Ed Rettig is an Alumnus of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship Program, Class II.  He is the Director of AJC-Jerusalem, the Israel office of the American Jewish Committee.  Ed can be reached at rettige@ajc.org.il.

In those classic movie scenes the officer cries “follow me” and leads the charge. For rare individuals that is an option.  For me, leadership seems more a process (I speak as a balding, overweight, middle aged, Jewish male, so I am not a candidate for movie scenes.)  When it works, when I can see a group of people in a different place from where they were before my intervention, there I see myself a leader.

For about 8 years I have been a fixture in the preparation of a couple of Tel Aviv high schools for their 10th grade visit to Los Angeles, their Partnership 2000 community in the US.   I spend about two hours discussing cultural differences that make American Jewish civilization so impenetrable for so many Israeli Jews. The 10th graders raise questions, debate issues like separation of church and state (a new idea for most of them), and what makes Jewish religious ideas legitimate (i.e. Is it possible to be a pregnant rabbi? I mean a real rabbi?). 

I have reason to believe that the discussion leaves an impression on students and staff.  It isn’t just the results of the programmatic evaluation process (and the fact that they ask me back). Occasionally I meet someone in their early twenties who tells me they heard me speak in 10th grade and understood a thing or two about American Jewry and felt a new and different sort of feeling of kinship and closeness.