All the trash cans on our street were identical when I was a girl.

They were large, round silver metal containers with ill-fitting lids, topped with rectangular handles. If left at the curb too long after the trash had been collected, they were super tempting forMy mother was friendly and always asked service providers their name neighborhood kids to knock over and roll down the street.

On Sunday evenings, my father rolled the trash cans down the driveway on a red dolly and left them at the curb for the Monday pickup.

On Mondays, when my mother heard the trash truck, she would walk down to collect our trash cans and bring them back to the garage area.

My mother was friendly, and always asked service providers their names. She knew the checkers at the market and the clerks at the pharmacy all by name. So, of course she knew the names of our trash collectors, too.

I imagine when she asked their names that they told her their first names. But my mom liked to be called “Mrs. Lewis,” and she wanted to show the same respect to all the people she met.

We had a gardener in those days who mowed the lawn and trimmed the bushes. I think she was his only customer who called him “Mr. Gonzales.” She always brought him a cold drink when he was working or if we kids were home, she sent one of us to offer it.

But I digress.

The trash collectors, whose names I don’t remember after all these years, I’ll call Mr. Smith and Mr. Johnson.

Messrs. Smith and Johnson always did an exemplary job. My mother told me that there were four things they did that were noteworthy.

One: They always left the cans upright; no rolling down the street for our trash cans.

Two: They always put the lids on, instead of leaving them on the street for the owners to replace.

Three: They always were careful to get out all of the trash.

Four: They were careful not to dent the cans.

My mother told me that when she was a young working woman, sometimes someone would give her a nice compliment. She, of course, would reply: “Thank you.” But she always thought, “Tell my boss!” So when someone deserved commendation for a job well done, my mother made a practice of telling the boss.

One day, she wrote to the head of the local sanitation department and told him about our exemplary trash collectors, Messrs. Smith and Johnson. She listed the four things they did which she especially appreciated.

The next week when she went to collect ourGratitude is part of our heritage trash cans from the curb Messrs. Smith and Johnson greeted her. “Heeeey, Mrs. Lewis!! Thank you for that letter you wrote about us!! Man, your letter was the talk of all the guys down at the station! No one has ever written a letter of commendation before!”

My mother had practically made our trash collectors into heroes.

This is just one example of how my mother conveyed to our family the importance of hakarat hatov, of showing gratitude.

The Hebrew word yehudi, “Jew,” comes from the verb l’hodot, “to acknowledge” and “to thank.” The first thing Jews traditionally say in the morning is the declaration modeh ani: Thankful am I before you, living and eternal King, that you have returned to me my soul within me with compassion, abundant is Your faithfulness.

Gratitude is part of our heritage.

I take my mother’s lesson with me. When someone does an extra-good job for me, I ask to speak to the supervisor. Recently, a bank employee helped me to get back extra fees charged to my son’s bank account.

Did you know that if you have a custodial account for a minor, the day your child turns 18—poof!—you may be charged with a $25 monthly fee? I did not know this, and eight months after my son’s 18th birthday, I happened to look at the monthly bank statement. I was shocked!

It took three hour-long phone calls to get the charges reversed. When finally, a bank employee returned $200 to my son’s account, I danced a jig. And I asked to speak to her supervisor. “You were so helpful!” I told her. “I really want to tell your supervisor how great you were.”

The woman, Cassy, was quiet for a moment. “I, why, oh my gosh,” she stuttered. “You don’t know how much this means to me.” There were tears in her voice.

I asked her if she had another minute for a story, and she said, “Yes, of course.” I told her about my mom and the trashmen. I told her that I try to follow my mother’s example.

Cassy transferred me her boss’s line, and I left a long voice mail, saying that I was not related to Cassy and had never even met her, but she was patient, knowledgeable and had really helped me. “She deserves a raise!” I ended.

Cassy’s manager called later to thank me. I had left my U.S. phone number and mentioned that I live in Israel, which is 10 hours ahead of Los Angeles.

“Well, that’s something we in America couldI left a long, positive voicemail for the manager learn from you Israelis, a little appreciation,” the manager said.

I told him that I am originally from Los Angeles and not a native Israeli. But I learned to offer appreciation from my mother, and that it really is a Jewish value. I asked if he had a minute for a story, and I told him about the trashmen letter, too.

“That’s a great story,” he said. “You keep up your mother’s good work. G‑d bless you!”