Religion & Beliefs

Gift Giving—How to be Thankful Without Being Ostentatious

Since I’m nearing the end of my summer at Yeshivat Hadar, there have been the requisite discussions among students about what would be most appropriate as gifts for our teachers.  And as usual, the debates have been heated and somewhat … Read More

By / July 26, 2007

Since I’m nearing the end of my summer at Yeshivat Hadar, there have been the requisite discussions among students about what would be most appropriate as gifts for our teachers.  And as usual, the debates have been heated and somewhat personal.  Besides negotiations as to how much everyone will give, we have to decide if and how much we want to donate back to the yeshiva.  And of course, everyone has an idea of what would be fantastic, and what would be a horrendous faux pas.  I am something of a gift maven.  I am the kind of person who buys something months in advance of someone’s birthday simply because I think it’s a very appropriate gift for that person, and I’m afraid it will be gone when I come back for it.  I write long personal cards full of superlatives, and I wrap things with pretty paper, and tie them up with sparkly bows.  That said, I don’t find gift giving to be easy.  In fact, sociologically, giving someone a present is a sign of aggression and I find myself acutely aware of this when I’m searching for the perfect birthday present.  I want to find something that my friend will like, and that will make it clear I was searching for exactly the right thing.  I’m also aware of this whenever I enter any Jewish institution, since they tend to be plastered with the names of donors, who kindly or generously gave this elevator, this classroom, this desk, this siddur, etc.  Jews, in fact, seem to be the progenitors of the aggressive gift, and while it seems to have gotten us in with some helpful types in the Bible, giving things away hasn’t exactly done wonders for contemporary Jews.  Still, I think it’s important to show gratitude to our teachers and friends, and as a result I’ve come up with three golden rules of Jewish gift giving.  These should work for almost any Jewish occasion that would require a gift. The Three Golden Rules of Jewish Gift Giving

1. Unless the person in question has died, giving money to a charity in someone’s name should at the very least be supplemented by a beautiful card.  Ideally, charitable donations will come with an additional small gift/keepsake for the giftee.  Because unless Aunt Sylvia can walk around with the Sylvia Glass Classroom, she has nothing to put on her coffee table so that her friends will sneak a peak and be jealous of how wonderful her great nieces and nephews are.  Plus, the classroom will soon be studded with old gum and wadded up pages from textbooks, but she’ll keep the card in her hope chest forever.

2. There’s a reason they call us the people of the book.  I highly recommend books for any and every occasion. If you can’t come up with an idea on your own find a medium sized independent bookstore (you can search for one close to your home at Booksense) and ask an employee.  At indie bookstores (a category that includes Judaica bookstores) the employees are far more likely to be well read and able to guide you towards an appropriate and classy choice. 

3. Buy them an unusual ritual object.  Everyone gets candlesticks and a Kiddush cup for their bar or bat mitzvah, but the best way to ensure your gift doesn’t end up in the bag of returns is to give something different, but still useful.  Consider an etrog case, a matzah cover, or a challah knife.  Other oft overlooked ritual items: an omer counter, a blech/hot plate, or a noisemaker for Purim.