A Torah comes home after 40 years

IJ Torah third

Let me tell you an incredible story about a 40-year quest. It all started with an old note; a note that itself was over 40 years old when it all began. The date on the piece of paper was 1934. It was a note written in my great-grandfather Henry Rosenbaum’s name, from a synagogue in Brooklyn that we’d never heard of.

It was among my great-grandfather’s papers, discovered after he died in 1976. It was a note giving the synagogue permission to use and bear responsibility for a family Torah scroll that we’d never heard of and knew nothing about.

note from 1934 edited

My family was stunned; my father in particular. What Torah scroll was this note talking about? How is it possible that we never heard about it? We began asking family members what they could recall of this mysterious Torah scroll from so long ago.

They asked my grandmother and her two sisters if they remembered a Torah of their father’s. Between the three of them we were able to piece together the fact that my great-GREAT-grandfather, Moshe Ze’ev Ziffer, who was their grandfather and had lived with them before he died in 1933, had a Torah scroll. In fact Henry, their father, had built a cabinet to hold the Torah. After Moshe Ze’ev died, apparently Henry, now in possession of the Torah, gave it to a synagogue in Brooklyn to use.

Moshe Ze'ev & his wife Chaya Tzipora Ziffer are seated, Genia Ziffer Rosenbaum, Henry's wife, is standing second from right.
Moshe Ze’ev Ziffer & his wife Chaya Tzipora are seated, Genia Ziffer Rosenbaum, (Henry’s wife and my great-grandmother), is standing second from right.

Finding this out was incredibly exciting. We had a family Torah scroll! My dad, Marty Ginsberg – who is also Moshe Ze’ev, having been named for my great-great-grandfather – reached out to the synagogue nearly forty years ago and told them about our claim. They were skeptical at first, but when he sent them a copy of the old letter, plus supporting statements by various relatives and neighbors, they realized his claim was valid. Sure, they told him. You can have your Torah. Just tell us which one is yours.

My father was devastated. How could he possibly identify a torah scroll that was put in a synagogue for safekeeping years before he was even born? If the synagogue didn’t know, how could he possibly know?

Finally, several years after the initial discovery, my father took a trip to the synagogue with Rabbi Berel Wein, the rabbi of his synagogue in Monsey, NY at the time. Rabbi Wein carefully looked over all the Torah scrolls and determined, based on everything he knew about where Moshe Ze’ev was from and when he came to the States, that it was one or another of the Torah scrolls. Not quite definitive enough. Then nothing happened for twenty years.

Finally my father picked up the Torah story again and made new efforts. After my family’s aliyah to Israel in 2002, my father was determined to one day bring our family Torah to our synagogue here in the beautiful Judean Hills. He told Rabbi Betzalel Rudinsky, the rabbi of his local Monsey synagogue, the story of the Torah. Rabbi Rudinsky said the Brooklyn synagogue made a mistake. That it was THEIR obligation to know which Torah was his; not my father’s. And then Rabbi Rudinsky took on the quest as his own. He started going to Brooklyn and speaking with them at the synagogue. He even went to a din Torah – a court of Jewish law. He would go back and have meetings with people there; incredibly things began moving.

Every week my dad would ask the rabbi if there’s anything new, and the rabbi would give an update. This went on for a few years. We lost count of how many times my dad said, “I think we might actually be getting the Torah this week!” And then, of course, nothing.

Then one day, more than eighty years after the little note was written, and forty years since my great-grandfather passed away, my dad asked about the Torah and Rabbi Rudinsky said, “Oh Shmuel Schneid (a local scribe) has it.” My dad was shocked. We were ALL shocked. After all these years I don’t think any of us really believed the day would come. Suddenly we were actually getting the torah!

A few days later I was at a Friday ‘shuk’ in Gush Etzion to buy wine and challah for Shabbat. I passed a booth where a woman was selling various handmade items and she said to me, “Are you interested in purchasing a Torah cover?” It was incredibly odd. How many people out shopping on a Friday say “I’ll take two challahs, some chopped liver, and a cover for my Torah scroll…” I almost bought one out of shock. They were beautiful, but were somewhat pricey; and my dad was already arranging to purchase one himself. I made a mental note anyway and took her card.

As luck – or destiny – would have it, my parents were already planning a trip to Israel for their grandsons’ bar mitzvah celebrations. And those, mere weeks before my parents’ own 50th wedding anniversary. My siblings and I decided to have the torah cover made for them ourselves and dedicate it in memory of our great, great grandparents, to whom the Torah had originally belonged, and in honor of our incredible parents who have literally planted and nurtured the seeds of Torah for our family. I found the woman’s card and we made it happen.

When my parents boarded that El Al plane to Israel with the Torah, I don’t know which one of them was more happy and relieved. The flight attendant had the Torah placed on pillows in a first class closet. My dad sent us a WhatsApp message so we could all breathe easily knowing that after a forty year quest our Torah was coming home.

A triumphantly joyous moment as my family, together in Israel, are about to begin the dedication ceremony in Neve Daniel, Israel, where the Torah will reside; (from left) Marty Ginsberg, Hindy Bryks, Amy Gottlieb, Steven Ginsberg, Hudi Kenigsberg, Laura Ben-David and Carol Ginsberg.
A triumphant, joyous moment as my family, together in Israel, are about to begin the dedication ceremony in Neve Daniel, Gush Etzion, where the Torah will reside; (from left) Marty Ginsberg, Hindy Bryks, Amy Gottlieb, Steven Ginsberg, Hudi Kenigsberg, Laura Ben-David and Carol Ginsberg.

First printed in The Jerusalem Post, In Jerusalem, July 1, 2016

Organic Facebook Marketing for SMX Israel 2014

I once opened my Instagram account and found an account for Infected Mushroom ‘liked’ my pic and added ‘Love your photos’. I was thrilled! They had 10,000 followers… I was NOT one of them, and they liked MY pic? I looked them up to listen to their songs to find something to repay the compliment but couldn’t find any. So I just said ‘thanks’ and moved on. Thing is I couldn’t move on. I obsessed over it and clicked back to them wondering how they got to me. There were all these pics of a cool rock band that I couldn’t stand.

Then, one day, I searched for the Infected Mushroom account and it had disappeared. Of course that couldn’t be. Accounts with 10,000 followers don’t get summarily chucked. I went back to my picture with the original comment and discovered that the comment was now under a different, unrelated name…  Baffled, I clicked on it and found what looked like a brand-new account… with nearly 10,000 followers! Now it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out their bait and switch strategy. Nor does it take a rocket scientist to realize that their fans are NOT going to engage. They are fake fans.

The story is with Instagram, but the lesson is relevant with all social media.

Now there’s lots of talk about how Facebook algorithms are killing business, and maybe it’s time to move on. Maybe it is.

In fact Facebook ADMITTED that its organic reach is falling short, and is urging brands to buy ads! So is that it? Is Facebook becoming like any other advertising platform? NOT SO FAST. Don’t ignore some of the most valuable benefits of Facebook Pages.

First of all, there are a number of services Facebook provides brands that are completely free:

  1. Provide social care – also known as customer service
  2. Disproportionately engage super fans – we’ll talk about that more soon
  3. Showcase social proof with Fan counts – and with this I refer you back to my Infected Mushroom story and how people can abuse this
  4. Collect email subscribers for more reliable communication

When it comes to sheer usage, Facebook still reigns supreme, accounting for almost twice as much time spent monthly by users on Facebook over Google. The customers are there. We need to be as well.

Immediate potential vs social media

Some brands might ignore social media, go on about their business as they always have, leave those new channels to others. Some brands can do this with little negative impact, BUT the more important thing here is that by ignoring social media channels, you are missing out on massive opportunities that are waiting to be taken up.

There are millions of conversations happening on social media every day, some of them ARE relevant to your business. By ignoring them, maybe you’re not losing anything from what you currently have, but you are missing out on new opportunities.

Having a dedicated social presence takes time and investment, but it has the potential to produce amazing results, many of which you wouldn’t even be aware of if you didn’t actively track and participate in these conversations. Still can’t relate? How about this: There ARE opportunities out there, RIGHT NOW that you’re not aware of if you’re not actively participating in social media conversations. They’re going on as we speak.

In order to capitalize on this you simply have to be in the game. YES, it takes time and YES it takes effort and commitment. A lot of commitment. You can bury your head in the sand if you’d like, but you are missing the boat. Big time. There are NO shortcuts in social media and if you think there are, remember my Infected Mushroom story. Try buying likes; you will have a nice big pile of people who connected your page, but absolutely no added value.

Likes matter

Why do ‘likes’ matter? Because likes bring you superfans. Remember what I said before, that Facebook allows you to disproportionately engage superfans? Well what are superfans?

When you open Facebook, are there certain pages that regularly turn up on your newsfeed? Of course there are. Think for a moment which pages you always see… Why do you see them? They’re there because you interact with their content.

Facebook’s algorithm – yes, that word that makes marketers cringe these days – determined that you have a higher affinity towards their content so you see it more often.

Affinity impacts the content people see on Facebook, so it stands to reason that the people who interact most with your brand will see the most content from your page. These are your “superfans.” They may be a very small proportion of your Facebook Fan contingent. But  they have a high degree of enthusiasm for your business and see a disproportionately high amount of your content. These fans are NOT NEGATIVELY AFFECTED by Facebook’s new algorithms. Cater to them. They are your captive audience. As long as you maintain a core group of superfans, you have the potential to reach so many more. Why? Because your superfans are one of your SECRET WEAPONS against Facebook’s algorithm.

When you post something on Facebook, the sooner it is engaged with in a meaningful manner, the better your chances are that it will beat the algorithm. The superfans are the ones to give you that leg up. THEY see the post, THEY react immediately, Facebook thinks, ‘Hey, this is a meaningful post, worth sharing widely’ and suddenly your more marginal fans are seeing the post as well.

Further, if you can get your posts to have wide reach organically it has the added power of being ‘discovered’ by your audience and not pushed in front of them. What someone finds ‘on their own’ they’re more likely to share and promote. If they actually like it, of course.

Big Data => Big Business

BIG DATA refers to the vast amount of information businesses are gathering these days. The data is so immense that it is too difficult to process using traditional methods such as databases and software. So how do we use it?

Now I know this is about organic reach, but I heard a great story that explains in such basic terms how Big Data can be used and frankly I think that even the most organic campaigns will need to be supplemented with a bit of promotion here and there.

There was a music band that had small but loyal following, doing a gig in a new city. While they were largely unknown there, their fans had compared them to a larger, more popular band. So they used that information to their advantage by targeting fans of the popular band who lived in a 100 mile radius of their gig. It worked – they sold out! I love that story. By using the kind of data that is available, you can drastically minimize your costs and still reach your target audiences.

Remember those superusers? That data is collected. It’s called affinity data, and is made up of social media ‘likes’, comments and shares. While it’s not fully developed – and in fact they don’t expect it to peak until 2020 – you can expect more and more programs and ideas directing your use of this information to tweak your own marketing.

Content is still king; but the queen is context

Naturally, to get more organic views in your newsfeed you need more interactions. To get the interactions you need content.

You’ve heard ‘Content is King’ ad nauseum. Of course it is absolutely true. But it is not the whole equation. Have you heard Content + Context = Digital Harmony? Let’s put it this way. If you have a hardware store, would you be posting articles about entertainment? Even if they were AWESOME articles. I mean, like amazing articles. That get shared, and liked, and commented on like crazy. But what good would they do for YOU? You may have an engaged audience but are they walking into your hardware store and buying duct tape and cable ties because of them? Or are they just reading your articles, oblivious to your existence?

You need to know WHO is your audience, WHERE do they hang out, WHAT do they need? And then taking all this into account, give them the kick-ass content that they’re looking for.

Adapt

People like to have things under control. Naturally. Who doesn’t? But let’s face it folks – Zuck is NOT under our control. The changes are so fast and frequent that I waited until the last minute to write this so I could be up to date… and I’m probably not.

ADAPT. It’s the only way. Be flexible. Follow your favorite social media blogs and industry leaders.  Be smart. You never want your account suspended because you ran a contest, counter to the new rules or because you had more than 20% text in an image you promoted on Facebook.

Sometimes you may want to curse out Facebook or the guy there who tells you your image, which you are POSITIVE complies to facebook guidelines, goes over the 20% rule. But then you will have to simply post a corrected image anyway. It’s simply vital for a Page owner to understand the rules of the game and one of those rules is that the rules change. Accept it. Adapt. Just go with the flow and make your Page kick butt.

A piece of the start-up nation

It may be highly unoriginal to write an article about Israel as the start-up nation, but no one ever wrote about my teeny part in it. Of course I didn’t really have even a teeny part in it until recently.

It all started with a LinkedIn email I received from an Israeli I’d never heard of who wished to speak to me about helping him with his new social media app. I debated deleting the email immediately as spam, but curiosity made me give the guy a chance. Though at that stage I was more curious if he’d actually hand-picked me from my LinkedIn profile, or merely spammed by thousands of emails hoping for a bite.

I made the call, and it actually sounded legit and intriguing. I thought, ‘what the heck?’ and rode out to Tel Aviv to meet with the CEO.

So here’s the thing: the CEO? He’s 26 years old; but no matter. After a brief meeting with him, I was highly impressed with this clever, ambitious, Technion grad who called himself the CEO of Heyku, a company I’d never heard of. He seemed to be both creative and talented and I got the feeling that this is the kind of guy who could be behind one of those Israeli start-ups you always hear about.

Turns out he was looking at me as a possible outside adviser to their new team to help them prepare to launch their brand new iPhone app. The app, like the company, was called Heyku. After this initial meeting he was sufficiently satisfied and I was sufficiently curious to take the next step so he invited me to meet the team.

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Putting my thoughts into words with the new Heyku app

We arranged to meet at a café in Tel Aviv. I thought about asking them if it was kosher, but figured, why rock the boat already? So picture this: There I was, an observant, American immigrant woman from Gush Etzion meeting up at a café with several secular Israeli men in Tel Aviv. If you think I was out of my element at that point, when I opened the menu the first word I saw was ‘shrimp.’

But was I really out of my element? Only when it came to the restaurant. The shrimp anecdote is just that… an anecdote. It was just a coffee meeting anyway and I quickly forgot about the shrimp; and the focus was on the new app. The team assembled was hugely talented and very impressive. The app, coming from a team like that, was creative, clean and tremendously compelling. They explained to me how this writing app helps people ‘share a moment.’ They created this cool step-by-step guided writing process to make it easy for people to express their moment in three lines on a pretty little ‘note’ that can be shared within the Heyku app, or in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or wherever you want really. Anyone who is connected to me on social media has likely seen some of my own profound thoughts.

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Actual heyku I wrote right after the meeting (I didn’t write about the shrimp…)

My biggest question was, what does Heyku add that Facebook and twitter don’t already have? The answers are quite simple: it’s clean and pretty, it’s structured, and has that brilliant guided-writing feature that can take the most illiterate person and turn him into Robert Frost. Maybe not quite but you get the idea. The three-line result was inspired by the traditional Japanese haiku, hence the name.

As the Heyku team was preparing to launch the app, they realized they could use a professional to have ‘on hand’ to advise their team in marketing and social media strategy and they found me. I was delighted, flattered, and kind of excited about having a part in a cool new app before it had even launched.

Of course I had to try out the app first. Really try it. As it is not yet available on Android, I downloaded it onto my iPad. I was a bit skeptical at first, I’ll admit. After all, what could a bunch of Israeli guys know about American sensibilities and English writing? Clearly a lot. The professionalism and the amount of research and painstaking attention to detail they invested in Heyku was amazing.

It didn’t take me long to discover that Heyku actually is a great app. Something about the way it works, that it gets you to zoom in on the most important thoughts on your mind, and compose your ‘moment’ in a deep or philosophical way… was quite a surprise!

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One of my deep, philosophical heykus

I test-drove the app for a few weeks, keeping careful notes of my comments and feedback. They took every word I said to heart, and just kept on making the app better and better.

Finally in mid-April the app was launched. What a thrill! I’ve been riding the wave of excitement as the app gains momentum, taking pride as though I was actually one of the brains behind the app. With all of the labor involved in creating and launching a start-up and an app, I’d liken the process to giving birth. While I was hardly the mother or father in this whole operation, I think I’ve been a darn good labor coach. I’m really proud of the whole talented Heyku team; all of which I now count among my friends. And I’m really excited to be doing my own little bit in building the start-up nation.

Toasting the imminent release of the Heyku app
Toasting the imminent release of the Heyku app

Original article can be seen here: A piece of the start-up nation | Laura Ben-David | Ops & Blogs | The Times of Israel http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-little-part-of-the-start-up-nation/