By Emily Hirschman, Masa Israel Teaching Fellow in Ashdod
I initially wanted to attend the fall Masa Israel Leadership Summit for a few superficial reasons, the comfortable beds, nice shower and abundance of free food. Spending the last four months in a cramped apartment in Ashdod made the summit impossible to pass up. Most of what I expected to gain was a full belly, a few good nights' rest and clean hair. But I ended up getting a lot more than I bargained for.
Due to the worst storm in Israel's collective memory, the summit was delayed by a day. I hadn't gotten the message until I was on my way to the meeting place in Tel Aviv. When I arrived there was a lot of chaos and misinformation about where we could go and what was going on in Jerusalem. People from other programs were going to brave the storm and head the capitol anyway. I wasn't ready to face Jerusalem, a city in a state of emergency because of 1 1/2 feet of snow, and the real possibility of sleeping on the floor in Jerusalem Central Bus Station. After standing around talking in circles about where we should go, I boarded a train to Haifa with a small group from one of the other ITF programs.
The following day buses from all over the country brought the stranded summit-goers together at Neot Kedumim, a biblical garden in Modi'in, to kick off the week. We broke into groups went out into the garden. The day started with a few of the "get to know you" games that can usually elicit a few audible sighs from any group. Most people dread this sort of thing but they're right up my alley.
I have degree in public relations and sustainability management, with a professional certification in project management. Since graduating in 2010, I have worked in various non-profit organizations recruiting and leading volunteers, and AmeriCorps members to complete restoration projects in California, Oregon and Washington. As an AmeriCorps member myself, I always wanted the best experience and that is what I tried to give to my volunteers and team members.
Back in Modi'in we were taken to a small shelter on the side of a hill overlooking the Tel Aviv metropolitan area. Three tables covered in sand were set and we weren't sure what we were in for. Our guide explained to us that we were going to build a sand castle, but there was more to it than just building a plain, old sand castle. We would be broken up into small groups, each with a team leader, and given specific deliverables and guidelines to follow during an allotted time.
I volunteered as team leader and hand-picked my group. My leadership style has always been very collaborative. I have found that by making members feel like they can take ownership over a piece of the project, it motivates then to work as a team and are more invested in seeing the group succeed as a whole. Our sand castle was no exception.
Judging competencies, we moved forward each with our assigned tasks. One group member had an eye for detail, so they made sure our dimensions were on target. Another member wanted to get their hands dirty so they were our construction lead. I filled in with tasks as needed, but mainly I kept an eye on time and quality control.
At the end of the time, we had a pretty good-looking sand castle that met all of the specifications. The points were tallied and we beat the other groups in a landslide. We left the activity, everyone feeling accomplished, motivated and connected. Completing more than just the specified outcome of the activity – more than just a sandcastle.
This was the perfect way to start the week. In spite of the chaos of the previous day, we were able to hit the ground running by quickly creating a sense of camaraderie. There's nothing like a mutual struggle to quickly find common ground. I think that we bonded over sharing stories of our alternative plans from the day before.
Of all the great, knowledgeable speakers during the conference what I enjoyed most was this home group. This core group of people from all over the world that were able to come together as strangers, build a sand castle and leave as friends.
Emily Hirschman of Vancouver, WA, is teaching English in an underprivledged community of Ashdod through Masa's Israel Teaching Fellows program. She was invited to attend the Masa Israel Post-College Leadership Summit, an intensive, five-day learning and skill-building seminar for exceptional participants of Masa Israel programs, designed to provide participants with the skills and knowledge needed to become a strong and active Jewish leader.
Photo: Emily Hirschman