September 22, 2013
There are a lot of love stories in my family. In 1913, my Maternal great grandmother’s family moved to an apartment in the Bronx. Anne Diamond, who we called G.G, was in a serious relationship with a boy named Sydney when her parents rented a room to Jack Sobel. She dated both Sydney and Jack at the same time. Sydney asked her to marry him. She said yes, at first, but then Jack told her how he felt and broke into tears, and G.G. decided to break up with Sydney. Jack and Anne got married in 1927.
My grandma and my grandpa were in a play in college. My grandpa was in a dancing scene and asked my grandma for “help”. In 1951 they got married and had four kids, including my mom.
After my dad’s birthfather died, my grandma, who I call Mah-mah, was left with their restaurant. One day, a young man named Kenny Young came in. When he saw Mah-mah, he asked her out. At first she didn’t want to go out with him, but then she agreed. They got married in 1969. I call Kenny Young Yeh-yeh.
My mom and dad met in 1991 at one of my mom’s BBQ’s in Brooklyn. Later, as the story goes, after breaking up with his girlfriend, he came to more of the BBQ’s and then asked my mom to the “m-m-m-movies”. They got married in 1994 in the park on the Upper East Side right down the block from our building. Their flower girl was our first dog, Rika.
In basically every romance movie, the story line is: two people meet, they fall in love, a conflict occurs, but love always wins in the end. This was true in the four true love stories I just told you. All of the couples kept their marriage going for a long time because they love and support each other. This is the value of love (Ahava).
Now there have been changes. My Mah-mah has been sick, and my grandpa on my mom’s side died. But my family knows how to work with change. Lots of families split up when crises occur. Mine has stuck together even though we sometimes get angry at each other. But no matter what happens, we still support and love each other. This is the value of family (Meesh-pah-cha).
Our family values diversity (Gee-oon), which has been embraced for generations. Anna Teirstein wasn’t very religious, but her husband Jack Teirstein was! Anna’s family had fun all the time while Jack’s family was very serious. My mom and my dad are very different too. My mom has two Jewish parents and my dad has two Chinese parents. My dad comes from a Christian family; my mom comes from a Jewish family. My dad’s family is originally from China and my mom’s is from Russia and Latvia. My mom is short and my dad is tall. My family has dealt with the differences between my mom and my dad by embracing diversity and adapting to change. My mom, however, could not adapt to the white rice making. At her wedding shower, my Mah-mah gave her a huge bag of white rice. Did she burn a little bit of it? No. Did she burn half of it? No. Did she burn all of it? Yes.
In both families, some members are more religious than others. My dad’s Aunt Irene does something religious every single day, while my cousins only go to church on Sunday. My cousin Charlie had his communion the day after my other cousin Max became a Bar Mitzvah. My mom’s side of the family goes to temple on holidays and went to Hebrew school. My Uncle Andy is very observant. For a year after my grandpa died, he went to temple twice a day to pray for him, just like my grandpa did for his dad. Some people in my family light candles for Shabbat, but not everyone. Some people in my family devote their lives to God, other people in my family don’t. Grandpa believed that whether there was a God or not, it wouldn’t change his behavior. But he said he hoped his behavior would be accepted if there is a God. When I was little, I used to think that every time you cursed, a tally mark would be made on your name and it would be moving you closer towards going to hell. I don’t believe that anymore.
But I do feel that loyalty (Neh-eh-mah-noot) to your beliefs can help get you through hard times. Grandpa got his first taste of anti-Semitism when he was five and his dad pinned a Roosevelt button on his shirt. He got called a dirty Jew because he was a Democrat, not a Republican, but he didn’t take the pin off because he was loyal to what he believed. Our whole family likes to use our voices to share our opinions on topics. What can I say, we like to talk!
As I mentioned, my dad’s family came from China. Mah-mah’s dad, Tso-Sing, my great grandpa, was born on a farm. According to my Aunt Irene, his mother had tried nine times before to have a baby, but sadly they all died. Tso-Sing’s mother gave birth to him by herself; she even bit off the umbilical cord. She had the idea that if the baby could survive by itself in the barn for one night, then the baby was meant to live. So she left him there for a night in a blanket. When she came back, he was… alive! My Aunt Irene says that this was God helping them.
There are a lot of stories like that in my dad’s family. I think these stories give them a little bit more comfort and hope in times of trouble. Tso-Sing was sent to Christian school because he behaved badly. Later, he thrived in the army. The army was where he met Joseph Morton Katz, who was Jewish. When the Liao’s were immigrating to America in 1955, he became the sponsor for the family of seven. Joseph Katz had always liked Tso-Sing because he was loyal. For example, when others in the army would steal gum to send back to their families, Tso-Sing would not. I think that it’s important to be loyal. It’s important to be loyal to your friends, it’s important to be loyal to your family, and it’s definitely important to stand up for what you believe in. To be loyal to yourself—that’s integrity.
Creativity (Y’tzeer-ah-tee-oot) is also a value in my family. My grandma is a dancer and choreographer. A lot of people in my family are in the creative arts. But being creative is more than creative arts, it’s also a way to use your imagination to solve problems and make things better. When Anna Teirstein’s family got the passport to leave Riga, they were allowed to bring four boys and one girl. But, since they had two girls and three boys, Grandpa said they decided to dress Anna up as a boy because she was only two years old at the time. That was a creative way to get their family to America.
Which brings me to the value of music (Moo-see-ka). Anna grew up in a musical family, just like me, and was very musical herself. She had a job playing piano for silent movies, even though she became deaf when she was a young adult. One day, my grandpa (her son) came home with a saxophone which he couldn’t play well at that time; Anna picked it up and just started playing without any practice. Besides having the same name, my love of music is another way I am similar to Anna. I play guitar, drums, and piano. Music is very important to me because it is a way to express myself. The value of music also opens up the world. It shows you that the world is full of sounds that can make music. My favorite class at school is band, I play music every day, and I want to be a famous ROCK STAR!
That brings me to the value of education (Chee-nuch). The more you know, the more you want to learn. If we didn’t have education we wouldn’t be able to relate to each other. There are many teachers in my family. My great grandma, G.G., attended Hunter College High School to study education, and she studied journalism at Columbia University. This later helped her write her memoir “Remembrances,” which is where I got most of my information about her. My grandma is a dance teacher, and my uncle teaches at NYU. My mom has always been a teacher. My grandpa was a professor too. Tso-sing was also a professor and a scholar in China. Mah-mah would stay up really late doing her homework when her family came to America. She would have to translate all of her homework from English to Chinese, and then back to English. In fact, one of the big reasons her family came to America was for a better education. She said, “You don’t have education, you don’t have a good career.”
Our family has worked hard for an education, leading me to the value of hard work (A-vod-dah-ka-shey). Everyone has worked hard to become who they are today. My grandpa worked very hard to become a great respected doctor. My grandma works hard to keep her dance programs going. My dad drove a cab for two years to support himself and to have enough money to pay for chiropractic school. It’s easier to work hard if you love what you do. But my family also works hard to help people and make the world a better place (Tee-koon o-lahm). My grandma runs a free dance program, Young Dancemakers Company (YDC), for public school kids. Both my parents are in the helping professions, my dad a chiropractor and my mom, a therapist. And my grandpa and uncle are doctors.
The value of humor (Hu-mor) is very big in my family. We are always joking around, whether it’s making “funny” movies with my cousins on my dad’s side or sitting at the Passover table with my mom’s family and telling jokes. I think it is better to be a person who makes mistakes and can laugh at their mistakes, than to be someone who rarely makes mistakes but can’t stand it when they do. A lot of times people feel alone when they struggle, but humor will make people laugh together, make people feel better, and make the hard work easier.
My family has gone through a lot of struggles and changes. We will always stick together because we support and love each other. I have learned that the whole key to life is about love. According to my grandpa, “The key to life is marrying a dancer from Baltimore. . . ” And as my Mah-mah said when my brother was interviewing her, “It’s not about how much money you have, it’s about how much family you have. You can lose money, but you can’t lose family.”