Heart surgery has not always been as commonplace as it is today. Before I was
born I had a great aunt who needed major heart surgery, and there weren’t a lot
of doctors performing this most difficult of medical procedures.
time, the best doctor in the United States was Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, an
amazing surgeon. He was also the pioneer and “inventor” of today’s open-heart
What was her mother to do to try to make sure that her daughter
was given the best possible care? What gift could she get the doctor so he would
know that this patient needed to be treated just with a bit more concern? How
could she let him know this was not just another patient? Jellybeans or a
homemade cake were not going to cut it.
That would not get his
So she asked her father, the Grand Rebbe Issamar of Nadvorna,
to please write the doctor a letter of blessing and encouragement, which he did
– in Yiddish! Some people were skeptical that a non-Jewish Hawaiian doctor would
appreciate such a letter. Imagine if someone gave you a letter written in
Chinese as a gift! Dr. Lillehei may not have understood Yiddish, but he
understood that he was being given a letter from a great Jewish rabbi. So he had
the letter translated and marveled at the blessings in the letter. He lingered
over the parts where Rebbe Issamar had written that he be blessed in his work,
and that his hands be G-d’s messengers to perform miracles.
He later told
my father: “That letter from the grand rebbe is one of my most precious
possessions – I treasure it very much and always keep it with me!” Who would
have thought? We don’t know whether he was so moved by the fact that his
patient’s family was so devoted to her or the fact that he was being blessed by
a great Jewish rabbi that made him notice, but he did. The reach of a letter
goes far beyond our understanding.
Writing is an art
Today, writing is an
art. It’s something most people no longer do. With the advent of email, pens
have been regulated to use by children or to our writing short lists or phone
numbers – and to work in yeshivas. The art may be gone, but the power of the
handwritten word is not.
Has someone done something for you? Write them a
thank-you letter. When someone refers business to me, they receive a handwritten
thank you note atop a cheesecake. There’s no question that the cheesecake is
appreciated – but if I was not sending a cheesecake for some reason, it’s clear
that the note is more valuable than the cheesecake.
I know the power of
the written word because I still have a note of thanks from a former student in
Lakewood, New Jersey.
I substituted for the last two months of the year
when their rabbi got sick. It’s especially meaningful because it’s from a kid I
didn’t think I’d really “reached” when I was there.
thanks, especially when it is in writing.
They know it is personal
because you took time to sit down and think about them as you wrote it, and you
went to the trouble of buying and affixing a stamp too! Handwritten envelopes
will usually get first priority when we open our mail. As I’ve mentioned before
in this column, a business card with something written on it in pen has much
longer staying power in the wallet then a plain one. Actually anything
personalized with your handwriting can be meaningful.
If you go online to
yourgiftlabel.com, you can order free custom- made labels for Chivas Regal
whiskey, among others. The labels are just a touch bigger than the existing
label, but not enough to be noticeable. They go on top of the existing label and
have a personal message, making a very personal gift even more
I keep a stack of custom Chivas Regal labels handy, both 12-
and 18-year labels. They enable me to purchase a bottle of whiskey wherever I am
and give it to someone with a personalization that says a lot more about our
relationship than just the bottle itself.
And did you realize that it
also means that every time he pours a drink, my name, brand and goodwill go
along for the ride to the shot glass? Which do you think deepens a business
relationship more: a business gift that looks like you didn’t give it 10 seconds
of thought, but picked it up on the way in from the airport, or a personalized
gift that shows you gave both effort and thought in selecting the gift? It’s not
about price or service, but the care and effort you took.
Issamar Ginzberg is a business adviser,
marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has been published in more than 50