Find­ing the tribe and lead­ing it

As com­mu­nity lead­ers and polls warn of a grow­ing gap be­tween Is­rael and the Di­as­pora, an in­no­va­tive plan is at­tract­ing young Jews from around the globe

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - CONTENTS - • By HAGAY HACOHEN

Moses might have been cho­sen by God, but he was a ter­ri­ble leader. Not only did he wan­der in the desert for 40 years, ef­fec­tively killing all the peo­ple he was meant to help, he also be­came fa­mous for hit­ting rocks and los­ing his tem­per. Lead­er­ship, good lead­er­ship, is so vi­tal to hu­man affairs, it’s sur­pris­ing how few of us pay at­ten­tion to the way lead­ers are made. We trust that those in power must have gone through a vet­ting process to en­sure they would be, at the very least, com­pe­tent. There’s no rea­son to think this idea is valid.

The late war cor­re­spon­dent Marie Colvin re­ported in 2001 that teenage mem­bers of the Tamil Tigers were say­ing their leader, Velupil­lai Prab­hakaran, was “the great­est leader in hu­man his­tory.” He wasn’t. Prab­hakaran was killed dur­ing a 2009 mil­i­tary operation that shat­tered his or­ga­ni­za­tion, end­ing a con­flict that had been cost­ing lives since 1983.

His­tory holds an am­ple num­ber of sto­ries about lead­ers who made ter­ri­ble, cat­a­stroph­i­cally poor de­ci­sions. The Aztec King Moctezuma al­lowed him­self to be taken cap­tive by the Span­ish, ef­fec­tively giv­ing them the up­per hand in con­trol of the New World. Zedekiah,

the last king of Judea, fared no bet­ter af­ter he ignored the warn­ings of Jeremiah and re­belled against Baby­lon, a de­ci­sion that led to his sons be­ing killed, his eyes be­ing put out, and the fall of the Jewish king­dom in 587 BCE.

De­spite this ter­ri­ble record, lead­ers re­main so vi­tal to hu­man affairs that even an­ar­chist writer Don­ald Rooum pointed to their importance. Anar­chists, he ex­plains in his 1991 book Wild­cat: ABC of Bosses, are “op­posed to be­ing bossed, not to be­ing led.” Lead­ers, he says, “are peo­ple whose ini­tia­tives are fol­lowed vol­un­tar­ily. When bosses claim to be lead­ers, this is a swin­dle.”

Will the Jewish peo­ple have lead­ers in the next few gen­er­a­tions, or bosses?

Masa CEO Li­ran Avisar Ben-Horin isn’t shy about say­ing that, at least in North Amer­ica, “The av­er­age Jewish young­ster is ex­posed to Ju­daism in a se­ries of un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ences, for ex­am­ple, be­ing forced to at­tend Sun­day school.” This neg­a­tive emo­tional con­nec­tion be­tween be­ing bossed and Jewish iden­tity be­comes more dif­fi­cult to endure when pow­er­ful trends around the world are erod­ing tra­di­tional iden­ti­ties. “These are global pro­cesses that hu­man­ity is go­ing through,” she says.

The neg­a­tive at­ten­tion Is­rael is re­ceiv­ing on cam­puses across North Amer­ica also doesn’t help. From a pow­er­ful source of Jewish pride and iden­tity, Is­rael had ac­quired a darker rep­u­ta­tion as one of the world’s most con­flicted spots. “Fif­teen years ago you’d do an event fo­cused on Is­rael and 80% of the Jewish com­mu­nity would show up,” Ben-Horin says. “Sadly, to­day Is­rael is seen as a di­vi­sive is­sue, and some com­mu­nity lead­ers don’t know how to touch it.”

Yossi Beilin, fully aware of these trends, pushed in 1984 for the cre­ation of Taglit, a unique pro­gram that al­lows Jewish and Jewish-af­fil­i­ated youths from around the world to dis­cover Is­rael and their own Jewish con­nec­tion.

In 2011, Jewish-Amer­i­can car­toon­ist Sarah Glid­den went on the pro­gram and ended up cre­at­ing How to Un­der­stand Is­rael in 60 Days or Less. Her jour­ney is per­haps the ideal one imag­ined by those who run the pro­gram, as it helped turn Glid­den away from be­ing a jaded, highly crit­i­cal Jewish-Amer­i­can lib­eral fo­cused on the wrongs, real and imag­i­nary, com­mit­ted by Is­rael.

In the course of the pro­gram, Glid­den be­comes aware of the post-Holo­caust Jewish refugees who were barred from en­ter­ing the land of their fa­thers, and of the ter­ri­ble cost ex­acted by Arab ag­gres­sion against Is­rael. Far from be­ing con­verted into a die-in-the-wool Zion­ist, though, she was able to get out of the ex­pe­ri­ence ex­actly what it was meant to give – un­der­stand­ing.

Masa – cre­ated in 2004 in a part­ner­ship with the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment and the Jewish Agency – is a dif­fer­ent ket­tle of fish. If Taglit is fo­cused on de­liv­er­ing an ef­fec­tive Is­raeli ex­pe­ri­ence “in 60 days or less,” Masa is geared to­ward of­fer­ing worth­while pro­grams that can lead Jewish young­sters to stay in Is­rael for about a year. This was the orig­i­nal vi­sion of prime min­is­ter Ariel Sharon when he cre­ated the pro­gram. Masa cur­rently at­tracts roughly 12,000 young peo­ple each year from 60 dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

What Masa did next was bril­liant, and is re­lated to milk­shakes.

Har­vard scholar Clay­ton M. Chris­tensen is fa­mous for the con­cept that says when we are busy with some­thing, any­thing at all, we are hir­ing it to do some­thing for us. We might think we buy a loaf of bread be­cause we’re hun­gry. And that’s true. But what are we hir­ing the bread to do for us?

If you’re a busy par­ent who wants to hire bread to make a school lunch, you buy pre-sliced white bread. If you hire the bread to make your­self feel wealthy and

spe­cial, you might queue up to be handed a fresh ar­ti­san loaf that was kneaded by a slim-bearded hipster and baked in a hand-made kiln.

In his 2012 book How Will You Mea­sure Your Life? Chris­tensen writes about how he helped a fast-food com­pany sell more milk­shakes. The com­pany tried new fla­vors, sales, and of­fers of larger por­tions, but peo­ple kept on buy­ing the same num­ber of shakes.

When Chris­tensen asked peo­ple why they bought shakes, they of­ten said they were driv­ing to work and wanted a light snack that wouldn’t be messy along the way. Hav­ing dis­cov­ered what job the shake was hired to do, Chris­tensen sug­gested that the com­pany cre­ate shakes with lit­tle chunks in them, to make the ex­pe­ri­ence more in­ter­est­ing for drinkers. He also sug­gested plac­ing vend­ing ma­chines that sold shakes out­side the restau­rants so driv­ers wouldn’t have to leave their cars. That idea worked, and more shakes were sold.

What Ben-Horin dis­cov­ered is that Masa com­petes for the job of for­ma­tive one-year ex­pe­ri­ences in the Jewish mar­ket. Sure, you could go to Is­rael for one year and gain new skills, but you could also join the well-es­tab­lished Peace Corps. New Zealand of­fers an in­tern­ship pro­gram in tourism, and China of­fers a va­ri­ety of pro­grams in law, busi­ness and web de­sign. There is also a pro­gram called Top Is­rael In­terns cre­ated by, you guessed it, Masa.

Young peo­ple to­day “are not look­ing for a year off,” Ben-Horin says, “but a year on.” Jewish iden­tity has to be rel­e­vant to the bot­tom line of get­ting work in a com­pet­i­tive job mar­ket, or young peo­ple will just pass it over.

This is a re­mark­able change from the es­tab­lished Zion­ist con­cept of lead­er­ship, which leaned heav­ily on self-sacrifice and the value of be­ing a ha­lutz,a pioneer. Joseph Trumpel­dor ex­plained the con­cept to Ze’ev Jabotin­sky in 1913, as a per­son who is “will­ing to be forged into ev­ery­thing needed for the na­tional ma­chine. If a wheel is needed, I am that wheel... I am the pure ideal of ser­vice.” That was more than 100 years ago.

Speak­ing with The Jerusalem Post, Sarah Mali, vice pres­i­dent of the Masa Lead­er­ship Pro­gram, de­fined the core of the pro­gram as adap­tive lead­er­ship, a term coined by Har­vard scholar Ron­ald Heifetz.

Like Rooum, Heifetz be­lieves author­ity does not equal lead­er­ship. As Mali puts it, “If the ex­ist­ing experts could solve the prob­lems, they would.”

Never be­fore did rapid cli­mate change and so­cial up­heaval pre­sented the world with such un­prece­dented chal­lenge. Never be­fore did a coun­try at­tempt to leave the Eu­ro­pean Union, as Britain has. Never be­fore did a teenage girl ar­range mass protests to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, as Swedish ac­tivist Greta Thun­berg has. “Hu­man­ity faces many ques­tions to which we do not have an an­swer,” Mali says, point­ing out that in­no­va­tion must be shared at a pace, and in a way in which the com­mu­nity will tol­er­ate it, if it is to be ef­fec­tive.

In other words, Thun­berg is not a leader be­cause she’s an ex­pert on cli­mate change. What makes her an ef­fec­tive leader, with­out any of­fi­cial rank or ti­tle, is that she has achieved a pur­pose. When thou­sands of chil­dren across Europe refuse to at­tend school un­less cli­mate change is dealt with, that is a mas­sive change, and one of the shocks needed if hu­man­ity is to tol­er­ate the painful changes nec­es­sary for us all to pros­per.

“Evo­lu­tion,” Mali says, “takes time. We need co­or­di­na­tion for adap­ta­tion so that we can thrive.” The Masa pro­gram is an ac­cel­er­ated process in which those who have the spark can find not only their unique pur­pose, but also learn how to best serve that pur­pose in the com­mu­ni­ties and in­sti­tu­tions they will even­tu­ally in­habit.

Jewish or­ga­ni­za­tions now face two se­ri­ous is­sues. First is that few young peo­ple want to re­main in groups for long, un­less they are pushed up in the hi­er­ar­chy. So ev­ery few years, Jewish chap­ter heads and com­mu­nity lead­ers need to be re­placed as the peo­ple who filled these po­si­tions opt to start their own busi­nesses or seek jobs that of­fer more flex­i­bil­ity.

The other is­sue, ac­cord­ing to Ben-Horin, is that be­tween 75% and 90% of Jewish lead­ers will re­tire by 2024. The prob­lem doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily af­fect big names like Ron Lauder, Charles Bronf­man, or Michael Stein­hardt. The mys­tery is, who will lead Jewish com­mu­ni­ties and fed­er­a­tions across North Amer­ica when those shaped by the cre­ation of Is­rael and the Six-Day War re­tire? Who will even­tu­ally lead the Jewish com­mu­ni­ties of Europe, Russia or Mex­ico?

One po­ten­tial fu­ture leader is Adah Forer. Speak­ing with the Post in a Jerusalem cof­fee shop, Forer de­scribes how, while serv­ing as leader of UC Berkeley Tikva-Stu­dents for Is­rael, she was able to de­mand a pub­lic apol­ogy from eth­nic stud­ies lec­turer Hatem Bazian for post­ing an­ti­semitic tweets in 2017.

“When I was pres­i­dent of Tikva, it was a very small group, so I was ba­si­cally lead­ing by ex­am­ple,” she says. “If I can in­spire some­one, I think I did my job as a leader.” Forer is cur­rently at­tend­ing the Is­rael Gov­ern­ment Fel­lows pro­gram, an ini­tia­tive of the Me­nachem Begin Her­itage Cen­ter. She speaks highly of the Masa lead­er­ship pro­gram, say­ing it was a unique op­por­tu­nity in which to meet Jewish fu­ture lead­ers from around the world while be­ing ex­posed to in­no­va­tive views about lead­er­ship and ed­u­ca­tion.

An­other young leader shaped by the pro­gram is Jor­denne Parker. She came from an in­ter­faith back­ground in which her Jewish up­bring­ing was lim­ited to im­me­di­ate fam­ily in Austin, Texas. “I was the only Jew in the class,” she says. “Masa gave me the chance to con­nect with peo­ple who are not re­li­giously Jewish. It was a won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Not­ing that they share the Yid­dishe-mama need to feed guests in or­der to make them feel wel­come, she said Tex­ans “gen­er­ally show pos­i­tive sup­port for Is­rael.” Parker now works as the op­er­a­tions man­ager at the Texas Hil­lel Foun­da­tion in Austin, and is ex­tremely happy she en­rolled in the Masa lead­er­ship pro­gram, as it opened her eyes to the path she is cur­rently on.

In the 2018 film Vice, Chris­tian Bale, in the role of Dick Cheney, asks Steve Carell [As Don­ald Rums­feld], “What do we be­lieve in?” only to be an­swered with roar­ing laugh­ter. In the film, GOP lead­ers are por­trayed as peo­ple who be­lieve in noth­ing, and who will stop at noth­ing to gain power for power’s sake.

The Masa lead­er­ship pro­gram dares to pose a dif­fer­ent vi­sion, one in which young peo­ple dare to chal­lenge them­selves and oth­ers to seek new paths, il­lu­mi­nat­ing their jour­neys for the Jewish world in the tur­bu­lent times ahead.

(Axel An­gels)

YOUNG PEO­PLE to­day are ‘not look­ing for a year off, but a year on’: Par­tic­i­pants in the Masa lead­er­ship pro­gram.

(Axel An­gels)

(CLOCKWISE) SWEDISH ac­tivist Greta Thun­berg (Wiki­me­dia Com­mons); Masa lead­er­ship pro­gram vice pres­i­dent Sarah Mali (PR); fu­ture Jewish leader Ada Forer (Cour­tesy); Masa CEO Li­ran Avishar Ben-Hourin.

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