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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Birth of an Institution: early correspondence leading to the establishment of OFEK and Tavistock group relations in Israel

In early 1984, I visited family and friends in Israel. With one couple in particular, the focus of our late night discussions concerned the state of the institutions they each managed. I mentioned the help they might receive by attending a Tavistock group relations conference in the UK, or better still, in order to reach and influence more people in Israel, by introducing a group relations conference to Israel. On my return home, I wrote to Eric Miller, Director of the Group Relations Training Programme (as it was known then). Over the next 4 years there followed a correspondence outlining activities and relationships that eventually led to the creation of a group relations organisation in Israel. That organisation provided and still provides learning opportunities via conferences, seminars, workshops, lectures and other professional development opportunities on the dynamics of leadership and followership and in organisational and social development and change. I kept this correspondence. For the purposes of this paper, I have selected and edited about 30 of the 50 key letters that were exchanged between members of organisations in Israel, the Tavistock Institute and myself. The letters tell an interesting story and teach us much about institution-building, waxing and waning interest, who stays and who leaves and how a process adapts and changes to a new environment. On re-reading the letters, I observed 5 themes around which I have clustered the correspondence: Developing the Idea; Sponsorship and Financial Support; The People; Institution-Building and Implementation. I have 'cut' the letters to fit in with the 5 themes, in spite of the threat of losing a sense of the chronology. I trust the reader will still acquire a good sense of how the process developed. Limitations of space and keeping to the story-line have forced me to summarise, select and edit the letters rather ruthlessly and I apologise in advance if any of the authors, still living, feel they have been over-edited.