Great Man - Great Leader

Our community continues to respond! I am pleased to report that as of today, the Jewish Federation’s Annual Campaign has already raised over $2.3 million (in only 70 days)! The matching challenge grant continues to inspire longstanding and new donors. Federation’s commitment to building a more vibrant and exciting Jewish community can only be done with your support.

To move our campaign even further along, I welcome all of you to participate in the Jewish Federation’s Annual Super Sunday. It will be held this Sunday, December 8, at the Mittleman Jewish Community Center from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. We are grateful to all our volunteers who are giving their time to do a mitzvah and to enable a mitzvah. And for those of you who will excitedly be waiting by your phone – please answer the call and help strengthen Jewish Portland.

Thank you to everyone who has already made a commitment to this year’s campaign. We encourage everyone in our Jewish community, especially as we approach the end of the calendar year, to make their pledge today.


Yesterday afternoon, we learned of the passing of Nelson Mandela (z”l). I can recall being at Emory University in February 1990 when Mr. Mandela was released from prison. To be honest, I knew very little about the man and his past at that point in time. Yet, who can forget watching on television his inauguration as president of South Africa in 1994? It was a day of triumph as the country officially transitioned from a system of racial segregation to a burgeoning democracy.  

Reports now reminisce about a man who went through many changes in his life. During his lifetime, he was a man of complexities. As CNN reported, “Mandela went from a militant freedom fighter, to a prisoner, to a unifying figure, to an elder statesman.” He was known to be stubborn. He had a smile that put you at ease. And he let you know where you stood with him immediately. Some keys to Mr. Mandela’s leadership:

  • His intent was not to “make nice.” His goal was to make change! Mr. Mandela did not always follow the “politeness protocol” with other leaders in the world. He “got real” and was willing to share his thoughts in a direct and deliberate manner.

  • Mr. Mandela inherited a fractured nation. He led it back from the brink of civil war, forming a government of national unity that demolished apartheid and established a constitution that is one of the most liberal in the world in terms of human rights — outlawing, for example, discrimination based on sexual orientation. South Africa later became the first country on the continent to legalize gay marriage.

  • He had a vision for his people and his country. Many expected a full-fledged civil war in South Africa during its transition from apartheid to a multi-party democracy. His leadership, along with that of former South African President F.W. de Klerk, kept the peace. Mandela proudly stated on the 10th anniversary of democracy in South Africa, “Not only did we avert such racial conflagration, we created amongst ourselves one of the most exemplary and progressive nonracial and nonsexist democratic orders in the contemporary world.”

  • Mr. Mandela understood that South Africa does not live in isolation. What happened in South Africa would have implications for other nations. He understood the need not only to focus inward, but outward as well, and be aware of the changing demographic, economic, and societal trends around his country.

If you have not seen the movie Invictus from several years ago, I would highly recommend it. It tells the story of the 1995 rugby World Cup final in Johannesburg. Watching Mr. Mandela walk onto the field wearing the jersey of the white South African captain of the team seemed to bring together an entire nation, as well as communicate to the entire world that reconciliation was possible.

  • Great leaders can change their minds. Mr. Mandela once quipped, “I like friends who have independent minds because they tend to make you see problems from all angles.” He learned that there are different ways to view the same situation, and oftentimes better. He was a masterful negotiator. He learned by listening. And, most importantly, looked for a win-win situation every time.

In addition, he, himself, as a person went through changes in ideology and thought processes. As the Wall Street Journal reported, “During his six decades in the public arena, Mr. Mandela wasn't above precipitous shifts in position. He initially put his faith in Gandhian nonviolence, but when strikes and protests began to seem futile, he founded a band of saboteurs. He believed in obedience to the party, but acted unilaterally at turning points in the struggle.” He understood that the world evolves, people evolve, and being “stuck in one’s position” is not the way forward.

In the end, Mr. Mandela was a remarkable leader. He exuded confidence, ability, foresight, energy, and strength of will to lead his people and country forward. He believed that “a good head and a good heart are a formidable combination.”

Our Jewish community can learn from his example. We, too, must be willing to accept change…bring our community closer together despite differences…appropriately recognize and respond to societal trends…be flexible in our thinking...and create a broad vision for the future. Let us all follow his lead.

May Nelson Mandela's life always be a blessing and may his passion for justice continue to live on in each of us.

Shabbat shalom.



Add Comment