When I was young, I couldn't wait for the mail to arrive. If I was home, around 11am, I'd start to wonder, and to listen for the thud that I knew would come sometime in the next hour or so. Would I get a letter? A magazine? And from whom? An invitation to a birthday party? A letter from my Camp Ramah buddies? What would it be?
Now that we are in the era of electronic mail, I never have to worry about whether or not I will get mail. I will ALWAYS get mail. Perhaps less on Saturdays because of Shabbat, and certainly reduced volume for the Jewish holidays, but the email always comes. There's no thud to look forward to, no thick envelopes, or thin ones, or magazines - they all arrive in the same package. And the postman doesn't even have to ring, not even once.
Never is the constant flow of electronic mail more assured then preceding Jewish holidays. Chanukah is its own problem and may get its own post toward the end of the calendar year. But from about mid-August and for the next month, I get almost-hourly reminders that the holidays are coming and that there are no end to the number of holiday-related products I could buy or opportunities I could become involved with or organizations which are taking this opportunity to remind me that they're there and relying on my support for 5773. And I do support them. Some with dollars or shekels, others with social media support, and others by not unsubscribing from their constant email solicitations because - even though they're annoying - I know they do good work, and if they ever become not annoying with their solicitations, I would want to know about it. So I stay subscribed, only in the most extreme of cases putting my foot down, because I believe that some day, they'll change.
But that doesn't stop the frustration every holiday season as the emails start. And don't seem to stop. And I can't spend my time responding to each one, although I'd like to. So, I thought I'd write them an open letter.
Thanks for your messages of change, renewal, repentance, return, sweetness, health, happiness and peace. I am most grateful for the images of apples, honey, Stars of David, pomegranates, trees (although that's usually for Tu Bishvat, but, message of growth received), shofars, tzedakah boxes, prayerbooks, Torahs, prayer shawls, graphics that spell out "shanah tovah" in Hebrew or "happy new year" in English, inspirational quotes and photographs, or children frolicking with or amid any of those objects. I'd also like to thank you for your hoping-to-be-viral videos parodying current pop hits or taking a more original stab at synagogue recruitment and attracting new donors or members.
Please be assured that the fact that said New Year's greeting email did not garner a donation from me does not mean that I personally dislike you or disapprove of your work, Heaven forbid. What it definitely means is that I get about 200 of these messages every holiday season - and the Jewish calendar has at least THREE holidays seasons - and giving time or money to every entity that sends a message is not financially possible for a Jewish communal professional/social media consultant/writer/whatever I am this week. What it may also mean is that the message from your particular organization may not have seemed particularly special or authentic, so unless yours is an organization which is among my top ten or so involvements, I probably only scanned the message content - that is, if I even got past the message subject.
Like I said, this isn't personal. (You know, like most of the messages you send out this time of year.) It's just that the volume is too high, and after a while, the messages all sound the same. With all due respect to your work, if you ceased to wish me a happy new year, I probably would not even notice. It's more important to me as a consumer or constituent that you treat communication with judicious respect, reaching out when you have something real that adds value to my life and elevates the overwhelmingly bland content of my inbox to something that goes beyond perfunctory and becomes personally relevant.
As we say farewell to 5772 and look forward to another year of fighting the good fight on behalf of all those who need our efforts, I want to say that I appreciate the imperative that you feel in reaching out to your supporters and those people who may have at some point signed up for your mailing list. But if you are relying on this particular season to get your messages to your constituents, I wanted to suggest that your messages may be getting lost. So say "shanah tovah," send an image of a pomegranate or a link to a please-let-this-be-the-next-viral-video-hit-promo-clip, but know that our receipt of those emails may not make much of an impact.
Use email, images, blog posts and videos with viral aspirations to reach us, by all means. But do so thoughtfully, and maybe during a time when we're more receptive to the messages and to their potential impact. We understand that you can't reach out to every one of us personally. But one of the trickle-down results of being more thoughtful and strategic in your communications year-round is that you'll be building trust between you and your constituents. We'll trust you more, and we'll care more. And then, next year, when you send us an email wishing us a happy new year, we'll be more receptive to both the email and the message it contains.
Thank you, and shanah tovah - may your many worthy causes find support and success in the new year.