by Daniel R. Weiss
Daniel R. Weiss is the Head of School at Bornblum Jewish Community School in Memphis, Tennessee.
Day School education helps to train the next generation of Jewish leaders. Larry Holman in his book 11 Lessons in Self-Leadership: Insights for Personal and Professional Success, cites remarks prepared by President John F. Kennedy for an address in Dallas on November 22, 1963, which said “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Holman went on to say “leadership, like learning, cannot be achieved passively…. Leaders must first become involved before they can possibly engage the imagination and involvement of others.”
Many leaders throughout our history have been hesitant to assume a leadership role, while others have seized the opportunity. Still others worked their way through different positions to become the next in line, such as Joshua in this week’s Torah portion, Vayelech.
Joshua was one of the two spies (out of twelve), who returned with a good report of the land of Israel. Joshua was the right-hand man (literally, he stood on the right side) of Moses. He was trained how to do the job. He could have been in Moses’ shadow, but instead showed his own leadership style. While there is a certain level of “on the job training” for any position, the more successful leaders are ones who have experience, training or support through their endeavors.
Even with the training and experience, Joshua had to be appointed by Moshe in front of all the people; he needed to be someone that the people recognized as a hero. To fully accept him as their leader, the people needed the blessing of Moses.
Leaders are heroes. Being a hero means different things to different people. One the great TV shows of the 1980s was a show called Greatest American Hero.
The show centered on an “every-day” kind of guy, a teacher who was given a red suit by a group of aliens, which gave him superhuman abilities, effectively making him a superhero. In the opening of the show, the main character flew through the air crashing into a trashcan (which shows that even leaders/heroes may stumble and fall), as the theme song played in the background.
The lyrics of the song are incredibly powerful –
Look at what’s happened to me,
I can’t believe it myself.
Suddenly I’m up on top of the world,
It should’ve been somebody else.
Believe it or not,
I’m walking on air.
I never thought I could feel so free.
Flying away on a wing and a prayer.
Who could it be?
Believe it or not it’s just me.
It’s like a light of a new day,
It came from out of the blue.
Breaking me out of the spell I was in,
Making all of my wishes come true.
The words speak to what makes a leader, what makes someone a superhero. Heroes don’t always step out to announce themselves. They may not be searching for their role; it might simply have come out of the blue.
Yoni Netanyahu is an example of such a hero. Netanyahu led the raid on Entebbe, rescuing Jews who had been hijacked and held hostage, simply because they were Jews. Netanyahu led by proclaiming, Acharei, After Me. He led, knowing others would follow, knowing that leading put himself out there, with enough trust, he knew that he would not be going at it alone. Leaders, heroes, act. They set an example of how to be a mensch. They lead by not acting alone.
Holman suggests several ideas and traits that help to make a successful leader. Among them are, integrity, honesty, fairness, commitment, spirit, accessibility, support, recognition, empathy and shared responsibility.
We are now a full month into our school year and we are in the period of the calendar known as the Ten Days of Repentance. During these days, we focus on where we are, what we’ve done and our commitment to doing it better. We introspect about our honesty, fairness and commitment over the past year. We ask ourselves if we’ve lived a life of integrity and accessibility. We look to our relationships with others to see if we have given the support, recognition and empathy that others deserve. And together, we look to reinvigorate our spirit and the spirit of those around us. Our goal as a school is to build the same in our students. It is why we teach. It is why we set an example. It is why we say Acharei. It is why we sometimes crash into our trashcans. And then pick them up to do it all over again.