I’m going to venture a guess that Shimon Peres, Israel’s president, would be considered an excellent leader by most people. He was leading an emerging nation when Mark Zukerberg was still memorizing the Torah portion for his Bar Mitzvah. So it’s not surprising that the Israeli Presidential Conference, “Facing Tomorrow,” piggybacked on his birthday.
Leadership is an odd word. There are a bunch of generic qualities that leaders exhibit, but I think it’s not because a person emulates a certain personality that makes them a leader, but how, if and why something is done.
Doing the right thing, responsibility and being morally conscious are pounded into kids at a young age, but real leaders don’t have to make these decisions. Instead, it’s instinct, automatic; a natural reaction to a difficult problem. There shouldn’t be a bonus for doing good deeds. A mitzvah is a mitzvah, not a price ticket in a Chuck E. Cheese’s.
One of the most surprising people I heard at the presidential conference was Tony Blair, a person I used to think of as a puppet PM. “Todah / טודה,” he started. Then looked up, and realized thousands were listening to him thank the stage crew. People clapped because he said “thanks” in Hebrew, purely because he used Hebrew. I thought it was more significant that he thanked the person in their language, not his own, and it wasn’t something he thought about, he did it instinctually. It might be the only Hebrew word he knows, but it got the audience interested before he even began speaking about current events and his hope for peace in the region.
“The best short term politics are rarely the best long term decisions,” Blair said. “There are a thousand reasons for inaction, but you only need one good reason for action.”
If there’s a problem, that’s enough reason for action. Many of today’s most critical challenges are issues that were put off in the past, or where action failed. Clearly, some change in direction is needed.
One of my favorite panels at the conference was ‘Changing of the Guard,’ a discussion about future leaders and where they come from.
“Perfect,” I thought, knowing one of my peers – another Masa volunteer – was on the panel. I assumed the discussion would be about how my generation could more effectively be involved with solving today’s problems. Who better to be involved than the generation that will have to deal with tomorrow’s challenges?
It turned out that only one young person was on this panel, and Ellie Rudee, a senior from California on a Masa study abroad program, turned out to be a highlight of the group. What the panel lacked in variety, Ellie made up for by bringing a different perspective to how leaders are formed, using The Lion King as an analogy of how our generation is ushering in change – the torch being passed on. The most interesting thing that she brought up was the commonality in today’s generation that shapes Jewish teenagers and 20-something-year-old college students into advocates of Judaism and Israel – a reaction to hate.
It’s uncomfortable to be picked out for being Jewish, to hear slander and lies about yourself and Israel, but be unable to fight back. When this happens, some young Jews decide to learn more about their heritage, or become more active with local Jewish groups. Especially in California, where many aggressive anti-Israel groups campaign on university campuses.
Like Ellie, and probably many others, I became much more interested in Judaism and Israel as a reaction to various BDS (Boycott, Divest & Sanction) campaigns held by anti-Israel groups in CA. c that is strewn with slander, photos and an aura of hate, vehemently defended by people preaching more hate.
It says a lot about the campaign that aims to destroy Israel when its methods are to attack the integrity and economic power of Israel though BDS, though it’s biggest accomplishment in my eyes is that they’ve driven more young Jews to educate themselves on facts. Birthright could probably set up a tent next to the wall they erect on campus at SDSU and get a big spike in registration from people who want to see with their own eyes all the things these people slander.
Here is a fun video about how to divest from Israel:
“The truth is Israel’s strongest weapon in the fight against attackers on Israel’s integrity,” Malcolm Hoenlein, a distinguished member of the panel, said. The ‘truth’ may be a subjective term that gets thrown around a lot, but I believe there are a few objective moral truths that exist outside of the ‘Morality of War and Peace’ class I took in my last year of school.
Although I agree with Hoenlein that the (moral) truth has been and remains on Israel’s side, ‘truth’ should not be made out as a weapon. That’s what antisemitic groups are doing, and it will fail. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t still be conflict. The truth must win out as an objective standard. Shoving it in people’s faces is not going to do that.
Mayor of Be’er Sheva Ruvik Danilovich was another person I liked at the conference. Be’er Shva does not seem to have a reputation for the nicest of places to live – it makes Arizona look like paradise, and is just as isolated from Israel’s bustling center as I am in the green and beautiful North.
“Periphery is a state of mind,” Danilovich said, calling passion, faith and enthusiasm the only substitutes to overcome the periphery stigmata. His plans of preparing Be’er Sheva for the future, 10 or 20 years down the road, could be a saving grace. David Ben Gurion, the badass of Jewish badasses, said Israel’s future is in the Negev. Well, Be’er Sheva is the last big city before the Negev, and is likely to be instrumental in developing the desert. Danilovich probably will not be mayor when many of his projects finish. His successor will love all the credit when that happens – but that’s what makes Danilovich a model leaders.
Whether as mayor or student, Jew or Arab, American or Israeli, leadership takes the same form – one of progress for the future. Maybe that’s what this conference was all about in the first place?