When I was about 15 years old I learned a crucial thanks-giving lesson: In order to be able to thank another person you must first acknowledge their existence. It happened like this:
Lynn and Pete Yellin, may they both rest in peace, were our next-door neighbors on the 7th floor of 135 Eastern Parkway (across the street from the Brooklyn Museum). Pete was a jazz musician, and I studied clarinet and saxophone with him. When I was in the middle of the ninth grade, our family moved to Flatbush. I continued to study with Pete, arranging lessons with him by phone rather than in person. After a few months of this arrangement, one day Pete said to me, “You know Lynn is very upset with you.” Shocked, I asked why. “Because any time she answers the phone and it’s you calling on the other line, all you say is, ‘Can I speak with Pete?’ Lynn doesn’t like being treated that way.”
Talk about a brick upside the head! I hadn’t the faintest notion that I had been doing anything to give offence. Of course, from that point on if Lynn answered the phone when I called, I would dutifully say, “Hi Lynn this is Teddy. How are you?” Lynn would usually pass me on to Pete fairly quickly, sometimes without my even having to ask (she was never under the impression that I was calling just to chat with her), but I had learned my lesson. Now it is true that as a teenager when I was dialing Pete’s number, I would be hoping that Pete rather than Lynn would answer the phone. The last thing I wanted to do was to speak with her—I just wanted to arrange for my lesson. But when I entered Columbia University and my lessons became infrequent, I didn’t mind catching up with Lynn before she handed the phone to Pete. Lynn taught me to always be aware when interacting with another person that, that other person is a human being. There are many corollaries to this, and one of them is especially appropriate for Thanksgiving: If another person has done you a service, you should thank them even if it is their job to serve you.
As a parent, I don’t remember lecturing my kids about what I learned from Lynn, but I guess they just picked it up. I’ll give you two examples. A few months ago, Elie (25) and I had lunch out. As we were leaving the restaurant, we passed an open window where we could see into the kitchen. Elie broke away from me, went over to the window and thanked the kitchen workers. Another example, this one from my daughter Rebecca (30). Rebecca coaches girls basketball in a number of frameworks, one of which is a Jewish-Arab program under the auspices of the Peace Players organization. There is a bus to take the girls to away-games, typically driven by the same Arab bus driver named Isam. Rebecca noticed that all the girls would board the bus and walk right by Isam without saying a word. At the next practice Rebecca gathered the girls and asked them, “Tell me does anyone here realize that there is an actual human being who drives our bus? How is it that not one of you ever greets or thanks Isam?” Needless to say, Isam is very busy these days as the girls get on and off his bus, what with all the “hellos” and “You’re welcomes” that he returns. But if you think he gets tired of this you would be wrong.
And I’ll end this column on that note: You cannot over-thank; so feel free to thank anyone and everyone as often as you can.
TEDDY WEINBERGER is director of development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, sarah jane ross, have five children.