— a journey to Haifa with family and friends
By Gina Flash, executive director of Mensch
In October this year my personal and professional worlds collided in the northern Israeli city of Haifa.
I had the opportunity to travel again for work for the first time not only since before Covid, but since having my daughter Eden, who is 9-months old and still breastfeeding. An unexpected and deeply forward-thinking ‘carer’s stipend’ from Schusterman Family Philanthropies meant I could attend their alumnus gathering for a Leadership Fellowship I participated in back in 2016, by bringing Eden and my fiancé Emile, to care for her while I worked. I’ve mentioned this incredible gift to a few working mom friends, and each has commented how impressive and needed this kind of support is if we want to see women grow and excel in positions of leadership, whilst also having families.
Folding stroller and baby carrier in tow, we three boarded an ElAl flight to Ben Gurion!
This was not my first trip to the holy land – I’ve been blessed with many opportunities to visit Israel; a year programme after matric and several conferences and programmes via my involvement in Netzer and now Mensch. It was though, the first time I could share the experience with my little family. The personal and professional blending in the sights and sounds of Israel.
The Schusterman website describes the goals of the fellowship as being to ‘support, cultivate, and invest in exceptional Jewish leaders committed to building and sustaining Jewish non-profits and Israeli civil society.
The 18-month leadership development programme and lifelong fellowship community offer rising executive-level professionals the opportunity to develop as authentic, dynamic leaders through a robust curriculum, a cohort of peers, and guidance from top coaches and experts.’
I started my fellowship journey in the early stages of setting up Mensch. Fresh from working at the SA Jewish Board of Deputies, I had taken a leap, left my job and was in the process of convincing a well-respected group of community leaders to join the Mensch board. Like many Jewish community professionals I was armed with youth movement leadership, a degree and work experience in something mostly unrelated, and a passion for community work — in my case, engaging the Jewish community in positively transforming South Africa for all!
The fellowship allowed me to develop my leadership, opened my mind, and expanded my professional worldview. It opened up networks, to a diverse, highly professional global Jewish world I previously didn’t know existed. My cohort made up of 29 impressive and inspiring Jewish leaders from communities in Sydney, and cities across the US and Israel, became close friends and colleagues I could call on for support and collaboration. Though most of us admit to having a serious case of ‘Imposter Syndrome’ that we were included in the programme, in the years since, we’ve all grown into our ‘leadership skins’ thanks to the incredible support and investment the Schusterman foundation has made in each of us.
Being in-person again, we shared and celebrated our wins, practised deep listening and holding of space for some serious losses in the years since we last met. For me, the fellowship is a space in which I can practice vulnerability, like Brené Brown says:
“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.”
There are few spaces in life that offer that kind of non-judgement, yet these are the kind in which people and leaders flourish. My aim in the coming year is to create similar spaces in which others can do the same.
Gina Flash is the founder and executive director of Mensch, the largest Jewish social justice network in Southern Africa. visit www.Mensch.org.za
• Published in the December 2022/January 2023 Digital Edition – Click here to read it.
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