The following essay about family values, including love, was written by Leo T., 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.
Everyone has a set of values, and that’s a fact. They are the boundaries that set us on track. My core values are empathy, perseverance, justice, and education. I will now share with you the reasons those values are important to me and to my family.
Empathy (em-PA-tee-ah) is my first value. We are commanded in the Torah to “feel the pain of the stranger”. Empathy is when you understand, care about, and feel for other people’s situations. The American Heritage Student Dictionary defines empathy as “identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives”. It’s important to care for other people because if you don’t care about how other people feel, you would be likely to act selfishly around them and not even feel guilt or remorse about it. You might feel free to be mean or act like a jerk and if you don’t realize what you are doing to people, you won’t care and will keep being mean and inconsiderate. By understanding people’s feelings, situations, and motives, you understand other’s struggles and you can help them.
Here is one example of empathy and helping in my family. When my grandpa grew up he wanted to be a gastroenterologist, a “stomach doctor”. He lived in Canada and he got a job offer to be a gastroenterologist in Washington State. As he was moving to Washington with his family, he stopped in Iowa along the way to visit a friend. While he was visiting, he noticed that there weren’t any gastroenterologists and there were a lot of workers, and farmers having a hard time. He decided that instead of moving to Washington, he would stay in Iowa to help the community there. He served the community there for 38 years, until two years ago when he retired. Now, he hopes to continue his mission by volunteering at a “free clinic” and working part-time at one of the main hospitals in Cedar Rapids that still does not have any other gastroenterologists. My grandma Thérèse is another great example of empathy. She worked with the American Friends Service committee in Mexico when she was younger, and still volunteers as a translator for immigrants, works at a soup kitchen, and knits blankets for the homeless, just to name a few things.
Perseverance, (hatmadah), is another value important to my family and me. Perseverance means “the act or quality of holding to a course of action, a belief or a purpose”, according to the American Heritage Student Dictionary. Perseverance is important on this planet because if you give up, you would never move, get anywhere, OR make any progress. Perseverance keeps you going. It means you never give up even if things seem hard, and you keep going until you succeed. If I wanted a toy, but I thought it was too expensive and it was pointless to try to get it, I would never try and would end up never getting the toy. After all, as they say, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
An example of perseverance is when my grandpa who owns a lot of land, had to face a struggle. One day, some construction workers came to build a sewage pipe through his meadow. My grandpa instantly thought “Oh no, this is bad. This will disturb the animals, and I won’t be able to burn the top of the grass each Spring to help it grow. And what will happen to the plants and animals if there’s a sewage spill?” He got a lawyer quickly and took it to court. His first try, he failed. His second try, he failed. His third try, he still failed. But he tried and he tried, which is what’s important. If he hadn’t tried, he never would have known if he would have succeeded or failed, and he would not have stood up for himself. For doing that, he is a better person.
Another example of perseverance is when I started learning to play the violin when I was five years old. At first, it was really hard and I did not like to practice. There were a lot of tears and a lot of arguments. In spite of this, somehow, I kept at it day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Nowadays, I still don’t like to practice, but I have persisted and am proud of myself for that.
Justice and fairness, (tzedek), are the next values I will discuss. These mean that everyone is treated the same, no matter age, gender, race, etc. I find it important that everyone acts fairly, and so does my family. I find it important that everyone is treated equally and everyone has gotten the necessary materials and environment needed to succeed. I also believe that if you do something wrong, you are punished for it but fairly, like an eye for an eye, not a leg for a tooth, and if two people both do the same thing wrong, they’re punished the same, not one person punished more because they are older or because he did it first or any of that nonsense. At the same time, in my family, we do sometimes have different views on what’s wrong and right. For example, people might say no play fighting, while I say, yes play fighting, just no real fighting, because while some people think, no fighting, violence is not allowed, I think, if no one is harmed, no problem.
An example of how justice is important in my family is my aunt, who is a lawyer. She helps poor people stay out of jail if they did nothing wrong or at least get a fair sentence. Once, she had a client who had illegally crossed the border. She was hired and tried to help him. The judge, though, said he was tired of so many of these cases, and to show an example of strength, he would make the guy have an extra long time in jail. My aunt thought this was not right so she argued strongly against it. It’s not fair that for doing the same things as other people, he would get punished more, she said. She fought for him and won in the end.
Another example of fairness and justice is when my sister, mom and I go to protests for things that are not right. Once, we went to a protest in Grand Central Station against DAPL (Dakota Access Pipeline), which was a gas pipeline that people want to build through Sioux territory. We were against it because it had to go through and destroy sacred Native American land, which is bad because we have already taken so much of it and because we signed a treaty in 1851 that the land would always be theirs. So, we decided to go to a protest to support justice. My grandpa in Iowa even went to North Dakota to give the Native Americans some supplies and show support.
Education (cheenooch or haskalah in Hebrew) is very important in my family because we believe that to be successful you have to be educated. My parents are always forcing me to do my homework and redo any assignments that I have to. It seems that I am always doing school assignments, violin, and other things, and even unintentionally, I always question, looking for answers. Personally, I do not really like school, and I would love to chill all day, but I still push myself because I know education is important. Also, it is the law.
Examples of how education is so important in my family are the jobs that my family has. My mom and grandpa, for example, are doctors, which requires you to be super smart and have many years of education. My dad is an immunologist which is also tough, and you need a lot of schooling to do it. My aunt is a lawyer. She defends people. She had to go to law school and be very creative. My grandma and my uncle are teachers and their jobs are literally about educating people. It doesn’t get better than that.
Over all, I think empathy, perseverance, justice, and education are super important values. Without them, society would crumble, and we must maintain our society, not destroy it.