The plane finally landed at Oakland Airport. Only a short trip from there to the home of Akaya Windwood, the President of Rockwood Leadership Institute. I traveled all the way to California to participate in a Rockwood Art of Leadership Seminar, as part of a process of exploring the idea to bring the program to Israel. .
I have never met Akaya before. We spoke on the phone a couple of times and exchanged e-mails, and she invited me to stay with her over the weekend, before the seminar. The taxi drove up a peaceful street, and pulled over just as Akaya came out of the house to greet me, a tall, beautiful woman. I was so happy to finally meet her, and we embraced as if we were long time friends. I felt like I was home away from home.
The Art of Leadership seminar started on Monday afternoon. I was the oldest participant in the room, and the only one from Israel. It was March 2009. America was in love with its new black President, while in Israel; Benjamin Netanyahu was putting together another coalition. On that first evening, we stood in a circle, 24 people from different places, races, religions and genders, and with endless stories to share. Our two amazing trainers, Helen Kim and Toby Herzlich, asked us to say: who are my people?
– My people are my family…
– My people are my family and friends…
– My people are my friends and colleagues who are working to end racism and prejudice…
– My people are all those fighting for justice and equality…
The seminar was a truly transformative experience. I experienced a whole spectrum of emotions; I felt the pain of revelation, I shed some tears, and was inspired, and curious; I learned a great deal about my own leadership, my privilege, my responsibility. I discovered myself through the eyes of people I have just met, but I had to trust them to share their wisdom with me, and let me share mine with them. For four intense days they were “My People”, as we all shared in an experience of learning and discovery. It’s been five years since then, and what I learned there about myself, about leadership and about social change is still alive within me, like a potent “suspended release” medicine, that runs through my veins, through my system of values and beliefs.
And the learning and revelation continued, in the four years in which I was the program Director for the Rockwood Art of Collaborative Leadership for Social Change in Israel, thanks to the generous support of the Nathan Cummings Foundation and the Social Justice Fund. I met amazing people, our participants; so dedicated and passionate about their work, even when it gets so frustrating, challenging and downright unthankful. I met people who represent such a rich diversity of ethnic, national, gender, cultural and political identities. Each and every single one of them holds a special place in my heart. Our alumni in Israel, along with many other remarkable people I met during my 25 years in working for social change, are “My People”. I wish I could name each and every one of them, but the list will so long. My people are the feminist activists and professionals who never take a break to breath; my people are the human rights and peace people; the environmentalists, and those working to keep Judaism pluralistic and inclusive, and those fighting against racism and injustice, and all of those who insist to end the occupation. My people are kind. They are my kind of people.
And each and every one of them has a voice, loud and clear, complex and fascinating; a voice that holds a richness of identities, of stories, of affiliations. My people give me hope, despite the ill winds that keep blowing in our country, despite legislation initiatives that threaten to deepen the rifts between Jews and Palestinians. They give me hope, because I know that there are people, amazing people, who work to bring people together, to create circles of conversations, to create spaces for shared living.
It gives me great pleasure to host my people on my blog. And this time, I invite you to gather around an imagined fire place, or an imagined town hall, and listen to two of our Rockwood graduates in Israel: Shahad Abu-Hamad, a Palestinian pre-school teacher, a special education fairy godmother, and Prof. Daphna Golan. A Jewish scholar and educator, a magician in her own way, and the founder of the Academy-Community Partnership.
The Storyteller, Illustration by Daniel Gouri de Lima
Power Failure/Shahad Abu-Hamad
Waiting for the light
And people’s stories
The voices of whole nations
And the rain washes away painful memories
Feeds a new scent of hope
A scent of love
Hot and cold
Will you make up your mind already…
Don’t say it’s impossible
We are out of words
This powerful poem was written at the end of a whirlwind week of the Israeli Memorial Day and Independence Day that were followed by a rain storm, in early May.