David Mandel
Chief Executive Officer, OHEL Children's Home and Family Services

Ode to Mentors

Some people are very lucky and have found one mentor to guide them.

I have been even more fortunate – having had two mentors who have helped shape my thinking as a professional and in my career growth.
Pinky Rosenfeld was my first mentor in my early 20’s followed by Fred McCormack whom I worked for in my late twenties.

From Pinky I learned the concept of true confidentiality, the need to constantly improve by learning and that true thinking out of the box means there is no box.

I have written much about my life-changing lessons from Fred who died several years ago.

What Pinky taught me many years ago have not only influenced me, I also hope they have helped to shape those that I in turn have had the privilege to mentor. When you learn from masters like Pinky and Fred, you are obligated to pass those teachings on to others.

Pinky had an expression, “It’s not for publication.”

Almost any question you asked him, he would begin his answer, it’s not for publication and then follow with some insightful answer or a soliloquy that opened your eyes and broadened your vision.

The not for publication refrain was his emphasis that any conversation, whether about a client or personal, was verboten from being repeated.

Unfortunately, the line in the sand of confidentiality is breached all too often by so many. Pinky’s credo preceded current HIPPA laws by decades. Here too he was ahead of the curve.

Pinky was a clinical psychologist and a strategic thinker. He deeply understood the need for privacy whether the individual was his patient, a friend, or a stranger in need of direction.

When a person turns to you for advice, revealing their innermost secrets, they expect, deserve and require confidentiality. Sharing secrets is an all too common occurrence, and when people do not maintain that confidence, it not only exacerbates the persons pain, it all but ensures they don’t again seek the help they may desperately need.

One of the areas that Pinky specialized in was adolescent homosexuality in the Jewish community, words barely spoken in those days.

He and his wife Bertie were both trailblazers, helping Russian Refuseniks acclimate to their new surroundings in the US. He took everyday issues in life, politics, Torah and assimilated it into his work. Whatever time you spent with Pinky was an opportunity to learn.

How do you repay a mentor who taught you so much?

One way is to continue to apply his teachings. Another way is to mentor others and give the next generation similar opportunities that you had.
This is one of the basic tenets of the Passover Hagada, that is, to recount the story of exodus from Egypt, to teach the children to remember the past.

If I may take a quantum leap from this existential lesson in our religion and heritage – to the professional. Organizational and communal work leaders have a responsibility to teach for self-improvement to occur.
Think out of the box is a refrain too often told to a subordinate or in executive seminars as an approach to problem solving.

Not in Pinky’s world. He didn’t have a box to think out of.
He would consider the options along the edges ever wanting to blur the line between the possible and the never done before. Part of his constantly saying, it’s not for publication, was his concern that someone would try to say to him it can’t be done, that he should rather be conventional. He needed to formulate an approach in his mind that virtually anything was possible clinically, strategically, worldly, every which way. And this confidentiality fostered a ‘safe’ environment of individual exchanges where evolving ideas could thrive.

My two mentors had different styles.

Pinky wanted you to create a new system to effect change.
Fred challenged you, even provoked you to question the existing system and find ways to improve it. His credo was the most complex problems often have the easiest answers. Fred was my sparring partner punching, taunting never knocking me out.

Pinky, was a guiding light for me with my occasional career questions of which way to turn. I credit Pinky for guiding my formative professional career shaping so much of any success I may have achieved.

Pinky’s hobby was photography. Here too he tried to capture the hidden be it in people, architecture, life. If art imitates life than
Pinky’s art was his gift to inject life into those who sought his sage counsel for therapy, for advice, and for me, his teaching.

I have one of his photographs hanging in my home given to me years ago. Pinky Rosenfeld my mentor just passed away in Israel. His teachings like his photograph lives on.

Everyone needs a mentor in their life.

I was fortunate enough to have found two.

About the Author
David Mandel is CEO of Ohel Children's Home and Family Services. For more than 50 years, Ohel has provided a safe haven for those suffering in the community. Ohel cares for more than 17,000 individuals in the New York metropolitan area and across all communities offering a broad range of mental health services including outpatient counseling, trauma, anxiety, eldercare, respite and housing.