A Journey toward Patience
I have never thought of myself as a particularly patient person. In fact, I would say that impatience is among my great weaknesses. In my daily life, a lineup at the grocery store check-out counter gives me angst and waiting for my computer to reboot sets my blood to boil. In my work within the community, the number and length of committee meetings often make me agitated and the glacial pace of change frustrates. My attitude of, “why ask someone to do something when I can do it more quickly and more efficiently myself,’ transfers into a large number of commitments.
This past summer, at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Herzliah High School, one of our lead donors approached me and said, “You are the most patient person I know.” Although the comment stunned me, it did give me opportunity for self-reflection. After spearheading the 12-year process of envisioning a new facility for Herzliah, funding the dream and actually building it, I have come to understand patience in a new way.
The Hebrew word for patience is savlanut, which also means “tolerance.” The same root is attributed to words that mean “suffer” (sevel) and “burdens” (sivlot). Patience, although perhaps a virtue, is not easy. It is hard work that often involves tolerating and suffering. Patience is not a “team sport.” For me, learning to be more patient regarding the goals of my community work has been a struggle that has forced me to become more introspective and self-aware.
At the onset of our school strategic planning process, I was excited with our compelling vision and eager to get started on implementation. Who could argue with the construction of a Jewish High School connected both physically and strategically to the Montreal Jewish Community campus? Who could argue with Jewish continuity? Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said,” If you want to save the Jewish future, you have to build Jewish day schools.” I mistakenly believed that I could control the timetable and results of what I believed was a “no brainer,” a transformative project.
I was wrong. Despite tireless efforts to advance our vision and make our dream of a new high school a reality, the project failed twice. Years of negotiations over land purchase and partnership agreements fizzled, philanthropists who were initially onboard became frustrated with inaction (stall) and school administrators, staff and the parent body lost faith in the realization of the project. Every step of the way, my impatience grew, as things were not unraveling according to my timetable.
A third opportunity to revive the dream presented itself. This gift gave me pause, time to reflect on my own involvement in past failures, time to realize that I couldn’t do it on my own, time to accept the notion that some things were out of my control, time to plan a collaborative approach and time to involve a team of dedicated school professionals, committed lay leaders and experts in the field of design and construction. Not to mention time to adopt a new understanding of what it takes to be patient yet tenacious. The passage of time against which I had fought so hard had allowed for a change in the landscape. New lay leadership in all the implicated Jewish organizations was in place, a sense of urgency was palpable and donor enthusiasm was re-energized. Timing, I have learned, is an essential component to moving the needle in community work and timing is entirely out of anyone’s control.
People, the more the merrier, were the second critical ingredients to achieving our daunting goal. No one person, least of all myself, could possibly have envisioned, planned and executed our legacy project. It takes a community to educate a child in a state-of-the-art inspiring educational environment.
There is no group of individuals more passionate about and dedicated to advancing the cause of Jewish education. By empowering them to envision our new high school, they took ownership of the project and propelled it forward with enthusiasm. They became the champions of the project taking on roles of leadership, guidance and many times, as manual laborers. Visionary donors ensured that our project could take flight. Their generous financial support, trust, wisdom and loyalty turned dreams into reality. Architects, engineers, designers and builders bought into the overarching vision of the school, adopted it as their own and creatively expressed it in the form of a beautiful, inviting and flexible house of learning. The leadership of community agencies and institutions got behind our synergistic vision partnering with us to ensure Jewish continuity. Every member of our extensive team is a hero patiently doing holy work and thereby adding another link to the chain.
I no longer see patience as a finite attribute. For me, patience is a journey, a quest, letting go of the reigns and empowering the collective. There is essential strength, support, motivation and intelligence within the collective. When one member is frustrated another takes charge. When one member is impatient another provides perspective. When challenges or setbacks occur, creative solutions are generated. Success is celebrated by all. Community work is a team sport. I have come to understand patience as the existence of movement, whether forward or backward or even moving in place.
Today, 12 years after the seeds of change were sown, the school we had envisioned has come to life. Students, as well as members of the community, move seamlessly to and from the school building and the rich offerings located within the community campus. Students, toddlers, parents and seniors are all enjoying and taking advantage of our Jewish community campus. Our eager learners are enthusiastically interacting with the leaders of today ensuring that today’s students will become tomorrow’s leaders of this dynamic campus.
This project is so much more than a beautiful building. This project is infusing new spirit, energy and passion into our already vibrant Montreal Jewish community. Herzliah students are beginning to see the entire campus as their home. They are already benefiting from its resources and learning, first hand, of its beauty and strength. Our goal is to ensure that they come to understand their places in its continuity and step up to embrace their roles as the leaders of tomorrow.
Wexner Heritage Alum Monica Mendel Bensoussan (Montreal 09), is married to Haim Bensoussan, and is the mother of three Herzliah graduates. She is a graduate of Herziah, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Wexner Heritage Program. Monica has devoted over 25 years to promoting Jewish identity among youth and advancing Jewish education in Montreal. She has been an active community leader serving on the Board of Directors of the Akiva School, BJEC, AJDS and Talmud Torah | Herzliah. In addition, she has served on numerous community wide committees focused on Jewish Day School sustainability and educational excellence. Monica co- chaired of the Federation CJA Campaign 2000 launch. At the Akiva School she established and served as the first president of the Akiva Parent Association. In addition, she served as the chairperson, editor and producer of the school yearbook for 16 years. She chaired the High School Committee examining the attrition of students from Jewish elementary schools to Jewish High Schools making recommendations to reverse the trend. At Talmud Torah | Herzliah, Monica serves on both the Fundraising and Marketing Committees. As vice president of the Board of Directors, 2008 to 2010, she undertook the preparations for the consolidation of the Beutel and Snowdon campuses. Monica served as the chairperson of the Transition Committee whose mandate it was to ease the physical and emotional consolidation of the schools. Under her leadership as the school’s Head of School Search Committee, a seasoned Head of School was secured to lead Talmud Torah | Herzliah. During Monica’s time as President of the Board of Directors of Talmud Torah | Herzliah, the school obtained full CAIS accreditation, renewal of its government permit, increased it’s fundraising tenfold and signed an agreement with the YM YWHA to build a new Herzliah building. Currently, she has completed the transformational building project and capital campaign of the school. Monica is passionate about Jewish education believing that it is one of the key ingredients necessary to ensure the continuity of the Montreal Jewish Community. Monica can be reached here.