Bottner Family Values (2014)

By October 11, 2014 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Family Values
The following essay on family values,  including curiosity, was written by Benjamin Bottner, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this values component can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Benjamin Bottner
October 11, 2014

Family values are what make us who we are and help us with our decisions we make in life. My family has a lot of values that helped them along life’s journey.

For this paper, I interviewed a few members of my family for information on our family’s history. I learned a lot about where our family came from and how my great and great great grandparents got here.

Like them, I am an immigrant too because, as most of you know, I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan. My journey may have been different, but I still immigrated to the US. I learned that my family also has many different identities. They are Polish, English, Austrian Hungarian, American, Jewish and Christian. I have many different identities too. I am Azerbaijani, my mother gave me a Jewish and American identity and I sort of feel Israeli. I have a bit of a Muslim identity but I don’t know much about it, although I am fascinated with Islam. Every year, my mother and I go to a different American city to celebrate with other families who have also adopted children from Baku. I have been to Israel five times. My identity is a value to me because it helps me know who I am and what kind of person I want to be in life.

One value I share with my mother is curiosity (sakranut). I have always been a curious person. Since the moment my mother met me, she told me that my eyes darted around the room looking at everything. I can’t say specifically what I was looking at but she told me my eyes couldn’t stop looking. I was a late talker but as soon as I could speak, I have never stopped asking questions. I drive people crazy with my questions. I just want to know. I read books, look up stuff online, search through dictionaries, resource books, anything. I am constantly stealing my mother’s computer in order to look something up or check a database. Curiosity is a part of me and it is also a core value.

My first family value is hard work (avodah kasha). My family is made of immigrants. They came to the US for economic reasons and each one of them had to work hard to support their families. Stella Bottner, my grandfather’s mother, worked her whole life. She worked hard as a seamstress in a factory, and then with her husband Jacob in the laundry business, and took over the business when he died in the 1950s. Her sisters started working in factories at the age of 12 because their family needed money. My grandmother’s grandmother, Hannah Markowitz, had a seamstress business in her house, earning money so that her four children could finish high school.

At the age of ten, my grandfather, Harold Bottner, became a delivery boy for his father’s laundry in the Bronx. He brought laundry to people’s houses on a bike, or in his dad’s truck. My grandfather told me, “It didn’t matter what I was doing, on Saturdays, my father would blow a horn when I was in the middle of a stickball game and I had to drop everything. I felt mad, but I kept my feelings to myself. It would be an hour of delivery and then I would go back to the game if there was still a game”. I think this shows the value of hard work because he was helping his family’s business by working alongside his father.

When my grandfather had some business losses, he persevered and started his own sweater company called HMB/Andrew Rohan. I think my grandfather’s early experience showed him how to work hard and if you persevere and push through a difficult situation, that good things will come your way.

Hard work is one of my values. I love aviation and have worked hard to learn as much as I can about anything aviation. I spend hours dreaming, planning, building, redesigning and flying radio-control airplanes. You may not think this goes under the category of hard work but I work hard, very hard, to build and complete my designs.

Friendship (y’deedoot) is also a family value and is my value too. My grandfather Harold has friends he has known since he was seven years old. He met one of his friends, Sandy Marks, when he was 11 years old. He saw my grandfather fighting and wanted to know who that kid was. They have remained friends ever since. Sandy even married my grandmother Dorothy’s first cousin. My uncle Andy and my aunt Karen have friends they have known since they were five years old and my mother’s oldest friend is Joanne. They met when they were seven. I have friends that I have known since I was two or three years old. It will be interesting to know if we’ll all still be friends at age 80.

Another pair of family values that I share is community (kehilla) and bettering the world (tikkun olam). My mother sends me to a public school that emphasizes “community.” At my school, Community Roots, we have core values such as honoring yourself and others, trying new things, and doing community service. Core values are so important in my school that we are graded on how well we practice these core values.

When Isaac Markowitz, my grandmother’s grandfather, came to the US with his two friends, they set up a society called the Mogielnica Society. It helped people who emigrated from their town, Mogielnica, which is outside of Warsaw, Poland. When people came, Issac let them stay in his house. He helped them find jobs, places to live and gave a welcoming hand to these newcomers.

In high school, my mother volunteered every Saturday morning to work with special needs kids for about three years. She worked on many political campaigns and she told me she has a hard time not getting involved in each organization she is a part of.

My cousin Dianne works at an environmental organization in Connecticut that is dedicated to cleaning up and educating people about the Long Island Sound. As a reporter Dianne did a series of articles that had a big impact on her community. She wrote about how much pollution there was in the Long Island Sound. This inspired one man in the community who valued the Long Island Sound to take action to help clean up the water. He started raising money to fund an environmental education foundation he called Soundwaters. Today Dianne works at Soundwaters.

Creativity (Y’tzeer-ah-te-oot ) is another value I share with my family. Morris and Elsie Markowitz were both commercial artists. Elsie’s sisters were actresses on the English and American stage. My mom told me that Morris, a self-taught artist, encouraged most everyone to go to art school, and many family members did. My mother studied painting and museum education. She has taught art to children in New York City classrooms, museums and community centers. She has created many different kinds of artwork. For many years, she worked in her studio and made paintings and sculptures. Today she makes embroidery drawings of me when I was little. Creativity is an important part of my mother’s life. Other family members are singers, musicians, photographers and painters.

My family values of kindness (Che-sed) and generosity (Na’dee’voot) have had a big impact on my life. Not only do I notice kindness and generosity in my family, I also see it with our friends that are like our family. My uncle Andy and my grandfather in the business world have the reputation of kindness, generosity and honesty. I notice that these three values kind of tie together in this situation.

When my great-grandfather Morris’ brother died, his wife worked in the same place as Morris. Morris gave her money out of his salary into hers; she never knew.

My grandparents are a great example of kindness and generosity. They help us in so many ways that are big and small. My grandmother always lends a helping hand. When my grandparents lived in NY, they would come stay with me when my mother had to go out of town.

We have many friends that are like our family. They all demonstrate the values of kindness and generosity – they are all the kindest and most generous people I know. These are only a few examples. Joanne went with my mother on her first visit to Azerbaijan. She knew my mother needed her support and she generously offered. Our cousin Dianne did the same on the second trip.

The Ophir family in Israel is always there to help us in whatever way we need. I am in awe of their endless kindness and generosity. They always pick us up at the airport, we can stay at their house any time we want, if we need something they figure out how to help us and make us feel at home.

Our friend Laurie in Israel is also very generous. When my mom first went to Israel, her family opened her house to my mother. Laurie introduces us to all kinds of new experiences – taking us to her ceramic classes, introducing us to her friends, and buying me ice cream when I ask.

One value I must mention in closing is humor (Hu-mor). I know that’s a family value because when we get together we laugh a lot. I heard about the exploits of Morris. He was always trying to make people laugh. He did practical jokes such as trying to distract his brother-in-law by making a hot seat, or pretending to be Moishe Kapoah, the man who does everything backwards. Now it’s our family humor and lore because we laugh so hard when we reminisce about our Poppop.

In thinking about my family values, I noticed a lot of values overlap. For instance, many of the values of family and community overlap with generosity and kindness. From interviewing my family and learning about family stories, I started to notice common values. It isn’t as if my family said this is my value, or I value this. I read my interviews and pulled out the values that seemed to stand out. My grandfather didn’t tell me hard work is a value. I understood from his life story that it was an important value for him and an example for me to follow in my life.

I have two families – one is presented in this paper and the other I know nothing about. I have met many people from the place I was born, Baku, Azerbaijan. Azerbaijanis seem so generous, kind, accepting, hardworking and proud of their community. They embody many of the values of my family in spite of our different experiences, beliefs, and walks of life. Meeting people from Azerbaijan helps me to connect to the part of myself I may never know. It helps me understand who I might have been and who I have become. Despite the differences in circumstances, my two selves are connected through the similarities I have discovered. This is what makes me who I am.