Nelson Mandela and Pirket Avot: Lessons from the Masa Israel Leadership Summit

By Erika Wohl, participating in Masa's Career Israel program
 
This past month the world lost one of the greatest leaders in history. As I learn more about his vision and his leadership, it has reinforced my desire to work for social justice and to stand up and be a leader in the movements I am passionate about. For leaders around the world, Mandela was a reminder about the commitment and sacrifice it takes to achieve a dream. Nelson Mandela once said, “A good head and good heart are always a formidable combination. But when you add to that a literate tongue or pen, then you have something very special.” This combination of intellect, empathy, and persuasive expression is what I witnessed this past week at the Masa Israel Post-College Leadership Summit. Two hundred and fifty individuals, each with their own passion and vision for the future, came together to learn the paths of leadership. Through workshops and seminars, we examined the tools and techniques that will guide us as we transition our visions into working realities.
 
Individuals from countries around the world were brought together by their Jewish heritage and their love of Israel. During the week, we grew as individuals and as a people while we told our personal stories and explored our collective narrative. This aspect of the conference was important for me because my Jewish identity motivates my strength and my path of leadership. The Jewish tenant of tikkun olam has remained a consistent and unwavering principle for me, placing it at the very center of my Jewish identity. As I reflect back on the conference, I felt the support and the encouragement of the entire international Jewish community. This is a unique and special quality that we have as the Jewish people and it provides me with great hope and confidence for our future. 
 
An important outcome of the Masa Israel Post-College Leadership summit for me was the ability to reflect on the steps I have taken to get to my present point and determine my future path of leadership. Looking back on my involvement as President of Skidmore Hillel, I was called upon to use communication and organizational skills to navigate some of the challenging issues confronting our organization. The training at Masa was able to provide additional resources, tools, and skills that will be useful in both my professional career and as I broaden my involvement to the larger Jewish community. 
 
My experience at the Masa Leadership Summit helped me to integrate the resounding words of Pirket Avot. In Pirket Avot, it is said that the world stands on three things: Torah, Avodah (work or service to God), and Gemilut Hassadim (acts of loving kindness). I believe this mirrors what Mandela said in the aforementioned quote. He said that there are three things that together make a special and powerful combination: a good head, a good heart, and the tools to put them in action. We find these same qualities in Pirket Avot: Torah and knowledge, acts of loving kindness, and work, actions, and service. Why do I make this parallel? Because I saw our future leaders this past week at the summit and I am proud that these leaders are emerging from our international Jewish community. 
 
Erika Wohl of Baltimore, MD, is currently living and interning  in Tel Aviv at Peace Now through Masa's Career Israel 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: Erika Wohl
 

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