April 27, 2014
Going back through the generations, my family members have always demonstrated their commitment to family, loyalty, honesty and hard work, courage and determination, education and knowledge, artistic expression, and also a love of animals. These values have been passed down from generation to generation, down all the way to my mother and me, who continue to live by these values today. Although many of the family members I will mention lived long before I was born, I use anecdotes about these relatives to show how far back these family values go, and often how they first developed.
My family shares the value of family, meesh-pah-cha, and loyalty, neh-eh-mah-noot. One of my only living relatives, but one who is central in my family history and values, is my grandpa on my mom’s side, Michael. He was born and raised and still lives in Los Angeles, with my Grandma Betty. Grandpa Michael had a close family that looked out for each other and they valued honesty, ken-oot, and honoring one’s parents, kee-bood av v’em. His parents, Toby Glassman and Ben Frankenstein, raised four children and cared for other family members during hard times, like The Great Depression. They helped raise their brothers and sisters. They had no religious education but they had a deep faith and celebrated the major Jewish holidays. They both spoke Yiddish. Grandpa Michael’s grandparents, Wolf and Rachel Frankenstein, came to America from Russia. His other grandparents he recalls came from Germany. I don’t know as much about my mom’s side of the family, but we think they came from Poland and Germany. My grandmother on my mom’s side, Rita Anne Cohen, was not religious and even celebrated Christmas. She worked very hard to support my mom and her brother as a single mother.
My mom, Barbara, valued family so much that she adopted me. She adopted me from Russia when I was 11 months old. She sent me clothes and toys when I was in the orphanage in Novosibirsk. She even sent me a mermaid toy that made a magical sound when you squeezed it. I still have it but it no longer makes noise. She had to go through a lot to adopt me, which shows the family value of courage, O-metz lev, and determination Hech-leh-tee-yoot.
These values also shone through during World War II, when Grandpa Michael and his brother Marvin went in the Army. This also showed loyalty to the country. Grandpa went into engineer construction batallions where he became a battalion sergeant major. His battalion served in the Philippines. The battalion was scheduled to invade Japan but the war ended so his went to Yokahama, Japan to reconstruct and rebuild. He spent four years in the Army. Marvin served in France, Luxembourg, Belgium, Germany and Austria. He remembers discrimination against Jews during the war and never bought German products after the war.
My family values education, or, chee-nuch. As far back as my Great Great Aunt Esta, Great Grandma Toby’s sister, it was a value that my family held dear. My grandfather remembers how much his Aunt Esta, who never went to college and worked as a secretary, encouraged him to focus on his studies, and eventually to go to college. After the Army, he persevered to get an education because of Esta’s encouragement. He and his brother, Marvin, went to school on the “G.I. Bill,” a law that helped pay for college for soldiers when they came home. Grandpa graduated with highest honors in economics from UCLA and also with highest honors from USC School of Law.
My Grandma Betty explained to me that after WWII everybody in the community believed the highest purpose in life was to become educated. They believed the more education you had, the more opportunities there would be. With the G.I. bill there were more doctors and lawyers especially in the Jewish community. They all went to college. There was a Jewish intellectual tradition. The Orthodox studied every day.
My grandfather’s respect for education and knowledge inspired my mom to go to college where she worked very hard and eventually became a journalist, writing about law. She won a fellowship for journalists to study at Yale Law School, and co-wrote a book about women from Harvard Law School trying to have careers and raise children at the same time. I’m inspired by both of their educational journeys to work my hardest in school, go to college, and pass on the values of education and knowledge, bee-na, to my children.
Throughout the generations my family has shown examples of hard work, a-vo-dah ka-shey and passionate commitment, heet-la-ha-voot. After the war, Great Uncle Marvin started a successful men’s sportswear manufacturing company in Los Angeles and Great Grandpa Ben joined him. They worked very hard, starting with just 14 sewing machines. Grandpa Michael devoted much of his career passionately furthering the interests of television and movie writers, whom he admired greatly. He worked for 20 years as the main leader and labor negotiator for the Writers’ Guild of America, West. When he began, the union was small but during his time there it grew larger and stronger. He helped win writers more credits and money for their work and a health and retirement plan.
Grandpa also believed in equal rights for all. So it made sense when, after he took the same job working for directors, and a small group of successful women directors came to him complaining that women couldn’t get hired to direct, he listened and tried to help them. He helped them do research that showed women were getting just half of 1% of the work! He invited all the big movie companies to breakfast to talk about the problem but no one came. The newspapers wrote about it and called it “The Danish Debacle” because of all the leftover pastry. He decided to sue the movie studios for discrimination on behalf of all women directors, which helped bring the number of women directors working up to 16% in ten years – not a huge number but at least it was better. These examples show the family values of education, hard work, passionate commitment, truth, justice and also courage and determination.
As I said, my mom also showed some of these values. In college, she began writing for her college newspaper and became a journalist. She loved interviewing people and trying to get at the truth. She thought journalism was a way maybe she, too, could help improve the world, tee-koon-o-lahm. She liked writing about law because she believed in it and of course, freedom of speech.
There are other examples of how freedom of speech along with artistic expression, bee-too-eye o-mah-no-tee, have been valued in our family. Grandpa Michael had a close cousin that he grew up with, Mel Nimmer, who was an expert in freedom of speech and copyright law. As a lawyer, Cousin Mel was best known for winning a United States Supreme Court decision that said a state cannot criminalize speech. The court struck down the conviction of a 19-year-old man who had walked into the Los Angeles courthouse with a shirt reading “F___the Draft.” Of course, it didn’t just say “F”. The decision became one of the leading cases interpreting the First Amendment to the Constitution protection of freedom of speech. As a professor, Cousin Mel wrote the book used in law schools that teaches students about copyright law. Today his son David carries on his father’s work.
When it comes to artistic expression, our family, through my Great Uncle Marvin and Great Aunt Regina, has even produced its own writer/director in my second cousin Howard, and an actor in his son, Nelson, who is on the TV show “The Millers.” For me, I value artistic expression because it is a fun way to communicate your feelings. Art is one of my favorite subjects in school and I love to draw, paint, sketch and create original items like duct tape wallets and pens! I also love to sing. My mom used to sing and has taken me to mini-musicals like “Broadway Playhouse” since I was little, where I’ve learned about Broadway’s most famous composers and lyricists and sung along with the cast. I have done musical theater at TADA! and I am really excited to be singing in my school Talent Show in a couple of weeks!
Another value my family shares is animal rights, or, tza-ar ba-ha-ley hy-eem. My grandfather supported the ASPCA. My grandparents used to have two dogs named Benji and Mindi. They both lived long lives because my grandparents took great care of them and loved them very much. Now my grandparents have a sweet and loving dog named Lexi. Whenever they go out, they leave the radio and a light on so that he doesn’t get lonely. When they get home, he runs to the door when he hears the keys. When the door opens, he jumps up on them to show how happy he is that they are home. My mom had a cat when she was younger who had kittens in her pajama drawer. When she was older, she had other cats including one that was blind. I had a fish that I loved and cherished, but sadly he passed on last year. Oddly, because I am Jewish, his name sounds weird. I named him…Christmas.
I have a passionate commitment to animal rights because I don’t believe in animal cruelty. Most of all, I love dogs. I think someone who inspired me was my mom’s friend, Judy Bain, who is here today. She has rescued at least three cats and one dog (that I know of – I am sure there are many more). The dog was lying in the street. Judy saw the dog and took her in and it turned out that the dog was pregnant. She had 9 or 10 puppies. In a way, Judy saved more than one life. She has inspired me because she has helped animals and I want to do the same. Already I have started on that path with my community service work. You’ll hear more about that later!
These are the values that have been passed down to me and that I plan to pass down to my children.