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  • Writer's pictureSteven Windmueller

A Letter to My Students

There is little that your educational journey could have prepared you for this moment. Yet, in many ways both our Jewish sources and the history of human development may offer helpful insights into how we as human beings manage and respond to such a challenging experience.

In some measure this pandemic might be compared to how we understood the idea of Amalek, symbolically the evil inclination. With this in mind, Maimonides offers the following commentary as he calls upon us to “remember what Amalek did” and “not to forget Amalek’s atrocities”. In expropriating this historic message and universalizing it, Covid-19 has become our Amalek!

In facing this threat, our vocabulary has suddenly been altered. We reference this “condition” as our new reality. In such an unknown setting, the natural instincts of fear and frustration are most certainly present. Yet today in this global moment, we are observing extraordinary new behaviors. We are witnessing acts of loving kindness, collaborative practice, innovative responses, and creative resiliency! Understanding human behavior in the midst of such anxiety is itself revealing and affirming.

What will we take away from this experience, and how will this moment change our lives going forward? At some point we may be able to unpack this encounter. Yet even now, we know that some of our actions are life affirming. In its aftermath, will we be different types of leaders and once we emerge from these narrow places, how will we be prepared for what will come after?

For many of you, whether you are a rabbi, cantor, educator or communal professional, this will be your most demanding professional encounter. A number of you have expressed to me that this time frame has been transformative. Your resourcefulness and your innovative capacities are being tested, but so is your Jewish character and the content of your Torah. Understanding and experiencing loss, dealing with our vulnerabilities, are offset by the demands on us to teach, inspire, and lead.

As you revisit this moment in time, keep in mind the leadership mantra of encountering your “sense of self”. In this space you are being tested in different ways than ever before. What may lie ahead, as we seek to make whole our lives and institutions, will likely be even more demanding.

  • You will be called upon to be strategic in determining priorities. In this type of global crisis, you may well need to be resetting your priorities, more than once!

  • How you communicate will be the test of your leadership. Your empathy will need to be balanced with a personal commitment to be transparent.

  • Remaining accessible and open to a regularized cadence of checking in with those who are around you and may depend on you.

  • Here, adaptive leadership is an essential tool, knowing when to empower others and reframing your role as leader.

  • Being patient with yourself as you will need to be present at this crisis goes forward.

May each of you discover your best selves! May your words and your actions provide comfort and support to those that turn to you and place depends upon you. And may you find wholeness and peace within yourself!


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