The following essay on family values, including education, was written by Julian Gerber, 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.
January 9, 2016
After interviewing some family members, I learned about the many values that my family lives by and that they personally believe in. Notice I said “personally”, that is because everyone has a different set of values. Some of my parents’ and grandparents’ values I have inherited, I believe in them. However some values, I changed to fit who I am. In this essay I will tell you some of the many values that my family believes in and how they live by certain values. Those family values include education, fairness, exercise, critical thinking, and humor.
One value that I’m pretty sure all of my family believes in is education (Chee-nuch). Though not all of my family actually went to college, the reason they didn’t go was not because they didn’t value education or they didn’t want to go, but because they couldn’t. For example, my grandfather on my mom’s side dropped out of high school because he had to work to support the family during the Great Depression. However, education was still important to him and later on in his life, he got his G.E.D. Also, my grandma on my mom’s side went to Brooklyn College and wanted to become a doctor. Unfortunately, she could not because of gender discrimination. The fact that she wanted to go through all the learning required to become a doctor shows how she valued education in order to achieve her dream.
Plus, my grandparents on my dad’s side must have valued education quite a bit. My Grandma Ilene was a teacher and her husband Mel was a math teacher and then a principal. Lastly, my paternal grandpa, Buddy, was a nationally renowned economist and he got his degree from Columbia University. I also value education. I’m definitely going to college and I want to be a lawyer when I grow up. I mostly value education because of where it can take me in life. A good education will give me the freedom to choose my path in life. That reason is much like why my Grandma Helen valued education. It can take you places.
For the most part, education is a family-wide value. Everyone also values justice and fairness (Tzeh-dek), the next value I will discuss, but some go out of their way for it. My maternal Great Grandma Sophie, according to my mom, was quite strong-minded and if she saw something that she believed was unfair she let everyone know it. It then went to Grandma Helen who was also quite vocal with her opinions on right and wrong. It then went down to my mom and her brother, my Uncle Alex. My mom definitely shows she values fairness and justice in a lot of ways: she’s a lawyer, and even though technically she’s being paid to be biased, or as she puts it, advocating for one side, her ultimate goal as a divorce attorney is to come to an agreement and when dealing with people who obviously don’t like each other, a lot of fairness and compromise must go into that negotiation. She also volunteers for a non-for-profit organization that provides legal services to deaf people; and much more. Whenever something happens around her that is unfair, she does what she can in order to change it. To me, at times it seems like an overreaction. I, like many others, sometimes don’t want to speak up so as not to cause any unnecessary trouble. There are times when this way of thinking is okay and you just have to deal with it. However, as my mom has shown me, there are also times when it is necessary to speak out and attempt to effectuate change. In my viewpoint, it is important to find the balance between these two ideologies.
Also my mom’s brother, my Uncle Alex, may not be a lawyer, but he knows when something is not fair and won’t tolerate it. For example, one time he was doing a job interview to be the manager of the concession stands at a baseball stadium. At the interview he learned that the workers were getting paid minimum wage and were required to buy a t-shirt and baseball cap for twenty dollars each, which they couldn’t afford on their salaries. Uncle Alex thought it wasn’t fair. He told the interviewer that and left. Though he didn’t get the job, he was willing to give it up because it was the right thing to do. He must have felt sympathy for the workers even though he wouldn’t have been affected by the rule. This anecdote emphasizes his commitment to fairness.
I also value justice and fairness. As I said before, I want to be a lawyer. Also, I try to be fair and when someone isn’t fair, I try to make a point out of it and do what I can to try to change it. Unfortunately, being a kid, it is commonly referred to as talking back, though I like to call it being fair. As I grow older, talking back may not seem as much like talking back, and more as advocating for justice. The value of justice and fairness comes from my maternal Great Grandma Sophie, it then went to Grandma Helen who was quite vocal with her justice activities. Finally it got to her children, my mom and Uncle Alex. And then to me! I know the rest of my family values justice, but my mom and my uncle Alex go out of their way for justice.
Next value: exercise (Ee-moon goo-fah-nee). A lot of my family values exercise. My dad definitely values exercise. Every morning he wakes up at five, goes to the gym, and runs on the treadmill for about an hour. Plus, we play tennis every time we can! Between the treadmill and the tennis (and being good at it), that’s quite a bit of exercise. Whenever my mom can’t open a jar or something like that, my dad says to her, “you need to do more NordicTrack”. He says it as a joke, but it shows that he thinks exercise is important and that exercise is something we should do. It’s also important to his sister, my Aunt Judy. Every year she does the AIDS/LifeCycle. The AIDS/LifeCycle is a bicycle ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. It takes seven days. A seven-day bike ride is a lot of exercise. I don’t exercise nearly as much as they do. However, even though I don’t think of exercise as a life style, I definitely value and understand its importance. I try to exercise when I can, even if it’s just walking home from school. It’s hardly a seven day bike ride, but it’s an acknowledgment of the importance of something even as simple as walking.
Another value is critical thinking (Cha-shee-vah bee-kor-tee). I certainly value this because if nobody thinks critically then no one will know what’s true. There was a time when I didn’t think critically, when I just went along with what I was told. I learned the hard way that sometimes not everything people say is true and reliable. One day I was sick, so I went to my mom’s office instead of school. My mom’s partner, Phil, decided to see if I was really sick by hooking me up to a “lie detector”. It turned out to be a photocopier. He put a piece of paper saying “he’s lying” into it. He then asked me if I was sick and then out came the “he’s lying” paper. That was probably the day I realized that sometimes you need to question if something is actually reliable. Even if it comes from what you would hope to think is a reliable source. After this incident, I felt embarrassed that I could be so gullible. The embarrassment showed me the importance of thinking critically. I think I mainly value critical thinking from that situation with Phil. Thanks Phil! But my dad and his father also value critical thinking. Everyday my dad reads the New York Times and comments on the matters explained in the paper. He has to think critically to do that. And his dad, as I said before, was a major economist. He worked at the Department of the Interior under the Eisenhower Administration. To do that he had to make very informed choices on important matters and to do that, you can’t think a photocopier is a lie detector test. Thanks again Phil!
Last but not least, a very important value (at least to me) is humor (Hu-mor). One reason I value humor is that it adds fun to normally boring situations. And it can also be used to help get a point across or to simply communicate. For example, in The Daily Show, Jon Stewart (and now Trevor Noah) uses humor as a way of getting his point across criticizing or commenting on specifically right-wing politics.
Plenty of people in my family are funny. My mom’s father, Pop-Pop, was funny and so is Uncle Alex. My dad is also very funny. Not only is he funny, but he has a thing for making up characters and nicknames. One character that has had an impact on me is Max Malfoy. He is directly related to Draco Malfoy (from Harry Potter) by being his younger brother. Max sells life insurance at Hogwarts. My family’s nicknames are as follows: Mrs. Muggle (mom); citizen (me); the teenager (my sister); and that evil dog (our supposedly evil dog).
Lastly, the toilet. My last name is Gerber and it seems that it is also a name of a toilet manufacturer. At my country house, we have a Gerber toilet. I asked my dad why our name was engraved on the toilet. He told me that that’s what people did in the country; they put their names on toilets. I guess that ties in with critical thinking. My dad used sarcasm to get me to think about the “why” for myself instead of just answering the question. He used humor as a way to get me to think for myself instead of just expecting an answer. Either that or he was just messing with me. It seems we never let our family live down these hilarious moments and it seems that they bring us closer together because we all have a story to share. Additionally, I do stand-up here, at Gotham Comedy Club, as part of a stand-up comedy for teens program. Humor is an amazing value that I hope will be kept in the family forever.
Of course, there are more values. There is an endless number of values my family believes in, but these are the values that have most stood out to me. Even though I have changed what some of these values mean to me, it doesn’t mean that I don’t value them. They have still impacted my life. Even though something is not as important to me as to somebody else, it can still impact me, even if it is in the slightest way. I chose these values to share because some are important to my family, and me and some are more important to just my family. And that’s the great thing about values, they aren’t rules, you get to choose what you believe. I chose what I believe in because of the way it impacts me. Also I chose some values, like humor or justice and fairness, because that’s just who I am.