The following essay about family values, including love, was written by Danielle Greenfield, 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. The process improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.
When I think about values, I think about what define us as people, the things that form the path of our lives. Like all of our atoms make us who we are, all of our values make us the person we choose to be. After interviewing many family members, I decided to take a look at what values I share with my family. Here are the ones I feel define us the most:
The first value I want to talk about is Justice – Tzedek – צדק.
Justice is about everybody being treated equally and fairly. It’s about righting wrongs.
When my great Aunt Ronnee was a child, she was asked to be a flower girl in a family wedding, for which she was gifted a bracelet. The bracelet had a book charm with a Jewish star inside, and it was her prized possession. One day, the boys in her neighborhood called her “Jew girl” pulled it off her arm, and hit her. When she got home and told her mother, Bub, my great-grandmother marched right over to the boys’ house and got that bracelet back!
My family doesn’t look past wrongs, but tries to do right. Justice is important to me – and I try to stand up for what’s right from events like the DC March for our Lives, to protests against animal cruelty. I think it’s important to stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves, don’t have a voice, or who can stand up but need support. Like Albert Einstein said – “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.”
The second value I want to talk about is Kindness – Khesed – חסד.
Treating people with respect, being nice, friendly, giving people a chance, respecting their wishes, giving room for their opinions, emotions, and views is so important. The one person who shaped my mom the most was her Grandpa Dave. He once stopped his car, because he saw an older woman struggling with her bags, so he drove her and her packages home. That is the story that keeps my mom motivated to help others, as she was there and watched the whole thing as a six-year-old. He also inspired my animal charity “Grandpa Dave’s Creature Comforts” which collects old linens and toys, for animals in the city ACC shelters.
On the other side of the family, my great grandmother Lilly organized fundraisers and charity events during the Great Depression. Kindness can be something you do for one other person, or for your entire community. Kindness is helping people in need because they need it, not because they “earned” it.
Next is Leadership – Man-hee-goot – מנהיגות, taking responsibility for others, trying to provide guidance and direction for the benefit of everyone. My Great Uncle Joe had a rabbinical degree, but wasn’t practicing as a rabbi. One day someone knocked on his door and asked, “Are you Rabbi Harris?” He responded “yes”. “Please conduct our co-op’s High Holidays. We have hundreds of families who need a leader.” And that is how Uncle Joe became a practicing Rabbi. He responded to the co-op’s religious needs, becoming what his community needed. Leadership is important to me because I see it as a major way to help my community.
Then there is Wisdom – Khokhma – חכמה. Intelligent people put a lot of thought into and collect knowledge on things they are passionate about. Growing up, my dad always had pressure to be so smart and talented, because all of his other family members were so wise. In my family interviews, when people wanted to compliment others, they often referred to their intellect. My dad praised Uncle Joe by calling him wise, Uncle Joe praised Diane by calling her brilliant; my mom refers to her dad and step-dad both as extremely intelligent. Wisdom isn’t just about the brains you have, but also about dedicating thought to actions and putting your knowledge to good use.
The fifth value is Perseverance – Hatmada – התמדה. keeping at something you care about, putting in hard work to achieve goals. My sister, Morgan, is probably the most persistent person I know. We call her the Tenacious Tiger. She always has a goal set for herself, and stops at nothing until she achieves it. When she wanted to learn to hula hoop, she did nothing else until she mastered it. When she decides to organize her desk, she puts an hour aside and she immediately starts working as hard as she can. When she wants to complete a set amount of reading, she starts right after school. Perseverance is a great way to achieve goals, putting in hard work over time and despite obstacles. I care about perseverance because it helps me get things done, and achieve more challenging and rewarding goals.
Education – Kheenukh – חינוך, another value, is putting time and effort into learning things and gaining a lot of knowledge and a deeper understanding. You can then use your knowledge in struggles and tasks, for yourself, others, and your community.
Uncle Stan was a Harvard graduate, Uncle Joe was a Stuyvesant graduate, Aunt Diane was a doctor. My family turns to education as a way of making ourselves better, in hopes of making a change in the world and helping others.
Education is important to me because it can provide a better life. It also makes me happy to understand things better.
Responsibility – Akhrayoot – אחריות is another value that is important to me.
Responsibility is taking ownership and leadership of something that matters to you. It means cleaning up messes, your own or others’. It means trying to make things better for everyone even when you don’t have to. Grandma Mary got a job to support her family, because she didn’t get along with Grandpa Phillip very well and had to raise kids on her own after they separated. She took ownership of her life and did what had to be done for her and her kids to have a better life. Sometimes responsibility is not about doing your fair share, or getting credit, but about just doing what needs to be done.
The value of Supportive Acceptance – T-Mikha– הכלה is important to my family. Letting people know you’ll stick by them even if they make different choices than yours and providing help for others in need, emotional or material. Uncle Joe never had a problem with the decisions his kids made, even though he was an Orthodox rabbi. He lovingly accepts his daughter Susan’s choice to marry a woman, who is also a rabbi. He is there to support his kids, and he taught my dad, Nick, not to push people but to accept and support their life choices. I learned that in my family, we love and accept other people’s choices, and give them whatever help we can.
My final value is Physical activity – Pe-ee-loot Goo-fa-neet – פעילות גופנית.
A physical activity can make people happy if they are doing the right one for themselves. It can help define you as a person. It can connect you with other people, teammates or even opposing players. It can help take your mind off of bad things and help relieve negative emotions. My mom has a brown belt in tae-kwon-do and trained in krav maga. Morgan is working up to her black belt. My dad and grandpa played tennis since they were teens. They both loved it. Now that I’m playing tennis, I feel like I’m carrying on the tradition, and I feel more connected to them.
These are certainly not all of my, nor my family’s values, but these are the ones I think guide my life and my family’s life choices the most. Thinking about these made me understand how much I have in common with my family. I learned about these values through stories and actions, not by being told “this is what we believe,” but by seeing the choices my family has made, and continues to make, and how they treat themselves and others. Putting these values into words made me understand who I am more clearly and helped me feel more connected to my family.