"Miller the Pillar” was one of Eric’s interpretations in a Large Group in Israel in a Group Relations conference. He experienced the group as too dependent on him and envisioned himself as being the pillar in the mind of the group. For us, who initiated and worked with him in developing the concept and the implementation of this pioneering enterprise, the Nazareth conferences, he was a pillar indeed.
It took us two years to turn the idea to have a conference of Germans and Israelis, into a formulation with which we approach Eric Miller to materialize the plan.
Why him? The answer is another question: who else? Apart from his lifelong commitment to group relations and to systems theory, Eric helped Ofek (then IASGOP) establish the Group Relations project in Israel, he directed the first two conferences, made a blue print for our institutional building and, being Eric, gradually made himself replaceable by local directors and staff. So now, having another venture in mind, we could not think about anyone else who was as equipped as Eric to be our partner in developing the new and daring (as we experienced it then) enterprise.
In the book: Fed with Tears – Poisoned with Milk, Germans and Israelis: The Past in the Present, (Erlich, Erlich-Ginor, Belland 2009) Eric has a chapter: Design and Structure, The Process of Conference Design, I am quoting from it:
“It was in the spring of 1992 that I had the privilege of being invited to serve as director of the first German-Israeli conference. A small group of psychoanalysts from the two countries had for several years been working towards an encounter of this kind; now I was to be in charge of making it happen: a privilege indeed, but also a daunting challenge.
What followed was an intensive interchange of faxes between Berlin, Jerusalem and London which continued over several months. Through this we arrived at a shared view of the enterprise on which we were embarking and all of us learned much from the process״
The chapter is a masterpiece: in a simple and straight forward way, Eric describes , the step by step building and developing of the conference.
Eric, being Eric, started from the basic questions: What is the primary task? What should be the outcome? Was it to be reconciliation? Finding a “Final Solution?” Gaining understanding? He would not stop half way or settle for any easy answer. A collaborative work between Eric and his counterparts: Hermann Beland in Berlin and Rafael Moses and Shmuel Erlich in Jerusalem, arrived at an agreed upon and workable definition of the primary task.
The crucial point in the to and fro discussion was the conceptualization of “work in the presence of the other," here is how Eric presents it:
“We needed the presence of our Israeli or Jewish colleagues in order to be able feel parts of our own reality which is related the Holocaust. Indeed, it was the recognition that each needed the other that had generated the idea of this conference. wanting to meet the other “out there” and yet not wanting to meet the other in oneself..... I suspect that this points to an unconscious wish that many members may bring to the Conference, for a ‘final solution’ - Germans and Israelis each wanting to get rid of the internalized other. I am hoping that this design will produce more of a cumulative, stepwise and continuing process of learning (though there may be backward as well as forward steps!), rather than a final resolution or revelation. The experience needs to live on within the members, not be left behind.”
To return to the question of “why Eric Miller?” /”Who Else?” I continue to quote
“My obvious qualification for directing this conference was my track record in group relations. From the mid-1980’s onwards I had helped with the formation of the Israel Association for the Study of Group and Organizational Processes (IASGOP; later OFEK) which began to sponsor similar conferences in Israel, including an annual series of international events co-sponsored by The Tavistock Institute. The Israelis taking a lead in the Israeli-German initiative were founder members of IASGOP. A second, less explicit, qualification was that I was non-German, non-Jewish and also not a psychoanalyst. In relation to the German-Israeli polarization, I represented a third, an “other”. (Beyond that, as a Briton, historically I represented an enemy of both: of Germany in two world wars and of the emergent state of Israel during the British occupation of Palestine.) I saw the role of the “third” as important in holding on to some degree of detachment and providing sufficient containment to enable the members to work at the difficult issues that would arise rather than acting them out,
Eric saw his part in this project as “a privilege but also a daunting challenge.” He regarded Germans and Israelis as imprisoned within a common “Past in the Present,” and himself as instrumental in providing a small beacon of light for the way out of a dark tunnel.
He identified very much with our shared view that Germans and Israelis need the presence of the other in order to be able to experience their own Holocaust related realities. He saw the wish to meet the other “out there” as a defense against meeting the “other in oneself”. “False reconciliation” was a cheap way out. He did not let us escape from what we came to accomplish, yet he respected the hardships of the way, the tremendous difficulty of betraying lifelong identifications with one’s parents and culture, of meeting the perpetrator (for Israelis) or the victim (for Germans) inside oneself.
Eric was with us in this venture, not above, or aside. “Pillar” as he was, he was humanly afraid of potential disaster in these encounters and opted, for example, not to have a Large Group that might be explosive.
Eric was there both for the members and staff. It radiated in what he had to say but even more so in the way he was – involved yet never sentimental, concerned yet never judgmental, important in his role and personality yet never grandiose in thinking he had “the solution”, and always enabling.
Eric directed the three-first conferences: 1994, 1996, (both in Israel) , 2000 (In Germany). At the time it did not seem as a “Project” that will last for (at least 20 years), but as events that we were happy to succeed in them taking place, having enough participants and the desire to go on.
The term “The Nazareth Project” could come up only when we could see the link, the development and had the confidence that we want and will carry on. The Book: “Fed with tears, poisoned with milk” was a mile stone in this development and a major factor in the continuation of the project. To our dismay Eric and Rafael Moses, both active in the initiation of the book, died before the book was published.
The 2000 conference in Bad Segeberg, was the last one Eric participated in. We learned only later that Eric got his diagnosis two weeks before the conference. Being Eric, he carried the burden all by himself, not sharing it with us. It made us sad but on the other hand also glad that he choose to work with us even at this difficult moment, and maybe got some comfort out of being with us and in role. Thus giving us another opportunity to learn from him and to be in the receiving end of his mission of transmission the knowledge, the stance, the wisdom.
“All peoples deeds were once dreams, all peoples deeds will turn in a future time to a dream” (Benyamin Zeev Herzel, 1902).
In our experience Eric lives on as a person who changed dreams to deeds and deeds to dreams.