What Did You Learn from Your Parents?
Roving ReporterCommunity

What Did You Learn from Your Parents?

Four Atlantans with diverse cultural backgrounds and varying family experiences talk about how the lessons they learned at home continue to guide them.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Alan Minsk, right, with his wife Julie, left, and their children Kayla and Matthew.
Alan Minsk, right, with his wife Julie, left, and their children Kayla and Matthew.

Alan Minsk
Parents Sheila and Donald Minsk

“My parents were very involved in the Jewish community, especially Hebrew Academy and Beth Jacob,” Alan Minsk said. “My father was board president of the school and a VP at BJ [Congregation Beth Jacob]. My mother was a lifetime trustee of Hebrew Academy and BJ Sisterhood president. Jewish education and Shabbat observance remain a priority. Pre-pandemic, every week Matthew and I sat with my father, and Julie and Kayla sat with my mother in Shabbat services.

“My father encouraged me to go with my gut and live with my decisions. I narrowed my college choices to the University of Pennsylvania or Brandeis, and most people recommended attending the ‘Ivy,’ Penn. My gut chose Brandeis. I apply this to many business and family decisions, tell this to my kids and to law school students,” he said.

“I was encouraged to leave my comfort zone for new places, people and ideas. Mom said, ‘Be nice; don’t fuss at people; acknowledge feelings; if you make a mistake, apologize’. My father said, ‘Talk things out; be on time; every meeting is an opportunity.’ As AJA {Atlanta Jewish Academy] board president, I returned calls and emails and listened. In meetings, I wanted everyone’s ideas heard. I learned a lot about myself (not all of it good), and gained respect for those, like my parents, who assume leadership roles. I always start meetings on time!

“When my parents thought something was wrong or could be better, they tried to be part of the solution, even at personal expense or inconvenience. At the same time, it was family first. Julie and I attempt to lead the balanced family/work/community life my parents modeled.”

Alisa Haber
Parents Sharon and Stan Harris and Richard Hornstein

Alisa Haber is a legal aid elder law attorney who lives with her husband Arthur in a comfortable home with an organic garden. When Alisa is not advocating for the poor and the elderly, she is reading (she’s in three book clubs), going on long walks, and spending time with friends and family.

Alisa Haber and her mother Sharon Harris discuss books every time they get together.

“My parents divorced when I was very young, yet the friendship they maintained gave me steady encouragement. They both remarried, but there were some difficult times, which revealed the impact of the legal world on our everyday lives. Both my parents modeled questioning the status quo and speaking up when I see injustice. This realization sparked my career of working in poverty law,” she said.

“I grew up in Virginia-Highlands in the ’70s, and my dad took me to the High Museum of Art and the Garden Hills Cinema. At the age of 9, I saw ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,’ establishing my lifelong love of eccentricity and diversity; I learned to respect all people. My mom’s house has always been full of books, and I was free to read anything, from Fitzgerald, Khalil Gibran, and D.H. Lawrence to Tolstoy and Potok. I vividly remember a detailed and descriptive book, ‘Where Do Babies Come From?’ And it had accurate pictures! To this day, any conversation with my mom includes books we are reading,” Alisa continued.

“Before my parents divorced, we took family trips in our pop-up camper. When I was 13, my mom discovered the beauty of the Georgia coast, and we moved to St. Simons Island. We returned to Atlanta; however, I retained a love of nature and the coast. Every summer Arthur and I and our boys have gone to Jekyll Island, and it is where we plan to retire. Over the years, Arthur and I volunteered in the Boy Scouts, and we took our boys camping as much as we could. This love of books, nature and the pursuit of social justice has been a gift we have been able to pass on to our children.”

Sheila Johansson
Parents Sylvia and Zev Gingold

Sheila Johansson is a retired educator and crisis intervention specialist who worked in New York, Maryland and Atlanta. She and her husband Anders love Israel, and they visit their apartment there as often as they can. Sheila treasures and lovingly uses family Jewish ritual objects, especially the silver pieces her father prized. She creates delicious meals in the kitchen she and her husband designed, and she loves cars.“I couldn’t help loving cars, because my father took me to automobile shows from a very young age. He had a special passion for sports cars, and I caught the bug. He taught me to drive in New York, a big challenge, and I knew I had to pass the test on my first try. I did. I loved shopping with him in New York and Israel. We once found an exorbitantly priced glass and lucite table we loved; my father subsequently figured out how to replicate it, and he made two: one for me and one for him.

“I was raised to be independent. When I was 5 years old, my parents confidently put me on the New York subway, instructed me to count five stops, then get off where my grandmother met me,” Sheila recalled.

Sheila and Anders Johansson enjoy living in a unique home that Anders designed.

“My father was highly respected by young and old, Jewish and non-Jewish. He worked for the Department of Relocation in the Bronx for more than 40 years, handling complex situations and personalities, and he never missed a day of work, except for all the Jewish holidays. I try to follow my father’s attributes: defend the underdog; fight for what’s right; your word is your bond. My father never backed down from a promise or commitment. Both my parents were ardent Zionists whose closest friends shared their passion for Israel and their Orthodox Jewish lifestyle.

Anders Johansson
Parents Inga-Lena and Elof Johansson

Anders Johansson and his wife Sheila live in a custom home, which Anders designed and helped construct. He is always immersed in a building project, which he conceives and executes using skills he acquired and honed in a number of challenging vocations. He graduated as a naval architect from the Swedish Naval Academy; imported Scandinavian furniture to the U.S.; and won numerous awards in kitchen design for firms such as Viking Appliances.

“I come from a small village in Sweden farm country, where I lived with my family in a modest home, before the days of socialism. The only social service was free education, but books had to be purchased. Everyone I knew was hardworking and frugal, and there was no crime.

“We planted fruits and vegetables, and we had chickens in the basement. My parents worked six days a week. My father had a small business making tin roofs and providing mechanical services and equipment for the farming industry. My mother offered nursing services for the elderly. I started working for my father when I was 12, eventually welding steel, painting, cutting and shaping metal. In the summer, I fished, sailed and rowed boats. In the winter my father and I went ice-fishing,” Anders recalled.

Chana Shapiro, Atlanta Jewish Times’ Roving Reporter.

“The most valuable lessons I learned from my parents were to be honest, keep my word, help those in need, work hard, never give up, and fear G-d. These qualities engendered self-reliance, and ‘independence’ became the most valuable word in the English language for me.”

read more: