Rabbi Jethro Berkman is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship alumnus.  He teaches Tanakh and creates experiential education programs at Gann Academy – The New Jewish High School of Greater Boston.  He can be reached at jethroberkman@yahoo.com 

During my last two years of rabbinical school I worked as the Jewish Student Advisor at Swarthmore College.  As the only official Jewish presence on campus, I had a wonderful opportunity to exercise leadership and build community.  By the middle of my second year, Jewish life was flourishing, and my confidence as a leader was growing.  As my time at Swarthmore drew to a close, I badly wanted to give the Jewish community there something that would last after I had moved on.  But I struggled to come up with the transformational idea that I sought.

I was surprised when Jeremy, a sophomore who was sometimes difficult to work with, approached me with an idea for restructuring Jewish life at Swarthmore.  At first I was skeptical, but as I listened I realized that his idea was right on the money.  I’m sorry to report that rather than feeling grateful, I was crestfallen.  Sure, students should be empowered to come up with cool program ideas, but wasn’t I supposed to be the one with the big ideas?  How could this 19-year-old have seen something that I didn’t? 

After some wise counsel from my wife (Rabbi Audrey Marcus Berkman, also a WGF alum), I was able to see Jeremy’s idea for the gift that it was, and to help him implement the restructuring.  While I don’t know for sure how Jeremy’s changes have played out, I’m thankful to him for teaching me that sometimes good leadership means letting go of the need to assert control.