30 years of OFEK – A look from within and from without

by Dorothee C. von Tippelskirch-Eissing

My first encounter with OFEK has been an indirect one: being a member in one of the so-called German-Israeli conferences, also known under the title: “the past in the present”, in 2004, directed by Anton Obholzer. It was this series of conferences which led to the founding of PCCA (Partners in Confronting Collective Atrocities), 10 years ago, the organization I am chairing today.

To me this first experience of the GR method applied to the German – Israeli relationship dealing with the aftermath of the holocaust, the past in the present, in the presence of the other, had been nothing less than a kind of revelation.

This led me to my second indirect encounter with OFEK: I attended a Leicester conference, directed by Mannie Sher. At the time I was not aware of the net of relations among these three organisations, the Tavistock, OFEK and the series of the conferences “the past in the present”, the nucleus of what should become PCCA.

With hardly any knowledge about OFEK, it seems that I got to know OFEK through a kind of a “child’s perspective” of OFEK, through the then German – Israeli conferences, and through OFEK’S “parents-in-the-mind”, the Leicester conference.

One may perhaps say that vis à vis the Tavistock Institute PCCA became a kind of second child of the Tavi after and at the side of OFEK.

My first direct encounter with OFEK took place in 2006 and 2007, when I was invited to work on staff in two international OFEK conferences, both directed by Jossi Triest (the second one together with Ilana Litvin and Avi Nutkevitch).

I could talk at length about my personal development that followed and my deep gratitude for it. At least it needs to be mentioned here.

In 2006 I arrived, knowing hardly anybody from the staff. I was a real stranger, outsider, and a German staff member in Israel.

In 2007 at my arrival, it felt like attending a family gathering, I knew nearly everybody with whom I was supposed to work during the following days at the conference.

This metaphor of a “family” feeling needs further reflection:

I guess it is a part as well of our meeting here these days to celebrate OFEK. Probably we have come here expecting to meet one another, colleagues, friends, may be brothers and sisters, parents, children?

For me coming from a psychoanalytic background this family metaphor used for making sense of our GR organisations is understandable:

Our organisations are also the containing organisers of GR conferences; they are often influenced by a specific kind of conference dynamic. In the conferences the learning from experience goes along with sometimes very strong transference and counter transference processes, the learning is, if it goes well, connected with transference relations that we are prepared to accept. In our organisations we meet then also with those with whom we have shared theses intensive learning processes.

Plausible as it is, it creates also problems to understand our organisations and our cooperation in family terms!

For me the clear feeling of being a stranger and an outsider was already transformed when I returned to the second conference! It was a real loss – though of course at the same time these connections are so important and I would not wish to miss them in my life.

Maybe I can share with you some key ideas I kept in mind from my experiences in these two conferences.

Of course, my experience was essentially shaped by my being German, a German staff member in an Israeli conference taking place in Israel.

I learnt more about this encounter being a traumatic experience for members and for me especially if it happened in an unexpected way.

The reactions of the members and the work were different when we were working together in a Small Study Group for example, than in a different kind of setting like in the Organisational Event. The members of the conferences were prepared to meet me in the setting of the Small Study Group (SSG), they had found my name on the list for their orientation to know to which SSG they would belong to.

In the Organizational Event (OE), the members of the conference were invited to create groups by themselves and to go and choose “their territory”, an available space / room to work. The consultants were designated as consultants to the different rooms. In my experience in both conferences, the sudden discovery of me by the members of a group in what was supposed to become “their territory”, that they were about to occupy, as their working space in the OE, was each time followed by a much more disturbed and disturbing, disruptive dynamic.

And, let me say, I believe that this very specific experience essentially seems to become more visible under these experiential conditions, but it applies probably in depth to all our encounters. There is a potential traumatic layer that necessarily comes along with each of our encounters.

In the 2006 event, in the first session of the group I was invited symbolically to commit suicide. I won’t describe this scene here now, as it would take too much time. Instead I will give you more details about my experience in 2007.

In 2007, maybe, because I was better prepared for the work – maybe because I was more defensive (a defense that obviously always serves as well as a protection) – the leader of the group who had led them to the territory where I was the consultant, left the group at the beginning of the second session, he joint another group, after having declared that he wished to leave keeping his passport for a possible return at a later moment.

The following dynamic until his return to the group in the last session was at times breath-taking. Questions were raised:

What about leaving the country? Was it an act of betrayal, was the former leader a traitor?

Would all remaining members accept to promise to stay and not to leave the group? In fact, for a long time no one was allowed to leave the room after he had left.

Could there be trust without such promise to allow a member to stay?

And what about the right of return? For whom should it be valuable?

The group went through stages of extreme closure – and finally a very moving and interesting process allowing the member to return in the end and to tell his story.

OFEK in my view is of course on one side one sibling among others in the GR-world. I am persuaded that each GR organisation has a very specific meaning in its specific context for the GR network which needs to be understood. And on the other side, OFEK is in my view essentially not like one of the other siblings.

For PCCA I have said that in some ways I consider the relation to OFEK and to the Tavistock as a very specific one, as in a way I consider PCCA as an offspring of these two organisations.

But beyond this, my guess is that OFEK has a very specific unique meaning as an Israeli organisation, where the relation between Israel and the world, in my case specifically between Israel and Germany, is of great importance.

This needs again and again new and fresh efforts to understand, a new learning that, I am deeply convinced, we cannot do on our own, but we need one another.

Theologically speaking, I would translate the notion of the Tora coming from mount Zion into the idea that in the relationship between Israel / OFEK and the outside world, something is processed on behalf of the whole, maybe I can dare to say, the whole of humanity.

I want to finish mentioning some key issues: I think in our relationship there is a question of extreme neediness and a deep sense of loneliness, in the sense as Bion described it as essential for the psychoanalytic situation. I do think this applies also to the intimate situation in our GR work.

It is about bearing together that cannot be borne by each of us and of our GR organisations on our own. It is about exclusion, the inevitable enactment of it and the suffering from it.

It speaks to me of the unstable worlds in which we fear to be overwhelmed by refugees, the neediness projected outside – or by the terrorists, the violent destructiveness projected outside, a destructiveness which I think belongs to a desperate effort to get into contact again, the contact that has been lost – to get out of the unbearable loneliness again.


In order to process these dynamics and to learn about it and to free ourselves as much as we can from it, we need OFEK, a courageous OFEK.

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