Prof. Jehuda Reinharz's Graduation Address
Who among us has not heard the complaint that we lack leaders who are guided by high ethical standards and moral character? We have all heard this complaint many times and quite recently, not only in Israel, but in a broad array of communities and societies all around the world, ranging from the USA and Canada to Europe and the Middle East.
In the case of Israel, the demand for ethical/moral leadership was voiced by the early Zionist founders even before the establishment of the State! Their argument was based on the assumption that the very existence of the State of Israel depends on its moral justification and ethical calling. To the degree that Israel would maintain this definition and calling in its everyday civil, social, political and cultural life, it would overcome adversity and opposition and thrive and ultimately serve as a model to other nations. But if, on the other hand, Israel should lose its moral and ethical compass, it will also lose its
raison d’etre and deplete itself of its inner source of strength.
In 1919 -- almost a hundred years ago and some thirty years before the establishment of Israel -- Martin Buber warned against Zionism adopting a narrow and selfish form of nationalism as a basis for Jewish life in Israel rather than the idealistic vision of the Biblical prophets that emphasized social justice and an ethical way of life. Otherwise, he claimed, leadership will fall into the hands of slick, small-minded and dishonest functionaries who are experts in seeking and sustaining power over others.
I was reminded of Buber’s prophetic warning as I pondered Mort Mandel’s admonition to place a higher emphasis on ethical values above all other qualities in his characterization of leadership that can change the world. On page 5 of his bestselling book, he originally placed “intellectual firepower” before values followed by passion, work ethic and experience. But in the past few years he has been clear in emphasizing values first, even before intellectual firepower. Why is that? I asked myself. What does Mort Mandel now see more clearly after many years of thinking and having served in many leadership positions that he might not have seen as clearly before? What is he trying to teach us? Could it be that after many years of investment in people, he has come to see that leadership without the primacy of values is destined to become part of the problem rather than its solution?
Might it be that in the big picture of things, he sees the ethical as also being the most practical? Does he want the graduates of his educational and social leadership programs to adopt the emphasis he has always placed on values in his own businesses?
The answer to all these questions I think is yes, yes, yes and yes! The commitment to values flows through the Mandel Foundation’s policies and through the contents and methods of its training programs. That’s what explains its unique contribution to the advancement of the study of humanities as the foundation of human aspiration and human experience and the obligation it places upon all fellows -- and staff -- in its programs to learn, debate, devise, adopt and implement visions of the good society and the ideal moral person.
Given this commitment, I was delighted to learn from a report I received of the recent project presentations of cohort 23 that the opening hour-long presentation was devoted to Nati Barak’s project on the ethical training of school principals. I found myself wondering: where else can one find a fellow like Nati, who, I am told, came into his studies at Mandel as a very successful high school principal and then spent much of his time in the early months of the program painfully re-evaluating the ethical choices he had made in that capacity?
And then, rather than be told that he was wasting precious time on impractical matters, he was encouraged by his tutors and the program’s faculty to explore the possibility that all school principals might similarly be in need of ethical training and support. I understand that he then spent the remainder of his time at MSEL interviewing over 80 principals on this issue, developing out of these interviews cases and case-learning methods for the ethical training and support of school principals and then beginning to cultivate the conditions for such training and support to become part of mainstream practice in Israeli education.
Like Martin Buber and Mort Mandel, it seems that Nati’s concern is not only for the lone principal or even for the community of Israeli school principals at large, but for the ethical fabric of Israeli society at large! For if school principals are seen to compromise or relinquish ethical values in service of other outcomes, this, in effect, becomes a basis upon which all the students, parents, educators and others impacted by their schools are educated to do the same. If the principal’s desire for high career achievements overrides his or her moral standards, it legitimates his/her pupils to do the same.
Of course, I could have chosen any one of the stories and projects of the 20 MSEL graduates today to demonstrate this commitment to ethical leadership. It is enough to just glance at the topics of their projects to see that they intend to devote their energies to accomplish noble aims such as narrowing the social and economic gaps between rich and poor, between men and women and amongst all citizens, updating the social, political and cultural basis for solidarity between Israelis of diverse backgrounds. This only reaffirms our choice to select and train each one of these fellows and to continue giving them life-long support from our Mandel Graduate Unit.
The same commitment to ethical leadership applies to our IDF Educational Leadership program. We are proud to share with the IDF the commitment to educating commanders to maintain their values precisely because they stand in the face of constant danger. Our mutual understanding is that in doing so, they, in effect, educate the rest of Israeli society. In a society whose very existence is dependent on the military, it is remarkable that commanders are given the opportunity to take time away from important military exercises to study and discuss moral issues.
And indeed, the topic at a recent Bimat Mandel or “Mandel Forum” was the important values that should define the role of the commander and the symbolism of the IDF uniform. I was privileged to attend this compelling event, at which we listened to Professor Moshe Halbertal’s lecture on the definition of values and to the discussions by Lieutenant Colonel Oshrat Bechar and other commanders as to how they apply values to high level leadership in the military.
And I also know that right now as we speak, a graduate of our IDF program is working long and hard hours developing new paradigms and methods for the ethical training of IDF commanders and soldiers in consultation with Mandel faculty and that he will be testing out his ideas on fellows in the program as part of their training. And tonight, we are proud that our IDF program will be sending out 22 such graduates back into the IDF to disseminate what they have learned at Mandel.
Go and see for yourself how this commitment also plays itself out in our other training programs, be it our program for educational leadership of youth groups -- with 19 graduates tonight -- the very investment in which is an expression of our commitment to values in Israeli life since values education is their raison d’etre -- or our programs for Haredi Leadership, 11 participants of which are graduating from the women’s program tonight. Our programs for Haredi leadership make bold efforts to engage participants in complex ethical conflicts embedded in the interaction and collaboration of the Haredi community with the rest of Israeli society.
Or go and see our Mandel Centers for Leadership in the Negev and the Galilee, the very existence of which gives expression to our Jewish, Zionist and democratic commitment to all communities in Israel wherever and whoever they may be.
The same values that inspire us to cultivate leaders who are committed to the well-being and solidarity of Jews all over the world inspire us to reach out to all communities in Israel’s north and south. If they are on the periphery, we’ll go out to where they are at and help cultivate their leadership there. If they are minority Arab, Druze, Moslem or Christian communities, or combinations of all of the above, we are committed to the improvement of their quality of life and to their full and equitable participation in Israeli life.
Having said all this, I must now make one caveat. As proud as we are of our programs and our graduates, we also know that the world around us makes it tougher and tougher to maintain an overriding commitment to ethical leadership alongside the demand for results, for efficiency, for impact, for loyalty. But as the world gets tougher, we have to get better at how we develop leaders who can contend with it. This is a central and ongoing challenge to our devoted and talented faculty. There are plenty of leadership training programs that will provide tools for effective management in almost total detachment from the sphere of ethical values. The connection between the two is the core of what we do.
I will end where I began, with Buber’s prophetic calling: