Tal Bassali
Zehud Jewish Online School & Foundation Jewish Life Europe

Mandela and leadership – And why I am running for re-election to the board of the Jewish community of Venice

I remember that day in February 1990, the day that Nelson Mandela was released from prison on Robben island. I was a high school student, sitting on my parents bed at home in London. My mother, instilled within me the ability to recognize greatness. It was she who introduced me to Madiba, Natan Scharansky, Golda Meir and other personalities with the rightful title of Greatness. People who had the great strength to unite the people and make a difference while remaining just one mere mortal soul.

Fast forward to July and August of 1994. My first trip of several to South Africa. It was the first year of the New South Africa that had relinquished apartheid. it was a beautiful, romantic, hopeful time. Mandela had achieved more then anyone could have ever imagined already by becoming President: I remember walking past a supermarket where a group of workers were protesting their pay….and how? By singing peacefully. It was a sound of freedom. South Africa and Nelson Mandela have always inspired me.

I don’t believe in coincidences. It is no coincidence that Mandela died the same week that in the weekly portion Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. To quote my friend, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa Dr. Warren Goldstein: “How he exemplified the finest qualities of Joseph, whose great leadership, generosity of spirit and powers of forgiveness, we read about. Joseph, was thrown into a pit with snakes and scorpions by his brothers who were filled with hatred and jealousy towards him.

Joseph emerged from jail to become a leader and head a government of a mighty nation, and when he was reunited with his brothers, had the opportunity to exact vengeance and justice. And yet, Joseph, the righteous, transcended his personal pain and need for retribution by forgiving his brothers so that his family would not be torn apart and destroyed forever. So too, Nelson Mandela, rose up from jail to become President of a mighty nation; he too transcended his personal pain and years of suffering to forgive and to embrace his brothers and sisters who had inflicted so much pain on him and so many millions of others, in order that the diverse South African family would not be torn apart by hatred and division.” Both had no hatred to those who oppressed them.

So why Mandela? And why do I seek re-election?

Look at what one man has done. He has inspired and brought together millions. People didn’t vote for what he could do for them – but for what he REPRESENTED. Freedom, choices, democracy and equality for all men and women. Mandela like Joseph, are the epitomy of great personalities. Of leadership. Of greatness. A role model.

Our community in Venice is at that stage, just before it’s rebirth. It has been the victim of much strife and unrest, historic family feuds that have spanned generations. Historical alliances. A shoa that wiped out great numbers of members. So much that represents constantly looking backwards. Much sadness and solace.

I believe the moment has come to look again at the model of leadership that we want our comunity to imbue. One that is not just about the past but ALSO about celebrating and remembering that past and equally about what we want the future to be like for this special historic place, and for the people who choose to take it into the future. To bring together the old and the new, and to create something astounding – that can inspire for generations to come.

There are those who insist that this community is dying: Those are voices of a disillusioned generation that suffered the Shoa. I think this mistaken notion leaves place only for anarchy. This community has chosen to LIVE and with a little more effort this community can and will THRIVE.

I in turn wish to embody the qualities of Mandela and Joseph – though not having been imprisoned – I have never been a part of this complicated history – fueled with strife and feuding. I have no history, nor am I part of any family feuds. I am clean. I see no colours. It is precisley  DESPITE this that I believe that I am the person who can bring this change. It is harder for the others, because of their history are sadly not free of the need for retribution or have a difficult time overcoming the opportunity to exact vengeance and create division as we have already seen so many times before.

I am willing and able to unite people of all backgrounds together, wanting to highlight our commonalities and not our differences. Seeking common experiences that will create and bind us within our common memories. My wish and hope is that I represent unity and diversity through common tradition. Lets use the inspiration of Madiba and Joseph to make this happen.

Mandela was great in that he was able to embody these traits despite his great suffering and persecution. I remain in his shadow, hoping that the fact that I have never known these – will enable me to bring forward this community in spite of it. But, like Madiba I want to be elected not for what I can or cannot do for you – BUT FOR WHAT I HUMBLY REPRESENT.

If my words resonate with you then vote for me and I will work tirelessly to this end for our common future.

About the Author
Tal lives in Venice, Italy, in an antique Jewish Orthodox community that enjoys over 500 years of colorful history. She has fallen hopelessly in love with Jewish Europe and runs The Zehud Jewish Online School & Foundation for Jewish Life in Europe. Most communities today don't have a Jewish School, by virtually uniting smaller groups to create a critical mass, we have connected it with high quality Jewish education . Passionate about promoting sites of Jewish interest and Jewish personalities , Tal especially enjoys social encounters and hosts locals and internationals for eclectic Shabbat dinners. She has taken her management skills and applied them to various multicultural challenges, family life and even parenting. Tal believes in the power of the WE.