Jonah Lieberman Flint
May 16, 2009
Many family histories of Jewish kids in America begin in the early twentieth century. My family story begins a lot earlier. My father’s mother’s family is not Jewish, and came from Western Europe in the 17th century. And on my mother’s side, her mother’s ancestors came from the Ukraine in the mid- 19th century—a lot earlier than the big wave of migration when many eastern Europeans immigrated to the United States.
For this assignment, I interviewed my grandparents and parents to find out about their personal values. Then I wrote this paper based on my grandparents’, my parents’ and my own values. Some of the values are shared widely in my family while others are more personal.
The theme of family, Mishpachah, was mentioned frequently in my interviews. For me, family is important because they will love you no matter what happens. I know that I can always talk to my parents or my brother about any problem that I have. Everyone in a family plays a different role and, although we do not always get along with your everyone all the time, I have found that we always get through it, and we eventually come back together–even after a conflict.
Each of my grandparents had only one sibling, as do I. That means that I do not have a very large family, and we do what we can to stay close together and to have good relationships with one another.
Every year there are two occasions when I see my extended family. On Passover, I see my dad’s side of the family. We are usually together for about 3 days and we celebrate and have lots of fun. On Thanksgiving, I see my mom’s side of the family. These are two very important times in the year for me because they are when I get to see almost all of my close relatives and I really feel connected to them. I know that I am part of a bigger loving family. When I look at all of my family members, I see many different generations and pasts. It is in moments like these when I feel truly connected to all of my
I think that it would be hard to have a good life without a loving, caring family. Hopefully, they back you up when you are having a rough time. However, your family is not there just to help you with your problems. No matter what you’re doing, it’s great to have your family there with you. My mom points out that sometimes family can be complicated, and that family relationships, like all other relationships, should not be taken for granted.
To me, Honesty or Emet is another important value. Good family relationships could not exist without honesty. It is hard to live a good life without honesty. I think that while it is a great thing to aim for honesty, it is impossible to be honest all of the time. One of the trickiest things is when you are trying not to hurt somebody’s feelings. In my opinion, if you are not being completely honest with somebody for a good reason it is okay. The only good reason is if you are protecting someone. I do not think that you should lie for your own benefit.
My grandfather Jerry says that his dad taught him to be honest. At his Laundromat, his father was always honest with costumers. He never tricked them or gave them false information.
It is hard to grow up to be honest if your parents are not honest with you or even with each other. You need the experience of being told the truth to learn to be truthful. If you are not honest, it is hard to have a good relationship with someone. My Mom is almost obsessed with honesty because she had some very bad experiences with dishonesty when she was growing up. Lies cannot be undone, which is why they are so damaging. In all of my ancestry, honesty has been very important. Because everyone moved from Europe to the US, it was essential to be honest to make a good impression when they were building a new life.
Hard work or Avodah Kashey is a commonly occurring theme in my family’s history. On both sides, I have relatives who moved from Poland, Russia and the Ukraine to the US. Emigrating involves hard work to earn money for travel, food, and housing. It can be especially difficult if you are moving to a country with a different language, as most of my ancestors did. My great-grandfather came from Poland to Texas. After he crossed the border, he kept traveling, and everywhere he went he asked, “Where are the Jews?” (in Yiddish). When he found them, they helped him and he was able to establish a life. It was a tremendous amount of work to build a new life from nothing.
There are different kinds of hard work. My brother said that when he applied to high school it took a lot of hard work. In addition to the work, it was also a stressful time because of the pressure of trying to impress the interviewers and the anxiety of waiting for the results. But my mom believes that “anything worth having is worth working hard for.”
Hard work can vary from trying hard at your job to trying to do well at school to being committed to something. Even just being nice to a family member can sometimes be hard work! I know my ability to work hard will be useful in so many ways in my life.
I think that the value of hard work is related to family and honesty. To maintain healthy relationships, it requires hard work and honesty. These qualities allow people to trust and rely on each
Happiness or Simcha is one of my most important values. To me happiness is as essential as food and water. If I am in a good mood or I am happy, I can probably have fun doing almost anything. Being happy is great because it can spread. I know that if I am in a good mood, my brother will get into a good mood.
Actions, personalities, and moods can really affect how other people treat you or how they act around you. If you are purposely mean or just in a bad mood, others might treat you the same way. However, if you are happy, they are more likely to treat you nicely.
I know that for some people, happiness is hard to come by. One way to be happy is to realize what you have. My Mom loves the Buddhist meditation on tooth brushing. When you are brushing your teeth, think about what you have. You have a toothbrush, toothpaste, running water; you have a hand, and you even have teeth. So many people in the world don’t have these things, which is why it is important to stop and realize how lucky you are, and how little reason you have to be unhappy.
I know that for my grandparents, growing up during the Depression and WW II, happiness was sometimes hard to attain. In spite of this, my mom believes that she developed her capacity for happiness from her mother. My mom always seems happy to me and makes an effort to help my brother and me to be happy. So maybe I inherited happiness from my mother.
Education or Cheenuch is important because I believe it is essential to be educated. My great grandfather once said “I don’t care if you are a taxi driver, as long as you have a college education.” So, in my family, education is sometimes more important than profession. My grandfather said that his education was what allowed him to live such a different life and be more successful than his father. He said emphasizing education for his kids helped them to be successful. However, there are other ways to learn besides schooling. My dad began looking into Buddhism about 20 years ago because he was interested in learning about spirituality and personal growth. My mom says, “Every day I learn something new.” My mom has been through high school and college and she is still learning. I hope that I will continue learning my whole life.
Courage or Ometz Lev is something that I have seen repeatedly in my family. One very courageous moment for my dad was at one of his jobs. He was working as a social worker with a family who had some legal trouble. Although it was against his work policy, my Dad testified for the family because what had happened to them was unjust. This decision took courage because he was risking his job and perhaps future jobs by testifying.
It takes courage to move to a new country where you don’t speak the language. Some of my ancestors’ stories were extreme. My grandfather’s grandfather chose to cut off some of his toes so that he could escape joining the army. This was obviously a great sacrifice and took a lot of courage. Afterward, he went to great efforts to get his family to the U.S. On both sides of my family, people had the courage to pick up their lives to live in another culture, even when they weren’t forced to by poverty or war.
Guarding the Earth, Shmirat HaAdama, is very important to me because I care what happens to the earth. I do not understand why some people don’t care. The earth is our only home, and we should protect what little beauty we have left. One day we could live on a barren, industrialized planet. My strong feelings about the earth are probably influenced by my Dad’s Buddhist outlook and my Mom’s work for the Environmental Defense Fund.
In the end, I have found out that my family has many common values and that people’s histories can affect their values and what they believe. One thing that is interesting to me is the fact that all of my parents and grandparents came from different families and yet they have shared values. I also learned that my own personal values tie me to my ancestors; my parents have similar values as their parents. This shows that my own values are connected to the values of those before me in my family tree.