Let My People Know

by Beth Frank Backman

A complete reading of the entire Talmud is always a monumental achievement, but Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz’s siyyum (completion ceremony) last night, was not only this, but historic. In the chambers of Jerusalem’s City Council,  Steinsaltz celebrated the publishing of the final volume of the first ever complete translation of the Talmud into Modern Hebrew. Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a congratulatory video, observed that “the translation itself is a milestone in the history of the Jewish people. It signifies the return to Zion. The Talmud was written in the Aramaic of Babylon and now for the first time it has been brought home to the language of modern Israel.”

With the motto “1 World. 1 People. 1 Day”, last night’s celebration was also the first siyyum in history of this scope. It involved all streams of Judaism and spanned 46 countries, six continents and over 600 hundred individual community programs. From schools to old age homes, from the New Orleans GA to small groups of friends meeting in private homes, interactive on-line learning venues accessible around the world were put together to celebrate the occasion. At the end of the day of learning, participants connected together via live Internet broadcasts from Jerusalem that were available in English, French, Spanish, Russian and Hebrew.

At the siyyum in Jerusalem, I had the opportunity to speak with Margie-Ruth Davis of Perry Davis Associates, who organized much of the event. In our conversation she attributed their success to three key elements. First, from the very beginning they decided to focus their marketing efforts on online channels. Not a penny was spent on the traditional venues of print, radio or television. Second, they made a concerted effort to integrate good old fashioned community organizing with online marketing activities. Third, they deliberately created a project that went beyond themselves. Davis says that the best advice she received when planning this campaign was, “You will succeed if the project doesn’t belong to you”. With this in mind, they put together a toolkit containing a planning and organizing guide, marketing materials, a public relations kit, contact lists and even curriculum materials developed by professional educators.

This incredible event is also a case book example of the four key elements of a successful social media campaign described by Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith in their newly released book, The Dragonfly Effect. These elements, summarized by the acronym FGET are:

Focus: The campaign had a clear focused goal: having Jewish people and communities around the globe involved in studying the Talmud on November 7, 2010. This would be accomplished by study programs carried out online, in private homes and within communities.

Grab Attention: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Google maps were utilized along with a regularly updated website – joined together to create an integrated push and pull of information from Jewish individuals and communities around the world to the Global Day of Learning project site and back again. For example, the website prominently featured a box where participating individuals and communities could ask a “Big Question” about Jewish learning. This question was then fed to Twitter and Facebook where people could comment and send responses. On the website itself, each week or so, one of the questions was selected for extended discussion with Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz also contributing a response.

As another example, when participating organizations registered their event, it appeared on a customized Google map. Individuals in search of an event could click on the map and see events in their area along with a pop-up window containing contact information.

Engage: The campaign worked to empower participants to spread the word and create programs, creating a high level of involvement and ownership. Through this ownership, the number of participants expanded significantly beyond what would have been possible had one small marketing team kept control over all event registration.

Take Action: On the day of the siyyum, communities around the globe met to learn and celebrate the publication of the final book of the Steinsaltz translation of the Talmud. At 9:00pm in Israel and 2:00pm on the east coast of the USA and Canada, a live broadcast was sent around the globe. Many events were timed so they concluded with participants viewing the ceremony taking place in Jerusalem.

The Global Day of Learning, in celebration of the completion of the Steinsaltz Talmud, is a milestone in the history of cooperative Jewish learning. It is also a learning experience in the potential of social media to create and connect communities of learning. In his closing remarks, Rabbi Steinsaltz commented that the special kaddish recited at a siyyum, is not goodbye, but “see you again”. It includes the notion “we are coming back to you”. As with Talmud, so too with social media and Jewish learning.

The title of this post, Let My People Know, was a central theme to Rabbi Steinsaltz’s remarks at the siyyum.

Beth Frank Backman is CEO of Inverbrio.