Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Learning to Lead
Two very different experiences from this past week sharpened my thinking about Wornick’s mission and about our goals for the year ahead. The first experience was living through the images and discussions about Charlottesville, and the second was a prideful moment where I watched a Wornick alumna assume a leadership position among a roomful of formidable adult leaders.
Our mission states that we “develop students who are socially and academically prepared to meet their full potential as engaged leaders committed to a life steeped in Jewish ethics and values.” In every grade we develop units that assure that we can deliver on this mission. It starts with young children knowing how to welcome an adult by looking them in the eye, shaking their hand, identifying themselves and sharing insights from the class. It continues through yearly, and ever increasingly difficult presentations and debates culminating in the 8th grade capstone portfolio presentations.
Each one of these “leadership development” units focus on both academic skills needed to accomplish the goal and social-emotional skills to understand and work with other people. Each is also layered with core Jewish values like the dignity of each person (btzelem elokim).
When I observed the rhetoric surrounding the horrific events in Charlottesville and when I connected that to the talking points and actions on all sides of the political spectrum over the past year, it was clear that we, as a nation, need to double down on the “people skills” critical to effective leadership, and on core values about human dignity. It is what we do at Wornick, and it’s what we need to assert.
All week long, commentators, politicians and ordinary people spoke in binary terms – either for or against, either winners or losers, either right or wrong. I’m not so naïve to think that there are no boundaries – hate speech is reprehensible and needs to be marginalized, if not shut down. But shouting at each other will never work. We seem to be curdled in positions that allow no room to build common cause and no room for nuance. We really don’t know our neighbors on any deep level. We often judge “the other” hastily and dismissively and we are sure that our side is the right one. Into that vacuum rides the most heinous, ossified emotion – hate. The only antidote to hate that I know is captured well by Steinbeck, “Try to understand men. If you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and almost always leads to love.”
On Wednesday night after having heard the frightful rhetoric of the Neo Nazis days before, I was attending a dinner for the Jewish Muslim leadership group. The Jewish and Muslim community have had a very long productive history over many centuries. That relationship shattered in the last century as positions about Israel and Palestinians hardened. Small groups of Jewish and Muslim leaders in the Bay area (and in many other areas across the country) have been working aggressively in the past two years to reclaim our relationship with one another. It is difficult work for groups who may have seen each other as “enemies” to come together in friendship - willing to learn each other’s narrative, willing to understand nuance.
And at my table on Wednesday night sat Sophie B. along with other leaders from the Jewish and Muslim community. Sophie was one of two young college-aged students in a room of about 80 adult leaders. I was filled with great pride, as Sophie, this young thoughtful leader, participated in our conversations that a mere year ago might never have been possible. At our table were Muslim women in hijab – one originally from Saudi Arabia, one from Egypt and another from Pakistan, two Rabbis and a President of a local Jewish organization. The evening was inspiring as we discussed our next steps as a grass roots organization.
Sophie is a Wornick graduate who just completed a gap year in Israel on Kivunim and left this weekend for her freshman year at Wesleyan University. She is one of many examples of the success of a Wornick education. She is a leader who is thoughtful, respectful and an effective questioner and listener. All of these skills were set at Wornick. That night was the antidote that I needed to process the events from the beginning of that week. It was about relationship building and about the promise of a Wornick education.
I wish us all a successful 2017-18 as we prepare the next generation of leaders to repair our broken world.
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