I used to be a rebbi. I taught tenth grade, in a rather unspectacular career that spanned two years. It wasn’t long enough to give me any real chinuch expertise, but it does qualify me to offer a certain insight. Few rebbeim and morahs, experienced as they might be, would make the following statement — not because they don’t think it true, but because it’s awkward for them to say it.

Give your child’s rebbi/morah/teacher a Chaunkah present. It makes a difference.

Our mechanchim and mechanchos aren’t in this for personal gain but for altruistic reasons, to change lives and inspire souls. But they’re people too. And when you acknowledge them and show them that you appreciate what they do, your child will benefit. It’s not a bribe: When you invest in a relationship, when it’s important to you, then it becomes important to the other person as well. And a relationship with the rebbi or morah can only help your child.

Some tips from those on the receiving end:

• Just like a good present sends a message, a lousy one does too. A gift selected with thought and consideration reflects respect for both the educator and the process; passing off a generic item you received from your last Shabbos guests says the opposite. Every Jewish home has a challah cover and extra candy dishes and no one is lying in bed dreaming, If only we had just one more mid-priced glass bowl from the marked-down section near the cash register in Marshall’s…. If you wouldn’t want to get it, don’t give it.

• This one is personal and will probably cost me, but I’m saying it anyhow. Don’t give books you wrote or albums you released. The teachers know about the box in your basement and how utterly meaningless it is. Yeah, I know it’s autographed. No one cares.

• Here’s another one. Write a nice card. The gift is important, but the personal words and emotions you add mean so much. (Be honest, you have a case of stationery from your chasunah you’re never going to use, so it’s a mitzvah.) Also, swallow the yetzer hara to write report-card-style to your child’s teacher: Morah Weinstein has been a good teacher this semester and finally shows signs of taking it seriously: She isn’t there yet, but with her brains, we hope to see great things. She has tremendous potential and it’s just a question of attitude. A freilechen Chanukah.

• Oh, and don’t give stuff that reflects your personal hobbies. Like, if you’re handy, it doesn’t mean the rebbi wants an electric drill, and just because you’re a fitness buff, the morah doesn’t need a voucher for free spinning classes sitting in her drawer until bedikas chometz.

• One more tip. You don’t have to include your children in the process or solicit their opinions about how much rebbi or morah deserves. The rebbi or morah certainly doesn’t deserve the humiliation of having a petulant child inform them that, because there was no extra recess, the gift is being downgraded from leather gloves to a pair of mittens.

(One tiny little note to the mechanchim: Remember to say thank you. Parents also work hard for their money, and by ignoring their generosity, you’re costing next year’s rebbi/morah a chance at a decent gift.)

• Finally, it’s not crude to give money. Worry about being classy when you’re visiting your mechutanim. Money is a very good present to get, because now the rebbi/morah can actually use it to get the stuff they really want.

Like that beautiful challah cover they’ve been dreaming of.

Small Talk

One of the more noteworthy articles in our Succos issue was a roundtable, conducted by Binyamin Rose, with three prominent panelists. In a candid conversation discussing the tests facing yeshivah graduates seeking a supportive peer group after joining the workforce, OU president Moishe Bane said, “The biggest challenge is overcoming a value system that messages that schmoozing is a bad thing…. In my neighborhood, if Maariv is over at 10:13, by 10:14 the beis medrash is empty. If you go to Williamsburg and the 10:00 minyan is over at 10:13, the oilem is often there for another 45 minutes just schmoozing.”

As the president of the United States likes to say, “So true.”

Look at old Jewish paintings: So often, the heroes are a group of shtetl Jews standing between the rows of rickety homes, simply schmoozing. There are generally a few older men, some younger ones as well, and then a child with wide eyes listening.

Where do you see that anymore?

Among chassidim, in the shtibel, there is some of it, but in so many cases, our conversation is digital. That’s not schmoozing. If you can’t see the other people — back off from the man who grabs your elbow every time he makes a point, notice the dexterity of the guy who’s making coffee with one hand since he’s grasping his tallis bag with the other, smile inwardly at the older fellow who nods knowingly along with each argument as if he was about to say the same thing — then it’s not a schmooze.

Rav Moshe Shapira would speak of the time when Jews had “curious eyes,” an era before superficial-information overload would give us all a slightly dazed, glazed-over look.

I became a professional eavesdropper as a child listening to my grandfather — an all-star schmoozer — talking after davening, but now we’ve already heard it all and no one is curious anymore.

It takes a shul to bring it back. Shuls are the new shtetl, and rabbanim can create a feeling of warmth and camaraderie that draws people to hang around and talk — not specifically in learning, but about stuff. Less important than the words are the connection and comfort they give.

It’s not hard to implement, it would be something like a Whatsapp chat, just with voices. And no administrator. And instead of videos and pictures, you’d have to use your power of speech to share an experience or insight. I think it could catch on….

A chat needs an icon. Maybe it could be one of those old paintings in your grandparents’ house? The ones of our ancestors in the shtetl, you know, schmoozing?

Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 688. Yisroel Besser may be contacted directly at besser@mishpacha.com