Carmel Pelunsky
Working it out in organisations across the world

Dear Colleagues – 198

The celebrations of Easter and Passover usually happen at a similar time of the year. Sometimes, they even overlap.  I have often had friends over for a Passover lunch, decorating the table with chocolate easter bunnies wrapped in gold foil, just to add some fun to the table.  But this year, there has been almost a month between the two festivals. It feels appropriate. It is a metaphor for the chasm between the Jewish world and everyone else. The first night of Passover this year is Monday the 22nd  April. As it approaches, I can barely contemplate celebrating it, and I am not even one of the hostage families.

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The festival of Passover is fundamentally about three things: slavery, freedom, and children. Whether one believes it is an accurate historical story of the Jewish slaves fleeing Egypt’s ruler Pharaoh, wandering in the desert for forty years and ultimately reaching the land of Israel (as we keep saying, Jews have been in that part of the world a very long time); or whether one chooses to see it as a time of spiritual development and the need for each of us to think about slavery and freedom in our own lives, the theme of slavery and freedom permeates the festival.

It is also a festival that is focused on retelling the story of Passover to the next generation. It is the youngest child who asks, “Why this night is different from all others?”; it is the children who compete as they try to find the Matzah hidden in some corner of the house; and it is the children who beg the adults to sing all the songs, including the one they scream at the top of their lungs, “Let my People Go!”

It is incomprehensible to me, that this year, regardless of how we have chosen to interpret the story of Passover in the past, Jews the world over are literally crying out at Hamas to let our 133 hostages go. It is horrifying to me that we will be placing an empty seat at the Monday night meal, to remind us of the hostages still held in the tunnels of Gaza 199 days after Hamas captured them. And I find it unbelievable that Hamas has refused the truce conditions that Israel has been prepared to agree to, now saying that they simply do not have the 40 hostages that they promised to release in the next phase. And the world tolerates this response.

Three podcasts I have listened to over the past few weeks have helped me make sense of where we find ourselves.

The first was Biranit Goren, a journalist on The Times of Israel Daily Briefing, Day 196, explaining the choice the Israeli cabinet made on the 8th October. She discusses how the cabinet had to focus either on freeing the hostages through negotiation, or on destroying Hamas through military action in response to the massacre that had taken place. It was impossible to do both simultaneously. By prioritising the latter, the Israeli government de facto deprioritised getting back the hostages. Goren makes the point that she is not judging the government’s decision, and that any other government would have done the same. But she makes a strong case for how military action has superseded Israel’s ability to rescue our hostages.

That does not mean that where we find ourselves today is simply Israel’s fault. To see it in that way is to fall into the trap of viewing Israel’s choices as a fight between doing what is right (to get a good outcome for Israel and Gaza) and doing what is wrong (resulting in a bad outcome for Israel and Gaza). As the philosopher, Dr. Micah Goodman explains, Israel currently faces the choice between two tragic options. No decision-making framework I have come across provides the framework for making a Sophie’s Choice decision, which is what the Israeli government faced on 8th October, and continues to face every day since.

Finally, I listened to an interview with Scott Galloway on Call Me Back. For those of you who do not know Scott Galloway, he is a Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, where he teaches brand strategy and digital marketing. He describes himself as an atheist, who happens to have had a Jewish mother but never identified as a Jew, who thought concerns about antisemitism in the US pre-October 7th were ridiculous, and who, in terms of American politics, is seen as far left and a progressive. If you listen to one podcast this year about what is taking place in Israel and Gaza, I would encourage you to listen to Scott. You may not agree with everything he says, but you may be able to hear things he says differently from how you hear them from me.

In fact, if I am honest, there is a part of me that felt a little annoyed listening to Scott. The Jew who never identified as Jewish, who finally went to Israel post October 7th because everyone told him to, who discovered the incredible city of Tel Aviv and who now feels a deep sense of commitment to speaking out about what happened and what continues to take place. It reminds me how men who would leave the office at 4:30pm to pick up a child from tennis were viewed as god-like, while my female colleagues had been doing so every day for years. But that is (still) the world we live in.

Scott can say things, and more importantly Scott can be heard, in ways that others cannot. He can look at the horror of the dying children of Gaza, who are truly innocent, without balking and with an understanding that war is, by its very definition, brutal and unfair; he can ask the question, “How innocent are the Palestinians in Gaza really?” something many are beginning to wonder; he can talk to how military experts the world over believe the Israeli Defence Force has been conducting itself carefully and meticulously (despite the tragic mistakes of killing of three hostages who managed to escape and killing seven aid workers from the World Central Kitchen); he can talk about the shock of the silence amongst Jews and non-Jews alike; and he can lambast the progressives who think they are standing for all that is good in the world when actually they are simply perpetuating the power of a totalitarian regime in Iran.

I feel gratitude towards, and admiration for, Scott. One of the things that October 7th has reinforced for me is that corporate leadership development does little to develop leaders. Scott is prepared to say what is not popular.  He is prepared to lose subscribers. He is prepared to look at data and say what he believes regardless of where on the political spectrum he stands. He is prepared to feel the shame being thrown at him, resist it, and say it anyway.  Those to me are simple, clear leadership behaviours, something we have not seen much of amidst the silence.

Each year I am asked, “What should I say to you and other Jewish colleagues who celebrate Passover?” My answer this year is different from all other years. Do not worry about saying the right thing. Just imagine that, at your Easter celebrations, one of your family or friends was not able to be present because they were being held hostage by a terrorist organisation.

This year, do not worry about saying the right thing. Simply ask your Jewish colleagues how they and their families are doing and (if it is the case) share that you are adding your prayers to ours, as the global Jewish community prays to “Let Our People Go!”


About the Author
Carmel Pelunsky is a strategic advisor in talent, leadership and succession. Currently living in Sydney, Australia, she has lived and worked in Johannesburg, London, Europe and Asia.
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