The Talmud of COVID: Leadership in Times of Challenge

As we enter the Thanksgiving season, leaders and CEOs have a chance to reflect on the challenges and opportunities of leading our institutions during these tumultuous times.  
 
I am proud that Gann was one of the first schools in our region to open safely in person this past summer. Now, as the adrenaline of the summer planning begins to fade, I find myself reflecting on some of the difficult questions my team has faced over these past several months. For example, what is the role of an institution in dictating individuals’ personal behavior when what happens on nights and weekends poses real risk to our community? How do we provide maximum support to our employees while ensuring that key functions of the institution are maintained at the level of excellence needed to survive the pandemic? Do we allocate all of our resources in the short term to get through the challenges at hand or keep the longer term in mind?
Leading an institution during COVID-19, especially institutions that are on the forefront of our society’s reopening, such as schools and hospitals, poses multiple ethical dilemmas. Whatever hard decision we make to uphold one important principle may in fact compromise other principles we also hold dear. In thinking about these difficult questions, I am grateful to have had an ancient framework of ethical decision-making to rely on in our sacred Jewish texts; the wisdom of the Rabbis has much to offer modern CEOs struggling with King Solomon-like decisions. Below, I detail a few concepts that have helped guide me in my leadership choices:
 
A Brit (Covenant)
A foundational concept in the Jewish religion is the notion of a covenantal relationship between G-d and man. Our tradition suggests that a similar covenant exists in our interpersonal relationships. The Torah describes the idea of a Brit as kruta or cut apart. This is actually a very puzzling and contradictory idea. If a covenant is binding how can it be cut apart? My colleague Rabbi Uri Feldman suggests that the way to create a meaningful and everlasting treaty binding is to cut out of oneself and give to the other party. In our context, taking away one's personal comfort for the sake of another person or the community creates a binding within the entire group. 
 
Preventing Lashon Hara 
As a community leader, one of the hardest parts of the pandemic has been handling the rumor mills and gossip surrounding families’ out-of-school behavior. How do I respond to a parent reporting on another parent? What if a group of kids post a picture of themselves on Instagram without masks? Jewish tradition admonishes us not to engage in Lashon Hara (evil tongue) or gossip. But what if the gossip turns out to be life-saving? Redirecting rumors, fear-mongering, and baseless gossip towards a common goal of safety has been critical. The danger of slanderous language and words is real. When we are afraid and in crisis we have to be doubly careful not to believe everything we hear. 
 
Derech Eretz
The term Derech Eretz literally means “the way of the land.” Colloquially, however, it is most often used to refer to those things that are common decency. The Rabbis used the term to explain how we respect our elders and teachers. 
 
Respect for older generations is implicit not only in Judaism but in many religions and cultures. In working with teenagers it has been helpful to explain that so many of the precautions around COVID relate to protecting older teachers, parents, and grandparents. Like many schools, we have prohibited our students from engaging in local sports leagues. While teens might feel invincible and not perceive COVID-19 as a real threat, their compliant actions are a form of derech eretz--respecting our elders and those that are more vulnerable. 
 
As we navigate these difficult times, I am grateful to Jewish tradition for serving as an ethical guidepost. At Gann, we are more committed than ever to making sure the next generation of young people learn the beauty of our sacred texts. To do so, we need your help. Gann has incurred tremendous additional costs to ensure the safety of our students, faculty, and staff during COVID-19. Please help us by contributing to the Gann fund, which enables us to keep our doors open. In addition, your generosity supports our stellar academics, clubs, sports, and informal learning opportunities. With your assistance, we are also proud to provide tuition assistance to over 50% of our families every year, ensuring access and equity.
 
I am thrilled to announce that a generous donor will be matching all new gifts and gift increases, so please give today by clicking here in order to double your impact!
 
Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!
 
Chodesh Tov,
 
Dr. Dalia Hochman
Head of School
 
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