The following essay on family values, including justice, was written by Jack Flesher, 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.
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 (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.