My Personal Cantor

Thanks is for Giving – Small Acts of Kindness

I was reminded of this by a friend and colleague of mine, who has written (and is soon to be arriving in bookstores) a book called 1000 Mitzvahs:  How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire, and Change your Life.  I’ve always admired Linda for realizing that sometimes it is the small things that matter most, and when we focus on them, and perform them daily, these acts truly can move mountains.

For many of you with children in my Jewish education program, you have no doubt heard from them after each session, that we spoke about the little things, about acts of kindness, and most especially the art of gratitude.  As a Cantor and Spiritual Leader, I teach them that before we can wish or pray for one single thing, we must physically count our blessings, take inventory of what we have, so that we are reminded that perhaps we don’t need the many things we wish for.  I also teach them to recognize how many unfortunate people have so much less than we do, so that perhaps we can wish for more things or more happiness for those who are in need.

Kol Ha Kavod!

Linda’s email struck such an important chord.  I see many people offering help and assistance to others, and for those of you who make it your life’s mission to do so – Kol Ha Kavod!  (Great job!)  But – I often wonder, how much of an impact we could make in our own personal friends’ and families’ worlds, by reaching out, and offering our humanity, our love, and our appreciation of what we do for each other.
We spend so much time behind facebook, and many modalities of social networking, that I fear we will lose a human touch, which is so critical to our existence.  (I’m most guilty!)
I know how much it means to me when one of my families reaches out to hand write me a note, or calls me to tell me how much they appreciate what I’ve done.  So, I’m sending Linda’s note to all of you to remind you that while giving to those less fortunate should never take a back seat – let’s try to remember this Thanksgiving to show the people we love how much we appreciate them in our lives.  You would be surprised how much love can grow, when you give more of it away….
I am thinking of all of you this holiday season, and am so grateful for what you – and your children – bring to my life.
(And Thank You, Linda!  I can’t wait to read the book, and feel like I had a part in it – as it was one of your mitzvoth that brought us together!)

Thanks is for giving

You are my God and to you I am thankful, my God I will sing in awe of you.
Eli atah ve’odeka elohai aro-me-meka
A few years ago, I passed a sign on a church billboard in November that said Thanks is for giving. Of course, as Americans we have a holiday that proclaims to be a holiday of Thanksgiving but I am not convinced that Thanksgiving has achieved all that it can these days. For many families it is a time to come together and share in a leisurely holiday meal which in this day and age maybe unique in itself. Some families might volunteer to help deliver meals to homebound seniors or serve at a soup kitchen, they might help raise funds for food based organizations all extremely important opportunities to help bring more joy to others around Thanksgiving. I wondered recently if families had any other customs around Thanksgiving, offering more long lasting thanks. In our evolving fast paced world, where Facebook, email and IM has all but replaced hand written notes, perhaps we could add one simple custom this year to take a few moments to send a real card, a hand-written heart felt thank you to someone who has affected our lives in a profound way. Maybe it’s someone who knows they have made a difference in our life like a parent, spouse or child or perhaps it’s someone who doesn’t know what a difference they have made in our life like a colleague, neighbor, coach, mentor or even an old friend.

Even one card can make a difference.

Thank-you notes are a physical extension of our gratitude. Sending a card let’s someone know they are on our minds and how important they are to us. After my dad died, there were several people who sent condolence cards that surprised me. They were people I didn’t know all that well and the fact that they took the time to send me a card to let me know they were thinking about me was very touching. The experience of receiving those cards made me realize that I could do the same thing, so during my own 1000 mitzvah project making calls and sending thank-you cards became a common activity.
Sending thank you notes is a simple activity that encourages us to think about what we are grateful for in our life. Living in a state of gratitude is a well understood concept across many faiths. If we are grateful for the things in your life, we will be more conscious of them; and when we acknowledge the things we are grateful for, we will be in a state of deeper appreciation.
It takes so little time to send a thank you card, probably less than ten minutes. Keeping blank note cards and stamps on hand so the card can be written at the drop of a hat makes this process even easier. In addition, this is one of those simple ideas that has a boomerang effect and could certainly be done all year long. By sending more notes and expressing our gratitude to people who have helped us, we in turn will attract more positive situations in our life.
When people send us thank-you notes, we shouldn’t throw them out, rather save them. Find a special bag, book, or box and put all of these notes into it. It’s amazing how those cards can help on a difficult day. It can be a reminder that you are loved and have made a difference in other people’s lives. A friend of mine who worked as a chaplain at a local hospital told me about a fellow chaplain who created her own bag for received thank-you notes and had called it her Bag of Love. What a wonderful way to visibly remember that what we do in this life matters to others.
We struggle in our day-to-day lives to find meaning and importance, and I believe that the simple act of reaching out and giving thanks can have positive ramifications. This Thanksgiving perhaps instead of just partaking in a holiday meal and watching football and even delivering meals or working in a soup kitchen, add a new custom to take a few moments to actively engage in giving more thanks through your written words shared with another.

Linda Cohen

Helping the world one mitzvah at a time.
twitter: @mitzvahs

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