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Chairman's Message 217

A Journey of Growth and Change – Reflecting on Four Years as Chair of ESRA 

"The world is run by the people who show up", Benjamin Franklin

As I begin to write my final column for the ESRAmagazine as Chair of ESRA, I find myself contemplating the incredible journey we have embarked on in recent years. Prior to my four years as chairman, I served the previous four as Vice-Chair and could not have imagined back then what changes those eight years would bring to the organization.

I can honestly say that this has been the most fulfilling period of my life. I have tried to give my absolute all and contribute to developing ESRA through an extremely challenging period. Sometimes these challenges were predictable, but we also faced many situations that were impossible to anticipate. Throughout it all, my firm belief in the work we are doing made chairing ESRA both a great honor and a tremendous privilege.

With such a privileged role comes responsibility, including the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead, and when you are not. To quote the former New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, "You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank - plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges". I know what this position demands, and therefore the completion of my 4-year term is timely, as I know that I no longer have enough 'in the tank' to do it justice. However, I absolutely believe and know there are others around me who do, and who will carry ESRA forward.

We have achieved so much, and I take great pride in that. We are in a fundamentally different place today than where we were, and we have ambitious targets and plans in place to achieve them.

I have learned a lot, partly about myself but largely about the adaptability and flexibility required in such a diverse and multifaceted organization, encompassing a multitude of viewpoints. I have often spoken and written about the wonderful experiences I have had during my involvement with ESRA. I am proud of how ESRA is developing our many remarkable education and welfare projects, exemplified by the expanding numbers and locations of our Students Build a Community initiatives. I boast about the support we offer to English-speakers and new Olim with hundreds of social activities annually, as well as counselling, befriending services and our Welfare Fund. I have consistently encouraged everyone to join us and become a volunteer, emphasizing the satisfaction gained from contributing to the betterment of our country and helping Israeli children learn and speak English through our English Tutoring Program, where it is so easy to use our natural gift of English and 'give back'.

I step down from my role with great pride – and mixed feelings. On the one hand, I can reflect on the remarkable accomplishments and development of ESRA over these years, which have been truly transformative. The Covid pandemic enabled us to take the time to examine all aspects of our activities. We became better organized and learned how to focus on doing the things we do well. We have expanded our wonderful projects and turned our English Tutoring Program into an opportunity for more than 1,200 volunteers, not only from our own membership in Israel but also from English-speaking countries worldwide.

On the other hand, I am concerned for the future of ESRA and what essentially lies ahead. The past couple of years have brought to the fore issues that are common to so many similar institutions worldwide. There is a clear realization that change is inevitable and happening rapidly, driven by the combined catalytic forces of Corona, an aging membership and the new realities.

We faced a choice - either to adapt and evolve with the times or to allow ESRA to gradually fade away. Given those options, the way forward was obvious and clear. However, determining how to achieve it is less so and has taken much time and thought. It has not been an easy journey. Many tough decisions needed to be addressed and more will inevitably be faced if ESRA is to survive and thrive with renewed energy for another four decades and beyond.

Some of the decisions that had to be made have been weighty. I expect there will continue to be discussion and debate in the aftermath of some of them. However, I can say with all sincerity that our primary consideration has always been the well-being of ESRA as a whole, even if this sometimes meant implementing unpopular changes that affected individuals or groups. I extend my heartfelt apologies to anyone who was made unhappy due to our decisions. This was never our intention.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank so many people, many of whom I will continue to consider my family of friends. It is sadly impossible to mention all the names of those whose support and encouragement I have received and whose invaluable advice I have so often sought. But there are some who must be mentioned.

I must acknowledge the incredible ESRA administrative staff, the team led by the indefatigable Sunny Marshansky, who always demonstrate unwavering dedication and excellence beyond measure. They have been simply magnificent and will always have my gratitude and respect.

My predecessor and confidant, Baruch Tanaman, has been the epitome of an ideal colleague, always available and always supportive. Glenis Bertfield and Barbara Kliner, former vice-chairs, remain amongst the hardest working of volunteers who made my position so much easier due to their tireless efforts. Chairs of various committees such as Roger Lavender (Finance), Nina Zuck (Projects), Lola Katz (ETP), Bernice Myers (ETP and Magazine Distribution) and Adele Hunter (Welfare Fund) have been exceptional and devoted leaders shaping ESRA into what it is today and without whom it would be impossible to build for the future. I must include Merle Guttmann as well, who not only founded ESRA, but has been the editor of the ESRAmagazine for an amazing 217 editions. Similarly, I owe a debt of gratitude to all the hard-working and truly caring members of the many Executive Committees who have served ESRA with such distinction over the years.

But mainly ESRA is about "the people who show up", day after day and week after week – the multitude of volunteers who so willingly give their time to help make ESRA the force it is today within the English-speaking community. They are the ones who built ESRA, who laid the foundations with hours of selfless and dedicated work and deserve ESRA's everlasting appreciation and thanks. To each and every one of them I am proud to say on behalf of the community and the people that benefit from their efforts, a huge well done, thank you, and please carry on!

For my part, I want to conclude this column by simply thanking everyone who cares about ESRA for their extremely generous support and for affording me the opportunity to serve in what has been the most gratifying role of my life. I have no future plans, no next steps. All I know is that I intend to remain an active member of ESRA, contributing in any capacity that I can, and finding ways to keep working for and promoting ESRA as widely as I can. Beyond that, I am finally looking forward to spending time with my family. Arguably, they are the ones that have sacrificed the most throughout my working years.

My final responsibility is to leave ample space for my successors to make their mark. My sincerest hope is that ESRA will evolve under their leadership to become a significant player amongst charitable institutions in Israel. I wish them all every success and an easy passage and I hope that, as I step aside, I leave behind a belief that you can be kind - yet strong, empathetic - yet decisive, optimistic - yet focused, and that you can be your own kind of leader.

In my case – that's one who knows when it's time to go. 

 

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Sunday, 16 June 2024

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