Growing up, I knew that on my birthday there would be mail.
It was birthday cards of course. But getting mail back then – and even now sometimes– seemed like a pretty cool thing. This was the one day a year that I received more mail than my parents. Of course back then, similar to today, most of the mail was bills. But who cared? On this one day each year, most of the mail at our house was addressed to me.
One of the birthday cards was always from my rabbi. I often wondered how he even knew it was my birthday. I think as a teenager, I figured it out. In confirmation class one afternoon we were all talking about how the rabbi always knew our birthdays. Maybe he knew something about marketing. Or he knew that birthday greetings from the rabbi meant something to a young child, and his mom and dad.
I wonder how much the membership intake forms have changed over the years.
You share a lot of information about yourself and your family when you join a synagogue.
Of course they want to know your contact information to help with communication. Your home address so they can send you an annual statement. And an email address – that is one piece of additional information, along with cell phone numbers, that has been added to the intake forms. Email is now the primary way many of us receive information about what is happening at synagogue.
Other information is shared. . Ages of your children. Your own Jewish background and that of your spouse. Yahrzeits of loved ones. And of course birthdays. By the way, I still get a number of birthday cards on my birthday, in addition to the usual bills, junk mail and maybe a magazine. Facebook has actually taken over as the primary vehicle for birthday wishes for many of us.
Most membership intake forms also ask about your job/business information and about your interests.
What do we do with all of this information? Hopefully, all of it is entered into a data base. So when you want to find out who is interested in social action or Torah Study, generating such a list isn’t a big deal. I have visited a number of synagogues where just the contact and biographical information is entered into the database. Business information about one’s line of work beyond a job title and company name as well as personal interests often remains on the forms in a paper file in a file cabinet. Collecting dust.
If you are going to ask people to fill out details about their family and their lives, the information gathered should be put to use. If not, why waste people’s time. If you know congregants have an interest in Tikkun Olam, all of the people who indicated that particular area of interest on their membership form could be contacted with a personal email and even a phone call.
And what about the birthday and anniversary greetings? The “old school” cards that arrive in the mail really are meaningful. To a young child or an adult. Synagogues have the information. Using it will greatly benefit how we feel about our birthdays, no matter our age, as well as our synagogue.