The following essay about family values, including love, was written by Jesse Robbins, 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.
A family value is a belief that is traditionally learned or reinforced through generations. These beliefs inform what families do, how they spend their time, and what is important to them as a community. Kids learn about this from their parents. For me, as a young child, I adopted the values of my family who model them to me every day. But, where did my parents’ beliefs, ethics, and values come from? They have to start somewhere. I interviewed my grandparents and my parents to start to understand this evolution. Through these conversations, four main values emerged: Family, Kindness/Giving, Community, and Hard Work/Determination. As I’ve gotten older and as I continue to get older, I am free to think about other values that might be important and perhaps will emerge. These will evolve throughout my life.
Spending quality time together as a family, (Meeshpacha) is a value that is important to us. We make an effort to spend time with both our immediate and more distant family. In our immediate family, we try to eat dinner together most nights, we do fun activities together and take trips. Even when life gets busy with school and extracurricular activities, my parents make sure to carve out time for us to spend time together.
Some of my extended family lives in New York, some in Maryland and others in California. Sometimes geography makes getting together hard, but we see each other on special occasions including Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, and family vacations. After interviewing some of my extended family about their upbringings, a theme emerged. I noticed they also had variations of family gatherings, holidays and get-togethers. Being together is important and building and maintaining relationships within the family takes time and effort. This family bond enriches our lives, creates memories and is an important value.
One example of this was illustrated by my grandfather, my mom’s dad. I call him Poppy. Every summer, when he was growing up, Poppy would go to his grandparents’ farm in New Jersey. His aunts, uncles, and cousins would gather and spend their summers there. They had acres of land where he, his brother and his cousins would roam, have fun and sometimes get into trouble, but fun trouble. They had fields and fields of blueberry bushes there. Poppy and his cousins would pick the blueberries in the spring and summer, and sell them to the local hotels to serve for breakfast, and on other occasions. These memories remain strong and fond to this day.
Another example is a story that my other grandfather, my dad’s dad, told me. His Uncle Jake had come to America from Russia. His mother, who was still in Russia, wrote to Uncle Jake saying that she wanted to come to America too. Uncle Jake saved some money and arranged for a steamship ticket for her to make the trip. When she got to America, Jake helped her get a job as a seamstress at a clothing company in New York City. So, while Uncle Jake was very loyal to his family, he also exhibited the next value that I’m going to talk about: kindness (Cheh-sed).
Kindness, helping others, is another value that is important to our family. Kindness involves putting others before yourself. This is important to my family because we want to help others who may not have the same opportunities that we have. I realize that I am fortunate. When I was younger, my sister and I used to set up lemonade stands and sell lemonade to all the people passing by. We donated the proceeds to Alex’s Lemonade Stand, which is an organization that raises money for pediatric cancer research.
This reminds me of the story my Grandma (I call her Nino) told me about her friend, Susan. They have known each other since they were children, and are still friends today. Susan is deaf. Nino had to learn sign language in order to communicate with her. This relationship inspired Nino to pursue a career working with children with special needs. She has spent her life teaching and helping those in need.
I have learned from my family and I also believe that helping people, being flexible, generous, friendly and giving support is the key to happiness. Just a few simple, well-meaning words can make someone else’s day. When we give to others, we get more in return.
Another important value is Community (K’hee-la). A sense of community is defined as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together.” This is important to me and my family, because of the sense of belonging and togetherness. My dad found this in team sports when he was younger. He enjoyed the sense of working together for a common goal: winning the game.
Going to summer camp, Hebrew School, and a large group of friends provided my mom with the experience of community, belonging and familiarity. It is being a part of a group.
This value is also reflected in the school I attend, where creating and maintaining a sense of community is part of the curriculum. I remember this especially in the 6/7s when we started to learn about community outside of school–the neighborhood. We learned that there are all kinds of communities: family, classroom, school, neighborhood, city and the greater world. As I grow, I look forward to finding different communities I can belong to.
Determination (Hech-leh-tee-yoot) and hard work (A-vo-dah ka-shah) are also themes that ran throughout the stories my grandparents told me. Running a blueberry farm and learning to be a special education teacher could only happen with a lot of effort and vision. My father’s father, Jules, embodies this trait as well. His parents came to America from the Russia-Poland border, where they lived in a shtetl. Once in America, they settled in Brooklyn. They did not have a lot of money. For example, my grandfather had a Bar Mitzvah where he read from the Torah, but his family could not afford a party to celebrate. Many years later, he met my grandmother, Cecil, and started his watch company as a door to door salesmen. The business evolved from there and he was able to provide for his family, their education, and have lots of celebrations.
As I get older, I will begin to grow and become independent from my parents’ values and adopt my own, though these values will likely be related. The importance of family, kindness and hard work are reflected in my everyday life and are a great place for me to spring from. They are values that have been passed down through generations and will definitely stick with me and evolve as I grow up and make them my own.