October 27, 2012
Values help us live, values help us choose. Life presents us with many choices; every day we make decisions large and small. What do you use to guide your decision making? Values! My family has given me a lot of freedom to figure out what my values are from what I learn around me. In this essay I will talk to you about some of the values that have really stood out to me from talking to my relatives. Some of those values are protection of the environment, education, family, community, art and creativity and last, but not least, tradition.
Protection of the environment (Ha-ga-naht ha-tey-va) is a value that stands out on my Mom’s side of the family. My Mom is always crazy about recycling, and turning off lights and air conditioning. I think she got this from my Great Uncle Doug, who was my grandfather’s brother. My Great Uncle Doug was very committed to preserving the endangered diamond back turtle’s habitat in Barrington, Rhode Island, where he and my grandfather grew up. He led an effort to prevent a petroleum plant from polluting the turtles’ habitat. To honor his efforts he received many awards including having a preserve named after him by the Town of Barrington: “The Edward Douglas Rayner Wildlife Preserve”. My Great Uncle Doug did all of this work as a volunteer, even though he had a full time job as a rug salesman and installer. I feel proud of my great uncle for doing something he felt passionate about and giving so much of himself.
My Great Uncle Doug’s love of nature was also passed down to my Mother’s brother, my Uncle Bill. My uncle is an Arborist who runs his own tree business; he is an expert on the health and safety of trees. He can identify any tree and decide which trees and branches need to be taken down.
I have tried to carry this family value forward by not taking bags when shopping, turning off lights and air conditioning when not using them and not using plastic utensils in my lunch. There is also a new program at my school, called teracycling, that recycles garbage that would usually end up in the trashcan. As a member of my school’s student council, I help inform people about the new program and motivate them to participate. Learning about my great uncle’s dedication has really inspired me to be more eco-friendly.
Being there for family (Meesh-pah-cha) is a strong value on both sides of my family. My Bubbie was sick with Alzheimer’s for a very long time and we all bonded together to take care of her. My Dad and my Zaidie did the vast majority of the work and were unwavering in their commitment to keep Bubbie at home with her family. I remember when my Bubbie first got sick and my Dad was constantly rushing out to Queens, sometimes in the middle of the night, to help Bubbie calm down from the many panic attacks she had early in her illness. As Bubbie’s health and mind declined she and my Zaidie moved into our apartment building so my Dad could help more easily. My Bubbie and Zaidie were at most family dinners for almost my whole life even when Bubbie was very ill and could no longer walk. After every single meal my father would take my Bubbie and Zaidie up to their apartment and help Bubbie into bed. My Dad did a ton of things for my Bubbie and Zaidie, but he never complained; it was as if it were second nature. My Bubbie died at home in January of 2011 with her family by her side. My Zaidie died suddenly 9 months later; my Dad helped him and was by his side until the very end.
The younger generation taking care of the older generation also happens on my Mom’s side of the family. My Great Aunt Nancy, my Grammy’s sister, lives with her daughter and son-in-law, my Mom’s cousins, Beth and Aaron. They have taken care of my Great Aunt Nancy ever since I can remember, including seeing her through the amputation of her leg and confinement to a wheel chair. Like my Dad, I have never heard Beth or Aaron complain, and also like my Dad, they seem to truly enjoy taking care of people they love.
I do not take my family for granted because I know lots of kids do not have supportive families. One way I do not take my family for granted is setting aside time every Friday for my Mom and I to do special things. I also have family dinners almost every night. Sometimes I get so caught up in other things I forget to make time for my family. This time gives you a chance to get closer with your family and learn things you would not have known. One of the most important aspects of family is being there for each other. Family plays a huge role in my life and I don’t intend to waste it. I value my family enormously and aim to keep it that way.
My family time gave me the chance to learn about my Bubbie’s educational history. It helped me realize how much she valued education (Chee-nuch) and that I should not take my own education for granted. Bubbie had to work incredibly hard to achieve her goals. My Bubbie was very intelligent and graduated high school when she was only 15. After high school, Bubbie was not given an opportunity to attend college because her family did not have the means and it was expected she would go to work. Eventually she became a secretary at a publishing company. Bubbie decided to go to college because she wanted to achieve more. She kept working full time and went to college at night at St. Johns University, majoring in English. It took my Bubbie 20 years to graduate college because she had the care of my father and a full time job on her hands. She eventually succeeded and then earned a PhD. Bubbie’s perseverance and hard work show me that she truly valued education.
Going to college was not a given for Bubbie, as it is for me. I know not everyone goes to college and has an education like mine, but hearing about my grandmother’s story made me realize how important education is and that it is not always at your finger tips. I value education because you are likely to need your education later in life. And what I find fascinating about it is you can never know everything, and you can always do more and learn new things. I am very proud that my Bubbie not only got her PhD but did it with passion and perseverance.
I am very social and greatly value community (K’hee-la) and through my family interviews I learned that that my family does too. Community to me is a group of people in the same location or a group of people engaged in the same activity, work or learning. Members of a community care about each other and like being involved in the group. Community means having other people to lean on. My mom told me that my Grandma did lots of volunteer work for the Red Cross, helping with blood drives. My Bubbie also did volunteer work for an organization called English in Action. She helped new immigrants learn English. She really enjoyed offering her teaching skills to others and helping them make a new life in New York. My Bumpa (my Mom’s dad) also did community service by serving on the Planning and Zoning Commission in the town of Guilford, Connecticut, where my Mom grew up. My Mom tells me that he spent many nights at meetings, all on a volunteer basis. My Dad worked for many years for an organization called Housing Conservation Coordinators, where he tried to preserve low income housing in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. Though my Dad left HCC many years ago, he is still involved by being a volunteer member of the Board. He also attends many night meetings and donates lots of his time.
The importance of community has been passed down to me. I also live the value of community by being on my school’s student council.
Art and creativity (Oh-mah-noot and Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot) are other values that particularly stand out on my Mom’s side. My Grammy drew and painted using pen and ink, oil paints, and watercolors. Grammy’s work depicted detailed landscapes, buildings and still lifes. My Grammy graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design. Although Grammy died when I was very little, I feel I know a big part of her from all her art that surrounds me in my house. To this day my sister and I both take pleasure in using Grammy’s art supplies and camera. I really admire my Grammy’s talent. She was very passionate about art and she did not let her talent go to waste.
My Mom always says that she did not inherit Grammy’s talent, but I think she did in a three dimensional way. When my Mom was a teenager she had a pottery wheel in the basement and threw pots all the time. My Mom’s bowls and vases are now displayed throughout our house. Like my Mom, my Uncle Ben is also into three-dimensional art. He makes sculptures with found objects and implants small LED lights within the pieces. My Aunt Chelle is also very artistic and creative. She designs glass jewelry and created a board game called, “What Would Goddess Do.” She also paints, draws and makes her own stationary.
Although I don’t have the same artistic talent as my Grammy, I am fascinated by makeup, fashion and design. I am sure this has something to do with my Grammy’s creativity. I also learned through studying my family, that my Bubbie was also a painter and a fashionista. I believe that my love for fashion is connected to Bubbie.
My family values tradition (Ma-sor-et). My life is filled with traditions. Every year my parents and their friends from college—Wendy, Doctor, James, and Nancy– rent the same house on the beach in Rhode Island. Many friends and family come too, including lots of kids. We have lots of traditions within this tradition. We play the same games—jail and ghost tag. Doctor, one of the regulars, leads the “cabin game”—a crazy hunt for candy with ever changing rules. The kids and my Dad go to Wilbur’s General Store every morning for candy. We brave Jumping off the diving rocks at the beach. We take the same photograph every year lining up the kids from tallest to shortest. I look forward to the day when I am no longer the shortest! Most importantly, it’s all about spending relaxing time together.
Holidays are also a big part of our traditions. Every Thanksgiving my Dad’s side of the family comes over for a feast that my cousin, Winton, and my Dad prepare. I especially look forward to my cousin Harriet’s hard sauce. The next day we drive to Connecticut to my Mom’s side of the family and have another thanksgiving with my cousin Hope, my Uncles Bill and Ben and Aunt Chelle. My family hosts Passover every year. My Dad cooks tons of food and tons of people come for dinner. On that holiday I look forward to Harriet’s flourless chocolate cake!
We have Christmas with my Mom’s brothers and my cousin every year. We have Easter with my Mother’s aunts and cousins every year, which includes an Easter egg hunt. I really like tradition, even small ones–we have a great birthday tradition in our family. We load candy on the wings of our living room ceiling fan, then during the party someone says, “It’s really getting hot in here.” Someone turns on the fan and the candy goes flying everywhere and we all scramble to grab it. My Dad loves tradition—he has been playing Friday night softball with the same group of friends for over thirty years. And there is Camp David, a tradition started by our family friends David and Meryl, where the same group of friends get together for a weekend of bocci, soccer and lots of just being together.
And I have begun my own traditions. My sister, my Mom and I go out for tea with my cousin Rozzie whenever she is visiting New York from Israel. I most value tradition because it brings family and friends together consistently.
Preparing this paper has made me step back and take a moment to realize what I care about and why. Values help us live, values help us choose. Sometimes I use my values to make decisions without realizing it, other times I ask myself, “What do I really care about?” I learned the answer to that question while researching and writing this paper.