Now more than ever, the reliance on technology to keep us connected is a part of everyday life for people of all ages. But Daphne Knopf, a student a fifth grade student at Bornblum Jewish Community School, decided she would utilize an often-overlooked form of communication to stay in touch with others over summer break, sending dozens of handwritten letters across Memphis. In the letters, Daphne included a stamp and issued a challenge, asking her recipients to use the stamp and send a letter to someone they cared about.
“There was so much happening with COVID-19 quarantining and then protests after George Floyd’s death,” observed Daphne. “It felt like we were all so divided. I wanted to do something that would connect us and show love.”
Her personal initiative was inspired by the national bestselling book, “Pay It Forward,” which had been a summer reading assignment given by Daphne’s teacher. To her delight, not only did Daphne receive numerous letters in return from friends, family and previous teachers, but also, she received a reply from the book’s author, Catherine Ryan Hyde, which she shared with her classmates at the start of this school year.
“I was so excited when I saw the envelope, and it said it was from Catherine Ryan Hyde,” said Daphne. “She was really kind in the letter. My whole class was happy for me and thought it was so cool.”
“I’ve assigned this as summer reading for my class for three years, but this is by far the most unique and genuine project I have seen,” says Cindy VanGunda, Daphne’s fifth grade teacher. “Over the summer, I was amazed to find a letter from Daphne when I opened my mailbox one day. In it, she explained that people don’t often write letters anymore, but that she wanted to find a unique way to interact with others as we face COVID-19.”
Cindy accepted the challenge and sent a letter to her 86-year-old grandfather, who expressed his great surprise and joy in receiving the unexpected communication.
Others in the school community, including Director of Student Services Sally Baer, enthusiastically joined in on Daphne’s challenge. “She really touched a lot of lives including my own,” explains Sally, who says she wrote letters to her great niece and great nephew. “I framed the picture Daphne drew in the card she sent me, and I keep it in my office. I look at it daily and smile at her reminder that – together – we will persevere in these difficult times.”
In recognition of her outstanding efforts to “Pay it Forward,” Daniel R. Weiss, Head of School at Bornblum, presented Daphne with a Mensch Chip. The award honors those who embody the spirit and qualities of a mensch – a Yiddish word denoting a person of integrity and honor.
“I am deeply impressed and inspired by Daphne,” said Daniel. “She shared her heart, and there is nothing – no grade or other academic accomplishment – more important than showing others love. It is an honor to have her as a student and to recognize her extraordinary kindness and initiative by presenting her with the very first Mensch Chip of the school year.”
A co-educational school located in Memphis, Tenn., Bornblum Jewish Community School serves students from kindergarten through grade 8. Since its inception in 1988, Bornblum strives to provide students with a superior education in general and Judaic studies, while inspiring them to achieve their individual potential. Laser focused on this mission, Bornblum creates highly educated citizens and community leaders who go on to attend the most selective high schools and colleges in the nation. For more information, visit www.bornblum.org.