Handwritten and Heartfelt

Sending those B'nai Mitzvah thank-you notes is a ritual we shouldn't lose

Writing thank you notes was a standard ritual in decades past. My Baby Boom generation friends and I joked about it: The joy and exhilaration of your Bar Mitzvah celebration was tempered by the inevitable chore of writing what seemed like an endless stack of thank you notes for the gifts you received.

To a 13-year-old, it looked like a daunting task. But our parents insisted, and so we got them done. The standard advice was to break the job down into small pieces so it would not seem so overwhelming. “Just write three or four notes a night,” we were told, “and in a few weeks you’ll be finished.” No one enjoyed it, but under the close supervision of our parents we did it, because, well, we had to – it was de rigueur in those days.

Today, in an era of Paperless Posts and Evites, the art of the hand-written thank you note seems to be on the wane; eroded, but – thankfully – not completely gone.

I recently received a card in the mail. I saw, from the return address, that it was from one of my former fifth-grade students at my small-town Florida synagogue. She was now a seventh grader, whose Bat Mitzvah ceremony I had recently attended. Here is what her handwritten note said:

Dear Moreh Bob,

I can’t tell you how happy I was when I got to Temple Israel and saw that you were able to come to my Bat Mitzvah. It meant so much to me to have you there! Thank you for the magnet and the photos. And I love the necklace! But most importantly, thank you for being my teacher. Thank you for always supporting me and encouraging me. I hope I made you proud.

Love,

Tovah

I read it, paused, took a deep breath and reread it, several times, absorbing the heartfelt sentiments. Those few simple sentences from a 13-year-old conveyed a message that I will always remember. In fact, I’m at a loss describe how moved I was by the note. How can anyone put a value on a message like that? A former student, thanking me for “…always supporting and encouraging” her. For me, this thank you note is priceless. It carries a value far beyond money. Her words will stay with me forever.

I must admit, the thank you notes I wrote years ago did not always contain as poignant a message as the one I just received. Nevertheless, I understand all the better now why our parents insisted we do it. Those notes carry meaning; expressions of gratitude are vital.

My wife and I instilled this same value in our children, and we always insisted that they write thank you notes for any gift they received. It is not only because it is the polite thing to do, but for another reason. There is something – an intangible, special something – about receiving a hand-written card, note or letter; far more than anything sent over a screen, handwritten words represent something more personal: a part of the writer himself or herself.

You don’t have to write the Great American Novel to leave someone with a lasting memory. Often, a few simple sentences will suffice. Some things never go out of style, and a hand-written thank you note is one of them. Thank you for the reminder, Tovah – and yes, you continue to make your teacher proud.

Discover More

The Book of Job and the Paradox of Suffering

No biblical book takes up theodicy's challenge with greater power than the moving and enigmatic story of Job.

Valuing Debate and Conversation

Jewish tradition, informed by the precedent of the Talmud, prefers to promote discussion rather than correctness.

Cold Sesame Noodles with Chicken and Vegetables Recipe

Noodles tangle together under a sweet, nutty sauce and combine with shredded grilled chicken for an easy make-ahead dish.