In the early hours of Sunday, March 15, we made the decision to send the students of URJ Heller High: The Isaac z”l and Helaine Heller High School in Israel (formerly known as NFTY EIE) back to their families in North America.
From the start of the semester at the end of January, we hoped that we could avoid this moment. However, the challenges of keeping the students in school at Kibbutz Tzuba grew as we learned more, and COVID-19 developed into a global pandemic. By Tuesday, all eighty-seven students and our chaperone were back in North America with their families after departing on an El Al charter flight hastily put together by two Jewish high schools, one gap year program, and our staff.
The last week of February through March 17, 2020, was one of the most intense periods I have experienced as a Jewish professional and educator. Based on feedback from students and parents, from conversations with our leadership, and from our own evaluation, we faced this challenge well and the outcome was positive.
While evaluating my role in handling the situation, I found that the leadership skills I acquired over the years in different organizations and settings served me well in dealing with COVID-19. Most of these skills were learned as a camp counselor. They were nurtured by mentors and role models who taught them explicitly in staff development classes and implicitly by living them every day. They are common sense skills that I go back to again and again both in my daily work and in dealing with tough situations.
I share them here just as my teachers, colleagues, and friends shared and cultivated them with me over several decades.