Nina Gelfand Harris, M.A. LCSW, is a social worker in private practice specializing in adolescents and over the summer is the Camp Social Worker at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. She is a member of the Chicago 06 Wexner Heritage Group. Nina can be reached at AHarris772@aol.com.
I have been involved in Jewish communal work for as long as I can remember. To pay my bills in college and graduate school, I held part time positions as a Hebrew school teacher, youth advisor, and camp counselor, to name a few. As I moved into the professional field of Jewish communal service, I continued to work within the Jewish community for various federation agencies as well as in Jewish summer camps.
As I, and my children, have gotten older, I have become involved in many of these same organizations as a lay leader and my role has become increasingly more complicated. I have been involved in educational programming for the day school my children attend, sit on the board of the Jewish high school my son will attend in the fall, have been involved in implementing programs at our synagogue, and am the camp social worker at the summer camp my children go to. (Who wants to go to overnight camp with their mom?!)
Being involved simultaneously as a professional, lay leader and parent is confusing and often presents me with challenges around boundaries and confidentiality not to mention some role confusion. In my daily life I deal with these challenges which often become obstacles to my professional identity and my personal privacy. It is hard to predict whether my dual roles will be in collusion or collision with each other. The act of balancing these varied roles within the community is not unique to me. I know that this is a challenge that many of us struggle with.
In some strange way, I believe that the role confusion has served me well and has helped me become a better leader and often a clearer thinker (who doesn’t want that?). At the end of the struggle I have been given the strength to be vulnerable and the courage to admit that I do not have all the answers. Navigating the murky waters makes me stronger and is a humbling experience. No matter how high our positions of leadership, we must remember that we are human beings first and not be afraid of self reflection. It is through our own genuineness and integrity that we can become more effective leaders.