The following essay about family values, including love, was written by Mia Shonbrun Siege, 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.
Before beginning this bat mitzvah process I had never been asked this question, “What are some of your family and personal values?” But after thinking about it, I was able to identify some values that are very important to me and to my family. And I learned that values are things you believe in personally and on which you have your own thoughts and opinions. Family values are things your family as a whole believes in and maybe you learned about this because of your family.
I think creativity (Y’Tzeer-Ah-tee-oot) is a personal and family value. I think it’s a family value because my dad used to do story telling and he would make up stories that were really funny and good. And he had so much enthusiasm with each of the voices and the tone of the story. My sister used to make puppet shows and drawings and so much other stuff to entertain my brother and me; all of it was so creative and nice. My grandma painted for a living and still paints and my uncle is a great artist. I think creativity is a personal value of mine because a lot of people say I’m creative about writing stories and cards and other things. I also really like to draw. Some other people in my family that had creativity in their lives include my dad’s father. He was an impressive sculptor and my family has many of his creations. He was also an amazing gardener, and did theater work when he was young. Another person was my mom’s dad. He was a puppeteer, an actor, and a stage manager. Both my dad’s mom and my mom’s mom were poets, but my mom’s mom made money from it, and she was also a famous journalist. I think creativity and art are different. They are different because art is something you do for a living, or things you make, but creativity is a personality trait people can have that makes them enjoy or be good at creating different, unique things.
Education (Chee-nuch) is a family value. My parents think it’s very important to do well in school and get good grades, as do most. But my mom got a master’s degree in counseling and is now getting a doctor of education degree. My dad got an MFA and an MBA. My grandma had two master’s degrees. My aunt went to medical school, then went back after finishing and did another residency in child and adolescent psychiatry which led into a fellowship. My mom’s dad got a BA and from that became a teacher in theater and speech. My mom’s mom got a BA and then a masters degree. She went from Florida to New York in her early twenties to go to the Columbia school of journalism. Many other people in my family have had great education. My dad’s mom got two masters degrees. First she taught English for twenty-five years, then went back to school and got a degree in library science. My great-great-great grandmother was the first female doctor in Florida. Her husband gave up his medical practice to go with her to Germany, which was the only place she could train as a woman to become a physician, because she couldn’t in her own country. My family thinks education is important because it opens your mind to see new things and helps you learn how the world works.
Friendship (Cha-vey-root) is a personal value of mine. I think that because I have many friends who mean the world to me. And with friendship there is trust, and love. And although my friends and I might fight, we trust our friendship enough that we always find a way to get over it. My siblings are also just as much my friends. My brother and I make each other laugh constantly, get each other, and have a lot of fun. My sister and I tell each other everything, and joke around together. And sometimes my family and I have great times, and amazing memories together.
Independence (Atz-ma-oot) is another personal value of mine. I think it’s important that once someone gets older that you are able to do things on you own such as going places by yourself or staying home by yourself. On the other hand, it’s not much of a family value because my parents are very strict about me doing things alone. That is more because my family really values safety and togetherness for Jakob, and Carly and me. It’s hard being able to have safety AND independence because together they kind of work like a seesaw, you can have one or the other. In a way they are opposites and you have to choose which is more important for you to have.
I think charity (Tz-dah-kah) is an important family value. My family gives a lot of money every year to many organizations such as Planned Parenthood, which is for a woman’s right to choose when she has a child, Sierra Club, an organization to help protect wild life, and others. Also, we volunteer at Sean Casey Animal Rescue. After Hurricane Sandy, we put together all our stuff we haven’t used like clothes, and toys for kids, and we bought food and supplies for people who might have need. We brought them to John Jay High School, which is where people stayed who had their homes ruined or children who didn’t have any family. My grandparents also supported many charities. My mom’s parents supported Save the Children, which was where you donated money to a certain child in a poor country. My dad’s parents supported many charities including Southern Poverty Law Center, many on women’s issues, and Jewish organizations. I think it’s very important and good how my family supports many charities together, and charities are a very good way of getting rid of the problems around the world. Some charities I would donate to are animal rights charities, or Planned Parenthood. I would donate to Planned Parenthood because it is about women’s rights and independence and independence is an important value of mine.
Animal rights (Tza-ar ba-ah-ley hy-eem) is a personal value of mine. I think animals deserve to be treated fairly. Ever since I was very young, I would go to Sean Casey Animal Rescue, in Brooklyn, and walk dogs and feed cats, gerbils, mice, snakes, lizards, and other animals. Any time I watch a movie that has animals getting hurt I start to cry. And in 7th grade I learned about animals being used for cosmetics testing and many other things and being killed in the process. I saw pictures and read information that proved that animal testing was wrong, pointless and a waste of money. Most of the time, even if the testing worked, even though 96% of the time it doesn’t, it still goes to no use because often the cosmetics are still used and an animal died for no reason. This made me realize that I want to do something to help animals that are being treated unfairly. This upset me because animals affect us so deeply, in a different way than people do because you care for animals, you cuddle with them when you are sad. The fact that scientists would actually kill animals knowing it doesn’t work 96% of the time is very upsetting because they probably think animals are not as valued as humans are. I disagree with that. Protecting animal rights is also a family value. It is because my family and I have donated money to shelters, and time taking care of many animals in need. My cousin and her family have rescued many animals off the streets.
I think environmentalism (Ha-ga-not Ha-teh-va) is a family value. Environmentalism is a broad philosophy, ideology, and social movement regarding concerns for environmental protection and the improvement of the health of the environment. Environmentalism is a value of my family’s because my sister wants to be an environmental lawyer when she’s an adult and over the summer she went to many places to help the environment such as the Dominican Republic to help build a sustainable school. Also my dad and mom now compost. And I think it’s starting to become a personal goal because I used to take really long showers but now I make them a lot shorter, and I now think of things around the house we could do to help out a bit like to unplug all the chargers when we are not using them. I think an environment is nature, but also communities and neighborhoods. And when you see old beautiful buildings get taken over by chain stores like Dunkin Donuts you’re also engaging environmentalism. You want to protect your environment and keep it the way is was. I grew up with it looking old and beautiful and that’s probably why people feel so passionate about preserving their neighborhoods.
Authenticity (Ah-mee-toot) is a personal value of mine. I’m a unique person and I think that’s a very important part of my life. That relates to what I said about environmentalism because I think that having a neighborhood that is different from others and that has stores and buildings that are one of a kind is important. When chain stores start taking over beautiful places, all neighborhoods start looking the same and there’s nothing unique or authentic about them. Authenticity relates to people because if you’re unique and act the way you want to you stand out from other people and you’re remembered, but if you start acting and dressing like other people to “fit in”, you’re not yourself, you’re just like everybody else.
After going through the process of thinking about my values and my family values, I not only learned a few things about my family, I also learned a few things about myself. Many of the values that my parents have had their whole lives, have been passed to me and are becoming an important part of my life. I learned that I had values that I was using without knowing I had these values. And I learned that I live my daily life using some of the values I share with my family.