The following essay about family values, including love, was written by Jakob Shonbrun Siege, 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 last 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.
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.