The following essay on family values, including creativity, was written by Benjamin Casper, 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.
A value is something that you have in order to guide yourself through life, and to set strengths for yourself in the future. It is these strengths that allow people to continue to keep going in times when they are down. This is very important because it is vital for building relationships and bonds in general. I have noticed that my own family members are very good at using their values to create strong bonds with each other. Therefore, even though I don’t really see my extended family that often, we still have a very close relationship with each other. Through my work on this paper, I found that many of my family members share several values.
The first value that I am going to discuss with you today is Independence, or Atz-ma-oot. This value is exemplified by my grandfather Eitan. Growing up in Haifa, Eitan was the son of a baker, and his family was poor but very hard working, like many of the people in his neighborhood at that time. As a young person, he was very resourceful, and would do many things for himself. For example, after graduating college, he traveled to Europe on his own, and took a scooter all throughout the continent. Another example of Sabah’s independence is when he started his own plastics company in London, England, called SharDan Products, named after his first children, the twins Sharon and Dan. For 25 years, he followed his vision and grew a successful business, producing toiletry bags, Kleenex boxes, slippers, and other home products. Even after selling the business, Sabah has kept busy being his own boss as the landlord for several residential properties in London and Israel.
Another value that is incredibly obvious in my family is Courage, also known as O-metz-lev in Hebrew. To me, courage is having the will to do something bold and brave. One important courage-related story that I would like to share with you is about my grandfather William (or Wills). He is a Holocaust survivor, and an incredibly strong-willed and caring man. This story takes place in a concentration camp during the war. It’s midnight. Around 50 Jews are called out to be taken to the showers. Wills and his older brother, Oscar, had heard about what happens there, and Oscar runs off and hides. But Wills, being Wills, thinks to himself that if this is his time, then so be it. He stays right where he is, and is marched off with the others. Amazingly, water actually came out of the shower heads that night, and Wills and his brother were both released as part of a Kinder Transport shortly afterwards. The fact that Wills was able to take even one step into those shower rooms, to me, is astonishing, and incredibly courageous. If I were in that situation, I’m sure I’d be seriously terrified. Thank you, Wills, for continuing to be courageous and strong-willed. It’s deeply inspiring.
The next value I would like to address is Adventurousness, or Har-pat-kanoot. This is a strong value on both sides of my family because many of us have risk-taking personalities, and we enjoy exploring new parts of the world as well as new parts of life. My mom’s brothers Steve and Dan are perfect examples of this value – they both love to travel in search of ways to help the disadvantaged. One of Dan’s first jobs was working in the Himalayas of Nepal, in a small village called Okhaldhunga. He was there for two years, living in a simple home with a stream to bathe in, walking the mountains in flip flops, and teaching the locals how to design roadside plantings that would prevent landslides. Steve has done countless things for people in countries all over the world. Just recently he went to Calais to bring supplies to the Middle Eastern refugees there, as well as to film their stories.
The third value that I will be presenting today is Creativity, or Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot, in Hebrew. This is a value that is also strong within my entire family. For example, my grandmother Patricia has created her own path and has truly taken flight with all of her creative passions, including acting, painting, and gardening. You can even see it in her ability to find beautiful places for our family to stay in the summer, giving us all memorable experiences. Another example of this is when she draws something and, as she says, “takes her pencil for a walk,” to create something unusual. Patricia then transforms the doodle using Photoshop into something that is museum worthy. To me, it is incredible to have a grandparent who is able to do so many things at once. Thank you so much Patricia for your creativity and passion, it is something we could use more of.
The next value that I would like to share with you is Passionate Commitment, or M’see-root in Hebrew. This value is very prominent in my dad because he is so passionate about photography, and about his work. Often when my family goes on hikes, my dad will suddenly be trailing behind us in order to get a photo. Although this can be very frustrating, as Theo and I do not always appreciate hikes like our parents do, it is another part of my dad that I love. His commitment can also be seen in his relationship to his work. There are quite often times when he will be up until three or four in the morning to finish a presentation or project of some sort. My mom tends to be worried about my dad’s sleep and stress levels after a night when this occurs, but my family is stressed whether we sleep or not.
Another family member that expresses passionate commitment is my mom. She is always thinking about everyone else and how she can make them feel special and loved. An example of this is the fact that my mother is up at 6:30 making gourmet lunches for Theo and me. She is also constantly thinking about meals and gifts for us and for other people. This is so thoughtful of my mom, and it is a quality I truly appreciate about her. My mom is so passionate about making everything nice and tasty for her family. In conclusion, my mother is devoted to creating beautiful experiences for everyone she knows at almost any costs This is an incredibly important trait and is probably the reason she makes friends and meets people so easily. As illustrated by all the experiences I have just listed, my mother is a huge influence in my life, and I love her very much.
The next value that I’m going to address is Determination, or, in Hebrew, Hech-leh-tee-yoot. Someone in my family who expresses this value well is Michele, my dad’s sister. She is always so purposeful about getting things done quickly and efficiently. Michele has a desire to help anybody she can whenever she can, which also shows her determination to help people and improve other people’s lives. An example of Michele’s determination is when she was leading a team in order to create an interactive map which had statistics on heart disease in each county in the U.S. Anyone could click on any county, and up would pop all that county’s information on how close they were to a hospital, how many people had heart disease, how many people died from it, and so on. This project in particular required incredible amounts of determination and focus to complete, so congrats to Michele for accomplishing it.
The other person who expressed enormous amounts of determination was Janina, my dad’s mother. She died when I was five years old of lung cancer. Some examples of Janina’s determination include her smoking habit, ironically. When she was around 50 years old, her friend asked her as she was taking out a cigarette: “Do you really need to do that?” And Janina said, quite simply, “No, I don’t.” And that was it. She stopped. Cold turkey. Another example of Janina’s determination is when she had recently arrived in New York from Poland. This was in 1938, just before Hitler invaded Poland. It was the middle of the night, and she and her sister knew only one phrase in English: “Good morning!” When Janina said this, the adults in the room laughed, but Janina didn’t see it as friendly laughter, and she swore never to speak English again. And then when she got to school, the kids laughed at her for her inability to speak English. So, she swore never to speak Polish again. And, surprisingly, she never did.
Following determination, we have Curiosity, or Sahk-ra-noot. Curiosity is a trait of my dad’s father, Max. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Max because he died of Parkinson’s before I was born. I really wish I had gotten to meet him because from what I can tell, he was a great person. Max loved to talk to people and he was a social worker. Whenever Max was in a restaurant, he would end up talking to the waiter or waitress and learning their story. This is a quality that my mom has as well whenever we go out to eat. Max also loved to explore and to travel to new places. When my dad was twelve, Max brought the whole family to Amsterdam for an entire year! Ultimately they toured every country in Western Europe except for Portugal and Lichtenstein. Curiosity is something that allows for new opportunities in life and within oneself in general. I currently have a small passion for everything. I cannot decide on what I want to do with my life because I am so curious and always feel the need to explore more and to do more. To me, there is curiosity inside every one of us, and it is helping to better us and the world by the minute.
The final family value is Compassion. Compassion in Hebrew is Ra-cha-meem. My grandfather William exemplifies this value. He is always looking out for people in any way he can, and that makes everyone else feel good about themselves, as well as making Wills a pleasure to be with. Being a Holocaust survivor, Wills really knows what it’s like to be mistreated. He has transformed that suffering into love through his work as a doctor. As a result, I think he is able to feel for people in a different and more honest way than most other people can. To be honest we should all try to be more compassionate if you ask me. Compassion can help with relationships, agreements, compromises, and all sorts of other things. It is a value that we all need to be aware of.
I have learned many new things about my family through the research and writing of this paper. The most important thing that I was able to take away from this paper is the fact that my family is much more involved in the world around them than I had imagined. This makes me feel as though I “belong” in my family more than I had believed. The reason for this is because I realized that I related to many of their values that I was unaware of prior to diving into this process. The values that I related to in particular were determination, independence, compassion, and creativity because of the way they bring out my best…most of the time.