go to college and then medical school! And because she didn’t have a good education the opportunities and jobs available to her were limited and the few jobs she could work in were menial and low-paid.
From this story, my own grandmother learned that getting a good education was essential in life. So, she went to college and got a degree to be a teacher and a librarian. My dad and his sister, my aunt, Emily, saw this and followed in her footsteps. My dad went to college and graduate school and got a BA, an MFA, and an MBA, majoring in political science and minoring in theater. Emily went to dance school, became a certified masseuse, and went to medical school to become a pediatrician, and now has become a child psychiatrist.
This story also connects to the value of determination, Hech-leh-tee-yoot. That is because Selma went back to school while raising two kids and teaching in a middle school. My dad and aunt saw this determination in her, and became determined themselves to do what she did. I am learning the same thing from my mother, Anne Shonbrun, who is getting a doctorate in higher education administration while sending my older sister, Carly, off to college, caring for me and Mia (which can be pretty tough), and working as a registrar at a medical school. Another example of determination as a value in my family is that my great-great-great grandmother was the first female doctor in Lackawanna County, a.k.a. Florida, despite not being allowed to attend medical school in America because she was a woman. But she didn’t give up; she went to Germany to become a doctor and then moved back to America to prove all those sexists wrong.
Another value that I believe defines my family is equality, Sheev-yon. Many of the stories I heard when interviewing my family members related directly to this value, such as the time when my grandmother on my father’s side, Grammy, was a high school teacher and she defied her superintendent’s orders to stop teaching Langston Hughes, an inspirational black poet who showed how blacks had a history just like any other race. It was approximately 1945 when Grammy, then an English teacher at Brooklyn Tech, thought it would be enlightening for her students to read and study Hughes’ poems, which were deemed inappropriate by her superiors. Grammy liked poetry, especially Hughes’ poetry, so she thought it would be good for her students to read some, which showed a point of view they were not used to seeing.
The superintendent questioned Grammy’s judgment about teaching this poetry. The poet was black and that was the only thing the superintendent saw. And Grammy didn’t think that was right so she argued. She and her superintendent sent a series of letters to each other about teaching these poems and in the end, Grammy was transferred to another school as punishment for sticking up for her values. She didn’t think it was fair that Hughes’ amazing poetry couldn’t be taught to and appreciated by students because he was a different color than they were. So she defended him and her reasoning behind her decision. She kept fighting for it and it almost cost her her job. She showed determination and commitment to equality, values that I have shown you to represent my family.
Another story that shows this value is when my dad was on a road trip with his family and they stopped at a restaurant to get some food. On the restaurant’s window there was a sign that said: “You are not welcome here. You know who you are.” When my grandfather saw this he immediately told them all to go back to the car. He drove away and found a different place to eat. My dad told me that he did this because he didn’t want to go anywhere where anyone was not accepted or treated fairly. I think that is a very good reason for what he did and it shows how he believed in equality strongly just like I do, and many of the members of my family.
Another value of my family’s, one that you may already know seeing as my mother and sister, Carly, are and were the canters of this congregation, is art, Oh-mah-noot, and music, Moo-see-ka. My entire life, I have been surrounded by music and art. Carly and Mia took piano lessons for years. Everyone in my family sings but me, which is too bad because it’s the number one thing they make fun of me for, and/or plays an instrument. It’s not a surprise that I joined band in middle school and picked up the saxophone. Music has always been a part of my life, and is part of everyone else in my family’s too. Now, to art. My uncle, Robert, and my grandmother, Virginia, I call her Nonna, are wonderful painters. My siblings, cousins and I have been taking painting lessons from Nonna since we were babies. (I wouldn’t say painting for me. I made things more like big, colorful scribbles). In addition, other types of art have been a big part of my family. My grandmother on my mother’s side was a journalist who worked for multiple newspapers and magazines. My mother and her father both ran theater companies and my dad was a puppeteer and he worked for St. Ann’s Theater. As you can see, art of all shapes and sizes surrounds my family.
My family has many values and beliefs that have been passed down all the way to me, and have shaped my life enormously. And because I am technically becoming a man today, I should have these amazing values, and because of my family, I do.
January 7, 2017
Before beginning this bat mitzvah process I had never been asked this question, “What are some of your family and personal values?” But after thinking about it, I was able to identify some values that are very important to me and to my family. And I learned that values are things you believe in personally and on which you have your own thoughts and opinions. Family values are things your family as a whole believes in and maybe you learned about this because of your family.
I think creativity (Y’Tzeer-Ah-tee-oot) is a personal and family value. I think it’s a family value because my dad used to do story telling and he would make up stories that were really funny and good. And he had so much enthusiasm with each of the voices and the tone of the story. My sister used to make puppet shows and drawings and so much other stuff to entertain my brother and me; all of it was so creative and nice. My grandma painted for a living and still paints and my uncle is a great artist. I think creativity is a personal value of mine because a lot of people say I’m creative about writing stories and cards and other things. I also really like to draw. Some other people in my family that had creativity in their lives include my dad’s father. He was an impressive sculptor and my family has many of his creations. He was also an amazing gardener, and did theater work when he was young. Another person was my mom’s dad. He was a puppeteer, an actor, and a stage manager. Both my dad’s mom and my mom’s mom were poets, but my mom’s mom made money from it, and she was also a famous journalist. I think creativity and art are different. They are different because art is something you do for a living, or things you make, but creativity is a personality trait people can have that makes them enjoy or be good at creating different, unique things.
Education (Chee-nuch) is a family value. My parents think it’s very important to do well in school and get good grades, as do most. But my mom got a master’s degree in counseling and is now getting a doctor of education degree. My dad got an MFA and an MBA. My grandma had two master’s degrees. My aunt went to medical school, then went back after finishing and did another residency in child and adolescent psychiatry which led into a fellowship. My mom’s dad got a BA and from that became a teacher in theater and speech. My mom’s mom got a BA and then a masters degree. She went from Florida to New York in her early twenties to go to the Columbia school of journalism. Many other people in my family have had great education. My dad’s mom got two masters degrees. First she taught English for twenty-five years, then went back to school and got a degree in library science. My great-great-great grandmother was the first female doctor in Florida. Her husband gave up his medical practice to go with her to Germany, which was the only place she could train as a woman to become a physician, because she couldn’t in her own country. My family thinks education is important because it opens your mind to see new things and helps you learn how the world works.
Friendship (Cha-vey-root) is a personal value of mine. I think that because I have many friends who mean the world to me. And with friendship there is trust, and love. And although my friends and I might fight, we trust our friendship enough that we always find a way to get over it. My siblings are also just as much my friends. My brother and I make each other laugh constantly, get each other, and have a lot of fun. My sister and I tell each other everything, and joke around together. And sometimes my family and I have great times, and amazing memories together.
Independence (Atz-ma-oot) is another personal value of mine. I think it’s important that once someone gets older that you are able to do things on you own such as going places by yourself or staying home by yourself. On the other hand, it’s not much of a family value because my parents are very strict about me doing things alone. That is more because my family really values safety and togetherness for Jakob, and Carly and me. It’s hard being able to have safety AND independence because together they kind of work like a seesaw, you can have one or the other. In a way they are opposites and you have to choose which is more important for you to have.
I think charity (Tz-dah-kah) is an important family value. My family gives a lot of money every year to many organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which is for a woman’s right to choose when she has a child, Sierra Club, an organization to help protect wild life, and others. Also, we volunteer at Sean Casey Animal Rescue. After Hurricane Sandy, we put together all our stuff we haven’t used like clothes, and toys for kids, and we bought food and supplies for people who might have need. We brought them to John Jay High School, which is where people stayed who had their homes ruined or children who didn’t have any family. My grandparents also supported many charities. My mom’s parents supported Save the Children, which was where you donated money to a certain child in a poor country. My dad’s parents supported many charities including Southern Poverty Law Center, many on women’s issues, and Jewish organizations. I think it’s very important and good how my family supports many charities together, and charities are a very good way of getting rid of the problems around the world. Some charities I would donate to are animal rights charities, or Planned Parenthood. I would donate to Planned Parenthood because it is about women’s rights and independence and independence is an important value of mine.
Animal rights (Tza-ar ba-ah-ley hy-eem) is a personal value of mine. I think animals deserve to be treated fairly. Ever since I was very young, I would go to Sean Casey Animal Rescue, in Brooklyn, and walk dogs and feed cats, gerbils, mice, snakes, lizards, and other animals. Any time I watch a movie that has animals getting hurt I start to cry. And in 7th grade I learned about animals being used for cosmetics testing and many other things and being killed in the process. I saw pictures and read information that proved that animal testing was wrong, pointless and a waste of money. Most of the time, even if the testing worked, even though 96% of the time it doesn’t, it still goes to no use because often the cosmetics are still used and an animal died for no reason. This made me realize that I want to do something to help animals that are being treated unfairly. This upset me because animals affect us so deeply, in a different way than people do because you care for animals, you cuddle with them when you are sad. The fact that scientists would actually kill animals knowing it doesn’t work 96% of the time is very upsetting because they probably think animals are not as valued as humans are. I disagree with that. Protecting animal rights is also a family value. It is because my family and I have donated money to shelters, and time taking care of many animals in need. My cousin and her family have rescued many animals off the streets.
I think environmentalism (Ha-ga-not Ha-teh-va) is a family value.
Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology, and social movement regarding concerns for environmental protection and the improvement of the health of the environment. Environmentalism is a value of my family’s because my sister wants to be an environmental lawyer when she’s an adult and over the summer she went to many places to help the environment such as the Dominican Republic to help build a sustainable school. Also my dad and mom now compost. And I think it’s starting to become a personal goal because I used to take really long showers but now I make them a lot shorter, and I now think of things around the house we could do to help out a bit like to unplug all the chargers when we are not using them. I think an environment is nature, but also communities and neighborhoods. And when you see old beautiful buildings get taken over by chain stores like Dunkin Donuts you’re also engaging environmentalism. You want to protect your environment and keep it the way is was. I grew up with it looking old and beautiful and that’s probably why people feel so passionate about preserving their neighborhoods.
Authenticity (Ah-mee-toot) is a personal value of mine. I’m a unique person and I think that’s a very important part of my life. That relates to what I said about environmentalism because I think that having a neighborhood that is different from others and that has stores and buildings that are one of a kind is important. When chain stores start taking over beautiful places, all neighborhoods start looking the same and there’s nothing unique or authentic about them. Authenticity relates to people because if you’re unique and act the way you want to you stand out from other people and you’re remembered, but if you start acting and dressing like other people to “fit in”, you’re not yourself, you’re just like everybody else.
After going through the process of thinking about my values and my family values, I not only learned a few things about my family, I also learned a few things about myself. Many of the values that my parents have had their whole lives, have been passed to me and are becoming an important part of my life. I learned that I had values that I was using without knowing I had these values. And I learned that I live my daily life using some of the values I share with my family.
October 23, 2016
When you learn about history in school, it feels like you’re just doing it for school. But when you learn about your own family history, you have more of a motive to learn because it feels more personal. While I was learning about my family history, I recognized values that my relatives have that I also have. A lot of values stood out, but I narrowed them down to six of the most important to my family and me.
My first value is Justice and Social Justice. I believe justice to include Fairness, Honesty and Equality. One example of social justice is when my Grandpa Jack was a soldier in China during World War Two. He was very upset about the poverty and the injustice he saw there, and, even though it was against the U.S. Army rules, he arranged to meet the Chinese Communists because they wanted to make people’s lives better. Every Sunday he and some friends met at a restaurant and discussed Communism. One Sunday he met Mao Zedong there and talked to him about his political beliefs. Though Grandpa made lifelong friends in China and loved its people and culture, he didn’t always agree with the Chinese government’s actions, and when the government killed many Chinese citizens in Tiananmen Square because they were demonstrating for more freedom, Grandpa spoke out against that. My grandparents were also opponents of the Vietnam War and went to peace marches when my mother and uncles were growing up. My grandma Dot tutored underprivileged children and volunteered at Planned Parenthood to help pregnant teenagers. This shows that she cared about helping those in need.
Another example is my grandparents on my dad’s side. They always believed in equality for all people. When my grandpa Harvey moved from New York to Baltimore as a teenager, he was upset by the segregated schools, water fountains, bathrooms and restaurants he saw there. My grandma Beverly worked with black students and was also committed to social justice. When an amusement park became desegregated she took my uncle Ricky and my dad there the first day to make a point. (My dad tells me the episode formed the basis of a famous film and musical called Hairspray.) One more example is my uncle Ricky, who helps people in poor countries live better lives. He works for the US Agency for International Development, and specializes in women’s rights and reducing government corruption in places like Haiti, Liberia and Lebanon. He is also on the board of an organization that works to reduce discrimination against the “untouchable” caste in India. My cousin Sarah worked on Palestinian rights, living in the West Bank and working with special-needs Palestinian children. Everyone in my family believes in the importance of treating others the same way they would like to be treated. Also, many told me that they were brought up to be honest and treat others fairly.
A big part of social justice is standing up for others, and an example of this comes from my dad, who told me a story about when he was in Boy Scout camp. There was a boy there named Gordon, who was emotionally disturbed. In one part of the program, Boy Scouts gave first aid demonstrations, and made themselves up to look injured, with fake blood. One kid had an idea to scare Gordon by making up another camper to look like he was dead. Then the camper would pretend to come back to life and chase Gordon. My dad knew this was the wrong thing to do and declined to help the other boys set Gordon up. But he didn’t say, “Don’t do it.” When the prank occurred, Gordon started screaming and was unable to calm down. It was so bad that they had to drive him home from camp. By coincidence, my dad had to leave the camp early also and was in the car with Gordon, who cried the whole drive back. This taught my dad a valuable lesson that if something is wrong, speak up and stop it.
My second value is Education. Education is the love of learning and sharing it with others. Many of my relatives have been teachers, like my grandpa Harvey, my grandmas Beverly and Stella, and my great uncle Eddie and great aunt Roz, or tutors, like my grandmothers Beverly and Dot. One example of how important education is in my family is that my grandma Dot’s parents moved to Croton because of a progressive school there. Grandma loved that school and said that her values of social justice and equality were ones she learned there.
School was also important to my grandma Beverly. Her dad didn’t want to pay for her to go to college, but she found a way to get the money and went to a teachers’ college anyway. She spent her life teaching others, and she wanted to be remembered as an educator. She didn’t like spending money, but she told her sons, “There will always be money for education.” Education is a big value that I will never ignore.
My next value is Environmentalism. The Earth is where everybody lives and it’s like your home – you always want it to be healthy and clean. My mom, dad, sister, and I participated in the Climate March in New York City in September 2014, protesting against global warming. My mom feels strongly about environmentalism, and demonstrated against a nuclear power plant in northwestern Massachusetts to raise awareness about it. She took a risk and got arrested just to bring attention to the plant and its effect on the Earth. I think that was brave of her.
Another important value is Creativity. This includes Music and Support of the Arts. One of the biggest examples of supporting the arts is my great-grandpa Henry, who collected Impressionist and post-Impressionist art and whose collection recently toured around the world. One example of Creativity is my dad, who is a musician and composer. My uncle Jon is a writer and a painter. I could give many more examples of filmmakers, musicians, singers, graphic artists, actors, writers, and sculptors on both sides of the family. Over the past two summers I learned glass fusing and glass blowing at camp, and know just how satisfying it is to create something beautiful out of nothing.
My fifth value is Family. Family means being loyal to, supportive of, and trusting of your relatives. One example of this is my grandpa Jack, who, when his father died, dropped out of graduate school and took over his father’s business to support his family. It wasn’t his first choice, but he did it anyway because of family. When some of my great grandma Rosie’s family first came to the US, they opened a candy store in Brooklyn. Everyone in the family worked together to bring more relatives over from Russia, and older children earned money to help pay for school for the younger children. This shows me that my relatives were selfless. They put their family’s needs before their own.
My last important value is Charity. A really big example of this is my uncle Danny. He was involved in an organization that tried to bring simple technological solutions to underdeveloped countries. One of the things his organization did was to distribute bicycle-powered LED lanterns to people in Burundi, a country in Africa where many rural villages do not have electricity. These bicycle-powered lights allow students to study at night and make it safer to walk around their village. Here at home my sister, Lily, and I give some of our allowance to charities like the ASPCA and The Food Bank of NYC. Every time we get allowance my parents take two dollars away and save it until the end of the year, when we decide where to give it. My parents set this up because they value charity a lot.
Now that I know about the stories of these six values in my family, I can use them to guide me when making choices in my future. When I was asked which one is the most important, I answered, “I can’t put one in front of the other.” To be the best person I can be, I need all of these values – Justice and Social Justice, Education, Environmentalism, Creativity, Family and Charity.
June 25, 2016
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.
June 12, 2016
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.
May 21, 2016
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.
Alexander Kol Harris
March 5, 2016
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.
January 9, 2016
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.
Maya Mondlak Reuveni
October 3, 2015
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.
September 27, 2015
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