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.

At the 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 surgery.

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 attention.

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.

People appreciate 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 personal.

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.

Thank you.

Issamar Ginzberg is a business adviser, marketer, professional speaker and rabbi who has been published in more than 50 business publications.

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