“Leadership is not a title. It is a behavior.” – Robin Sharma
Shelly Korenboim grew up in a state that she feels must struggle to explain its existence. The social, economic and cultural opportunities in the Middle East are unlimited, to her way of thinking, but solving conflicts has eluded her native Israel so far. Even as a child, she dreamed of becoming Israel’s ambassador for international relations, “not just because I wanted to speak in favor of my home country’s existence, but because I felt that Israel failed in trying to understand the other’s right for existence.” She believes Israel’s diplomacy hasn’t made sufficient efforts to nurture the peace process, opting instead “to convey messages with weapons.” Some of this is attributable to the division within the Jewish peoples in Israel, she says, but behind the big headlines, Shelly hears many smaller voices who want to work toward peace.
At seventeen, she was accepted to the prestigious Israeli Leadership program called LEAD, a non-political, non-profit privately funded organization. For over two years, Shelly participated in a series of conventions and seminars and initiated, planned, managed, and implemented projects centering on social entrepreneurship in the community. In 2008 she initiated a project she called Revolution, its goal being to empower Ethiopian youth in the city of Gedera and raise their self-confidence through creative writing and performance. Through a youth center serving an Ethiopian neighborhood, she invited young people from age twelve to eighteen to join the project. They met once a week at the center, discussed their desire to be part of the community and feel equal to all the Israeli citizens. Shelly helped them turn their feelings into words and words into songs. She contacted the Mayor of Gedera at the time who supported the group through generous funding. Participants created a band and performed their songs to great success.
While Shelly prefers diplomacy, Israel requires two years of military service for women and three years for men. From 2008 to 2010 she served in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and was soon chosen to serve as an infantry instructor, training soldiers and reserve units in firing long range 81mm and 120mm mortars. Working in the desert without bathrooms and with men only, Shelly, as a petite eighteen year-old girl, struggled to prove herself. Some of the men were twice her age, and many had participated in active combat. She often stayed up all night studying in order to make sure never faltered with all the rules and instructions. She trained hundreds of soldiers whose lives and security depended on the precision usage of hot weapons, as did the civilians living too close to enemy targets. In December 2008, Operation Cast Lead began in Gaza. Shelly’s role in preparing soldiers before commencing ground operations was critical. She believes in keeping the people of Israel safe and in her country’s right to self-defense.
When Shelly had an opportunity to meet with Palestinians, she realized “how much we have in common.” Three years ago, she joined a program called Tikkun-Olam, which means repairing the world. The organization brings Jews from all over the world to live and volunteer in the Arab city of Jaffa, the oldest section of Tel-Aviv where Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Ethiopian Jews, and Eastern Jews have co-existed for many years. The experience made Shelly optimistic about the future and her role in it. “I decided that leading a change is a part of me, and it is my goal in life.”
While completing her education, Shelly has participated in the Model United Nations in Israel, studying conflict resolution strategies, humanitarian difficulties, security, and economic problems, all focused on creative solutions. She recently initiated and produced a conference for 220 students of the MUN with no budget and a volunteer staff of twenty-seven. Currently, Shelly is serving as an Israeli youth ambassador at the Hillel organization on the University of California Long Beach campus.
Whatever her title, her role and her actions are those of a leader.