Mar 2010

You Never Know

Gary S. Cohn is the Assistant Director of the North Pacific Region of the American Technion Society.  He also serves on the Board of Directors of the Bay Area American Red Cross.  He is a past president of the National Association for Temple Administration and a former Board Member of the San Francisco Food Bank.  He can be reached at 

It was back in 1970, at the age of 16, long hair, jeans with patches, a CIT at my Jewish summer camp, when I got my first real leadership lesson.  The camp director, Steve, said in a training session before the kids arrived,  “You never know when you touch the life of a child.”  Now that was a line that has stayed with me and has proven true over and over again.  

The camp director, Steve, moved on to Executive Director at the synagogue and I moved on to college and the business world.  After sixteen years in business, I began a seventeen-year journey of my own as the Executive Director of a large reform congregation.  Steve continued to be a friend and a mentor and my old camp director, was now my colleague.  We consulted each other on management issues, leadership issues, we taught workshops together and published an article or two, together.

A few weeks back, I went to the funeral of my longtime friend Phil’s father.  A man who had lived into his 90s.  Phil was at camp with me back in 1970.  As I sat next to my camp director/colleague, Steve, at the funeral, Phil opened his talk about his father with the line, “You never know when you touch the life of a person.”   Steve, now in his 70’s, beamed with pride that a lesson taught so long ago, was still so important and being used today. I look back on my years in business and as a synagogue executive and see many of the lives I have touched.  But not all, since “you never know when you touch the life of a child.”