I’ve been writing this piece in my head for a few years while jogging through my neighborhood in New York’s Five Towns. I’m certainly not known as the fastest jogger, but I hope I’m known as the guy who is (almost) always waving hello to every passerby. This habit of mine goes back to when I first started running a few years ago and noticed that when someone smiled or waved at me, it actually helped me run better. Even more importantly, it helped me feel better.
As I felt that surge of dopamine during my run, I recalled an article penned by a close friend of mine when we were in college, in which she suggested that people should say hello as they walked the campus, even—and perhaps especially—to students they did not know. At the time, I wondered: is it really necessary to greet everyone? Subsequently, I discovered: Yes it is!
In The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, Harvard Professor Robert Waldinger shares that while one of the keys to well-being correlates to how we take care of our physical health, his surprising finding was in the power of good relationships as a predictor of happiness and a long life. Forming connections with people and developing meaningful relationships improves our physical and emotional health, literally revitalizing us, bringing contentment and yielding a longer, more fulfilled existence.
The positive effects of relationships apply not only to our home lives but also to our connections at work. Recently, Gallup surveyed over 15 million workers, asking, “Do you have a best friend at work?” Only three in ten answered in the affirmative.
Waving hello in the office—be it at our amazing headquarters at 40 Rector Street in downtown Manhattan, or wherever you are—does not necessarily mean you are “work BFFs!” But the opportunity to wave hello, smile and connect at work adds not only to our professional lives but to our foundational well-being, health and longevity.
With that in mind I’ve been on the road to listen and learn, not only experiencing the incredible programming of our talented team and the inspirational participants, but to say hello, to wave—and to get some waves in return! My travels took me around New York with Rabbi Gideon Black, CEO, New York NCSY; and then to Maryland with Rabbi Jonah Lerner, Regional Director, Atlantic Seaboard NCSY, where I had uplifting conversations with our professional and lay teams in their newly inhabited offices on Reisterstown Road in Baltimore. Additionally, in the past few months, we’ve had several gatherings with various OU constituents that brought home to me the importance of connecting at work:
– In November, we convened OU professional leaders for a retreat at the famous TWA Hotel at JFK Airport. Focusing on the theme “You. Your Team. Your OU,” we spent two days learning how to better connect with ourselves, our teams and the entirety of the OU. There was a lot of waving hello both during and since that retreat.
– At the end of December, NCSY convened its annual Yarchei Kallah, bringing together hundreds of NCSY participants and staff from the United States, Canada, Chile and Mexico. The energy in these gatherings is palpable, a beautiful synergy of inspiration, Torah study, singing, dancing and strengthening of Jewish identity.
– On January 1, at the Biennial Convention and Meeting, the OU bid farewell and expressed its deep gratitude to outgoing OU President, Emeritus Mark (Moishe) Bane and the outgoing Board of Directors. At the event, we also welcomed fourteen new Board members and our new President, Mitchel Aeder. It was wonderful to spend time catching up with OU lay leaders while celebrating the accomplishments of the past few years.
– In mid-January, OU-JLIC couples from over twenty-five college campuses gathered for a weekend of inspiration, professional development and connection. Living on campus can be lonely, and spending time with colleagues who can really understand what they are experiencing is critical to the well-being of these couples.
Building deep connections with colleagues is something we genuinely value at the OU. But as my friend from college taught me, saying hello to strangers is not to be trifled with. What does it mean to say hello? The gemara in Ta’anit 12b states that when there is drought or any other form of communal difficulty, a number of ascending restrictions are imposed on the community. One of the last things taken away is she’eilat shalom, saying hello. This would seem to indicate the critical nature of a simple “hi” as we pass one another on the street. Chazal highlight the behavior of Rabbi Matya ben Charash who was makdim bishlom kol adam, greeted every person (Avot 4:16), and Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai who did the same (Berachot 17a). Clearly, this is a significant Jewish value.
So if you see me running by either at the office or on Central Avenue in the Five Towns, or at any of our many worldwide locations, please make sure to wave and say hello; it’s good for both of us!
Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph is Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of the OU.