originally posted in EJewishPhilanthropy
written by my colleague Rebecca Saidlower, Associate Director of Marketing at The Jewish Education Project, and me

The social media revolution means big things for nonprofits. Social media demands a kind of openness and authenticity that can be challenging, but also empowering. Now more than ever our friends, fans, and followers can connect with us (and we with them) immediately and personally. The recent release of Facebook Timeline for Pages provides a new opportunity for your nonprofit to share your story in a rich, engaging way, with both those outside and inside your organization.

Here are a few ways you can take advantage of your Page’s new Timeline:

  1. Document the history of your organization since way back before Facebook. You can add milestones with short stories, links and photos going back to whenever your organization was founded. Visitors to our page can now learn, with just a few simple clicks, how our agency has been transformed since its original founding in 1910 and how BJENY and SAJES became The Jewish Education Project.
  2. Make major events and accomplishments in recent years stand out from your Facebook chatter. You may have posted about that successful conference or big award when it occurred, but chances are those posts have since been lost amongst all of your other daily conversations. Now you can add those events as Milestones, and include a big glossy image, so that your major accomplishments will stand out when a visitor scrolls down your page. We chose to highlight the Jewish Futures Conferences and the day we were included in Slingshot ‘11 – ‘12 as one of the top 50 innovative Jewish Non Profits in North America, along with other big agency events.
  3. Choose a cover photo that represents your organization’s mission. Before, most Pages had organizational logos on top. With the inclusion of a cover photo in addition to a profile picture, you can add a picture that showcases who you are and evokes an emotional reaction. We chose an image of an educator working with children, to showcase both the educators we work with directly, and the children whose lives they impact.
  4. Pin important news items to the top of your Page. Making a major announcement or promoting a big event? You can pin certain posts to stay at the top of your page for a week at a time. That way you can continue to post interesting links or stories without worrying about your key messages getting lost on the page.
  5. Take advantage of Facebook’s apps and tools! Now is a great time to make sure you are using your Facebook Page in the best way possible. We finally added an app to connect our Page to our e-marketing tool so that visitors can join our email list in one simple click. The new Timeline also let us select specific organization that we “Like” so that we can feature our more prominent partners, or other organizational sub-pages.
While we focus on the newness and excitement of social media, it’s easy to get caught up in anxiety over the future – what’s the next big thing, where should I focus my efforts, etc.

Facebook Timeline offers a unique opportunity to reflect and celebrate our accomplishments, to see how far we’ve come. It’s about new tools and technologies, yes, but it’s also about affirming your voice, vision, and values as an organization. Building the timeline could be a great excuse to bring together staff, new and seasoned alike, to explore the history of the organization. Perhaps there are personal stories, little triumphs along the way that wouldn’t normally be recorded that now have a place to “live.” Perhaps you will rediscover shining moments, seemingly insurmountable challenges, questions asked and answered and asked again, and find avenues to share those stories with your followers in ways that add meaning and depth to their relationship with you. The internal conversation that ensues in crafting this space may be just as valuable as the product that emerges.

Developing your Facebook Timeline is both an exercise in organizational memory and an opportunity for deeper engagement, and we hope you’ll dig in and try it for yourself. We also invite you to check out our new Facebook Timeline and post feedback so that we can learn from one another, and continue to improve the way we connect with our audience!
The following is an email from my colleague at The Jewish Education Project about Thanksgiving.  It touches on some specifics to her position in the Early Childhood and Family Engagement department, but I loved the sentiment and the ideas she articulated so well, so I thought I would pass it on... 

Hello Colleagues,

I would like to take a minute a wish you all a very meaningful and relaxing holiday & long weekend; and to share a new perspective about Thanksgiving that I have come to see through G2E. 
Personally, I have never been that keen into what I was taught Thanksgiving is about- even as a child I don’t think I bought that everything happened so peacefully and magically between the Pilgrims and Native Americans.  As I got older, I became more and more frustrated with the way our country portrays the events and how I feel we “sell” that story to our children.  Now, I understand that it is a tough decision as we want our children to understand the meaning behind the holiday, and without a context that is a hard message to share.  Especially now that I have my own three year old, I am struggling between my moral integrity to share the real story of how we overtook this land versus the more age appropriate “version” we are told from an early age.  Since my son was born I have been apprehensive about how I was going to explain Thanksgiving.  This year, through G2E, I believe I have found the answer.   

 As I participated in the Westchester Professional Learning two weeks ago at Westchester Jewish Center, and engaged in the session led by Storahtelling, I realized that that there are many age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate ways to not only share out the meaning behind Thanksgiving, but to also connect it to our Jewish history, tradition, and values.  I realized that there are many truths and messages behind Thanksgiving that so clearly line up with our tradition of harvesting the land during Sukkot, and giving thanks for things we have in our lives through the daily prayer (often said in our Early Childhood Centers)- Modeh Ani .  It occurred to me that although we set aside one day of Thanks in America, in Judaism this is a very consistent theme in our daily prayers and activities.  I thought why not introduce the concept of giving thanks through the lens of what it means to be a good, decent person and how to do that in a Jewish way, as well.  So, I took out the prayer Modeh Ani and I showed it to my son.  I sang it and explained it in 3 year old terms, and connected it for him to Thanksgiving.  We have been talking about  what being thankful means for a little over a week now, and it wasn’t until I could integrate the Modeh Ani into my “mini-lesson plan” that I truly felt like I was passing on a substantive, meaningful message to my son about I hope he can live his daily life.  I plan to continue to reinforce this message throughout the year, because what I really want for my son is that he know that being thankful doesn’t happen once a year, but that to be a good, decent person in this world, we must be aware of being thankful all the time.  This isn’t to say that I want my son to be so consumed with this that he can’t understand what feeling thankful is, but rather to begin teaching him that having an aware mindset is an important part of being Jewish and being an American. 

I’d like to share the text that Storahtelling presented to us about the Declaration of Thanksgiving as a holiday by George Washington in 1789.  While reading this text, I saw many similarities between this and Jewish prayers and texts, and all of a sudden felt much more connected to Thanksgiving than I have in decades.  I plan on sharing this text at my Thanksgiving meal tomorrow and I am curious and excited to see what kind of conversation this sparks.  Personally, I finally feel a little more comfortable with celebrating Thanksgiving, but more importantly, I finally feel armed with enough information to be able to educate my son on the “the true meaning” behind Thanksgiving and to be able to connect that to our Jewish roots, values, and identity.  As a relatively new mom with a strong connection to justice and Judaism, this is something I’ve been searching for for a long time.  Because after all, I am a Jew, but I am also an American. 

I hope you each find your connection to this holiday, and that it is peaceful, relaxing, and festive. 

With many thanks,
The Tower of Babel gets a bad rap.  Here's an offensive-ish video illustrating just that fact...
Humanity gangs up, decides to take over heaven, building this massive structure together, which is eventually thwarted by the divine beings who get freaked out about humanity's power.


As Social Media Coalitions Manager at the Jewish Education Project (wow, segue), I've been thinking a lot about collaboration and what it means to build something together.  Whereas a model like, say, building the mishkan is a pleasant reference, the Tower of Babel invokes a sense of caution, even dread.  Don't dream too big! it warns.  

I believe, though, that there is another message we can glean from this text; one that doesn't stop you in your tracks and shout at you that you're not a god.  Quite the contrary.    

In "Reality is Broken" (seriously, just read it), my new hero Jane McGonigal talks about the feeling we get when we're immersed in what she calls "epic environments."  "An epic environment," she writes, "is a space that, by virtue of its extreme scale, provokes a profound sense of awe and wonder."  Built epic environments, those we know have been crafted by human hands, inspire in us a particular sense of awe - "it makes us feel capable of much bigger things, together."  The Grand Canyon is a good example of a natural epic environment, while the Great Wall of China is a built one.

McGonigal talks about the first epic environments, places constructed thousands of years ago for, it seems, the express purpose of inspiring a sense of awe.  The Gobekli Tepe, for instance, which predated Stonehenge by thousands of years, was among humanity's first 'cathedral' on a hill.  One would think that these structures were the products of advanced societies, cultures that had learned to cooperate on a huge scales.  Surprisingly, though, evidence suggests that the opposite may be true.  "The stone cathedrals...actually inspired and enabled human society to become dramatically more cooperative, completely reinventing civilization as it once existed," McGonigal explains.  Whoa.  Some mind-flip, huh?

Now let's return to the infamous Tower of Babel, viewing it with this new information in mind.  

No wait, let's back up a bit.  Let's start with Noah and the Ark.   

Arguably the Ark was an epic environment, yeah?  Massive in scale, housing two of every species on the entire planet, some kind of weird sewage system...  It must have inspired the sense of awe we're talking about.

But the Ark was a one-man kind of deal.  The rabbis often fault Noah (who was "righteous in his time"... but probably wouldn't have cut it were he stacked up next to, say, Abraham) for not involving others.  Unlike Abraham, who argued passionately on behalf of a couple of sinful cities, Noah got the marching orders and set to work.  No questions asked.  No one else involved.

The Tower of Babel, on the other hand, was a grand-scale collaborative effort.  All of humanty gathers to achieve one goal - to build an epic environment.  So epic, in fact, that it would reach to the heavens.  

The divine beings are threatened by this move, and resolve to "confound their speech."  Humanity is then spread over the entirety of the earth, effectively preventing a breech of the upper world.

The text portrays this scene pretty negatively.  Man's hubris, divine intervention, and a punishment that throws us all that much farther out of the Garden of Eden.  But what if we read it another way?  What if we looked at the positive results of this story?

Building the Tower of Babel taught us to be cooperative.  This project forced humanity to test the limits of its power.  It certainly invoked a sense of awe in the builders and onlookers - the kind of awe McGonigal writes about.  The kind that makes bigger things seem doable.  And perhaps the divine punishment is not that at all.  Being scattered, developing new languages...  These are new adventures, wider horizons, opportunities to build complex societies in vastly different territories.  And none of this would have been possible if we hadn't built the Tower in the first place.  

So maybe this biblical tale of the second built epic environment wasn't so bad as it seems.

If you buy into my optimistic reading at all, then, dear readers, we have a new task at hand.  The divine beings thought they were preventing further collaboration by spreading us out and tangling our tongues.  How about we prove them wrong, eh? 

So, in short, New York is amazing, I love my job and my colleagues, Brooklyn is treating us well, and Alan and I are really excited to get back and see our families for what is sure to be a pretty emotional couple of seders.  
But more on that later.
Below is a Passover greeting sent out by my new colleague at the Jewish Education Project, Rabbi Arnie Samlan.  You can see the original post on his blog.  It's clever and thoughtful in that I-have-to-share-this kind of way.

Happy Passover, y'all!

When Mia, the famous Bronx Zoo Cobra, slithered her way to temporary freedom in a corner of the reptile house, the irony was simply amazing. After all, a cobra adorned the headdress of the ancient Pharaoh’s, including, in all likelihood, the Pharaoh of the exodus story we will tell in a few days.

Snakes show up in yet another way in the story of the exodus: When Moses and Aaron came before Pharaoh, they demonstrated a sign of their Godly mission: Aaron threw his staff to the ground and it became a snake. Not to be outclassed, Pharaoh had his magicians create snakes. But the snake of Aaron and Moses was on top of the game, and swallowed the snakes of the magicians.

So, the snake was first a symbol of slavery, appearing on Pharaoh’s head. But then became a powerful symbol of freedom -- exhibit A in the demonstration of the power that would become fully manifested in the exodus of the Israelites.

Our contemporary Cobra too, became a symbol of freedom. Within hours of the her escape, Mia had a fan base rivaling any rock star. People began using social media to represent her and her (mostly fictional) exploits. The Bronx Zoo Cobra captured our imagination in her dash for freedom. We cheered her on, hoping she would find fulfillment (just not in our home).

The drive towards freedom and fulfillment is powerful. Yet, in our world, there are those who are not fully free. Our world has human slavery, totalitarian rulers, and prejudicial laws and systems that prevent people from living full lives. And Pesach, along with the snakes, both ancient and modern, reminds us that we need to use our power to work for freedom in our world.