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Jewish Israeli Journey - Background and Methodology Abstract

3.8.2017

 


Tova Averbuch, May 2007 – December 2008

 

 

This abstract of background and methodology is intended to make possible direct contact with and discourse regarding a set of stories presenting possible futures in Israel and the Middle East (the scenarios), which were created by the Jewish-Israeli Journey group.  The first part of the journey, which took place between May 2007 and December 2008, was a riveting human and methodological tapestry.  I shall try to briefly provide a glimpse of this journey and its bearing, particularly regarding its outline and the methodological and facilitating choices that characterized it.

 

The Jewish-Israeli Journey

 

The Jewish Israeli Journey is a personal and group process of joint and continuing study of the situation in Israel and its surroundings; the sprouting of challenging and inspiring stories regarding possible futures in Israel (a set of scenarios); and the creation of a fabric of relationships among a group of Jewish-Israeli leaders with the intention of influencing the creation of a different future in Israel. 

The group that initiated the first steps in the journey included four Israelis, all of them members of the "BeSod Siach" NGO that works for the advancement of dialogue between opposites/polarities in the Israeli society: Avner Haramati, Shai Ben Yosef, Baruch Ovadia, and Tova Averbuch.  Avner and Shai met Adam Kahane and learned about the scenario thinking approach in which he is an international expert. Their impression was that this approach could make what they wished for possible: a practical way of creating a different discourse regarding the future in Israel.  After a number of months, the additional three members joined the staff: Hilik Bar and Ofer Zalzberg, who are members of the executive of YIFC (Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation) and Mario Shejtman Director of the Israeli Center for the Advancement of Social Justice.

 

We set out with the feeling that something was stuck both in the internal processes in Israel and in the Middle East: gaps between the poor and the rich, the religious and the secular, the right and the left, and the central metropolitan area and the periphery; the relations between Jews and Arabs have been stuck since the events of October 2000, and for the last 15 years the relationship with the  Palestinian people has been going around and around in circles of discourse, terrorism, partial quiet, and escalation.  It was clear that a different sort of action is necessary; thinking out of the familiar box. As stated in the first document describing the project and inviting people to join: "the goal of this journey/project is to develop possible scenarios that will insert into the public discourse new angles to be addressed, and opportunities for reinforcing Jewish-Israeli leadership in general, in its efforts to create genuine security and sustainable prosperity for Jewish and non-Jewish Israelis, and for their neighbors.  Since Israel was established in 1948 as a Jewish state, the various scenarios that will ensure existence for Jewish Israelis are at the heart of any sustainable regional solution."

 

 

 

The Purpose of the Journey

 

The purpose of the journey was to have Jewish-Israeli leaders answer the following question together:

 

What kind of society do we Israeli Jews envision in the State of Israel,  to which we and our descendents would be proud to belong, and in which we could live together in amity with non-Jewish Israelis, our Palestinian neighbors, and with our wider region in general?

 

Choosing the Path

 

In this journey, we attempted to pave a new path.  In order to not constrict the creativity and emergence needed for new creations, we did not define a detailed outline of the journey in advance.  Context and focus derived from three foundations. The first foundation, "direction: where are we going?", was about the purpose of the journey and the expected product (creating a set of scenarios, in order to grant them to the State of Israel for her 60th birthday, in May 2008).  The second foundation , "activity: what are we doing together?", was manifest in the choice of scenarios as the leading methodology.  The third foundation "code of conduct:  what are the conditions for our activity?” was set out by the principled decision regarding the structure and setting of the process that created the basic container – a field upon which we could move and create together.

 

Decisions Regarding the Structure and Setting

 

Structure:

 

The journey's central path consisted of three weekend workshops, each four days long: the first workshop was in the town of Lefkara in Cyprus in October 2007, the second workshop was in Ma'alot in the Galilee in February 2008, and the third was in Eilat on the Red Sea coast in April 2008.

 

Between the workshops, groups of participants worked on the issue of scenarios, held learning journeys, made preparations for the three central workshops, etc.  The proceedings of each meeting and its products were presented to the plenary assembly via written reports, video documentation, or oral reports during the workshops.

 

Values Guiding the Activity

 

Preserving joint leadership, partnership and transparency regarding information and decision making amongst all of those taking part in the journey;

 

Managing permeable boundaries, and allowing movement inward and outward by participants, sponsors, staff members and guests throughout the journey, in accordance with necessity and possibility, similar to a Cana'anite river, in which water flows for only part of the year, but which cuts a clear path.

 

 

Participants:

 

 In order to create a new product that takes into consideration a wide variety of possibilities, we needed the wisdom of many and diverse people, and thus we sought out a body of participants that would best represent the whole known as "Jewish society in Israel", and would include men and women of influence and leadership in the part of the population of which they represent.  The journey succeeded in creating sympathy and drawing people who shared the sentiment that "the time has come" to take responsibility and seek out change.  The group which came into being reflects the diversity in Jewish-Israeli society: religious people from Gush Katif, from the settlements of Samaria; Ultra-Orthodox from various streams; various hues of secular Judaism; left-wingers, centrists and right-wingers; Knesset members, academics, journalists, educators; business leaders, elected officials, and public employees ranging from 24 to 84 years old.

 

Forty people actually participated in the journey, some of whom joined from the second or third workshop, whereas others dropped out before the journey's close.  There were many various reasons for entrance and exit.  Prominent reasons included: competition with other life events and other professional activity; and inability to accept the outline of the journey, either for ideological reasons or for reasons of conflicting personal desire and belief (e.g., the desire to write a vision for the State of Israel, to agree upon it as a group, and to act toward its realization).

 

Staff:

 

The project staff included 8 people, seven men and a woman: three facilitators – Adam Kahane, Shai Ben Yosef, and Tova Averbuch; the project director Avner Haramati; his assistant, Hilik Bar; the administrative director, Mario Shejtman; the project writer, Ofer Zalzberg; and Liaison to Research and Academic Institutions, Baruch Ovadia.  A volunteer facilitator from "BeSod Siach", Miriam Shapira, with whom we met a number of times, assisted Shai and Tova in their task as preservers of the continuity of the facilitation process, assisted Avner in his transition to the role of leader of the project, and assisted the staff as a whole, serving as a source for containing emotions and gaining perspective.  Clearly, the staff was diverse in terms of age, place of residence, life experience, and social and political worldviews.  The staff encountered a great load of various tasks (soliciting participants, fundraising, interviewing, facilitating, joint management, etc.), in conditions of high uncertainty and constant movement in and out on the part of participants.

 

Sponsors:

 

Our fundraising efforts yielded two sponsorships, which made identical monetary contributions and asked to be involved in the journey.  "Tzav Pius", a registered society that focuses upon the advancement of relations between Jews, and "ORG" (Oxford Research Group), an NGO which focuses upon advancement of relations between Israelis and Palestinians in the area, and conflict resolution on a global scale.  The sponsors were essential partners throughout the entire process.  During the three workshops they sat as an external circle to the circle of participants. On agreed upon occasions they gave feedback and created dialogue with the group.  Their contribution was unique, and brought the world that exists outside of the room, into the room.  They did so many times through the questions they asked regarding the rationale of one scenario or another, knowledge they brought regarding the sentiment among the Palestinians in Israel and the area, and among the leaders in Arab countries and in Europe.  All these enriched the soil upon which the ideas sprouted.

 

Web:

 

As described above, a meeting took place between eight entrepreneurs from three different NGO's with complementary agendas in Israeli society, who joined the expertise of Adam Kahane, and were assisted by 2 philanthropic organizations which also have complementary agendas in the area.  This human-institutional web, along with the 40 participants, created a rich potential field that was both held and pulled by a variety of forces, enabling creative movement to take place.

 

Language:

           

The presence of English speaking sponsors and an English speaking facilitator throughout the workshops, inserted an additional language, and the need for simultaneous translation.  The presence of two languages contributed to the development of the journey, and the people who took part in it.  The translation necessitated slowing down, listening, developing patience and persistence, and made possible a new gaze upon personal and national truisms. 

The presence of many truisms turned from presenting difficulty to fertilizing the discourse and assisting in creation of a collective dynamic that was richer and more open to new ideas.

 

The Journey Story

 

The journey’s staff began its work by initiating the journey, and clarifying its specific purpose.  The central question before us was how to advance possible futures in the area.  Should we work within one nation first – a Jewish Israeli Journey and a Arab Israeli Journey – and only then seek out their integration; or work jointly from the start, with Israeli Jews and Arabs together?  We found that the path of dialogue between Jews and Palestinians was blocked due to lack of trust and a feeling of helplessness, and at the same  time, we got the impression that there was much energy revolving around contemporary Jewish-Israeli single-nationality search (at that time the Arab Israeli vision was being written).  We found a need and a desire for an updated definition of identity, of dreams, and of national needs for the Jewish-Israelis as a basis for dialogue and for joint action with Arab Israelis, Palestinians and the neighboring states.

 

We are of the view that it is desirable that a process of this kind be led by leaders who are known and esteemed in their society.  The leaders we turned to preferred to support from the outside, or to participate actively themselves, yet they did not tend to enlist colleagues, or actually lead the process.  Our central dilemma was how to fulfill the triple role of initiators, leaders, and facilitators.  We did not tend to enter the role of leadership, however, convinced that “the time has come”, we decided, with mixed feelings, to take upon ourselves the search for people and resources.  The central goal at this point was to enlist participants who would be willing to take part in creating a sustainable future in Israel, who reflect a rich variety of leaders in Jewish society in Israel and are personally passionate about the subject.  The 40 journey participants indeed constitute such a rich variety; however, it is important to note that the extreme right (due to their hesitance to exit the land of Israel) and the extreme left (due to their hesitance regarding participation in this process without the Arabs of Israel) chose not to join the journey.

 

The first step in creating a journey-group and the initial content for the scenarios was a personal interview we held with each participant during the two months prior to the first workshop.  The interviews brought to the surface the personal narratives of the participants regarding their view of the situation in the country, and a desired picture of the future, and made possible the creation of an initial personal contact between the participants and the Israeli facilitators, as well as the conscious and energetic ignition of the journey.

 

In autumn 2007 we departed for the first workshop, which took place in Lefkara, Cyprus.  The workshop focused upon the purpose of the journey, the creation of a working group, and the establishing of a methodological language for our work (the U process and scenario thinking, which are presented below): this workshop enabled making connections to the place, to the journey, between participants, to the staff members, to Shabbat, and to the Greek-Turkish conflict in Cyprus, etc.  During the workshop the group created a set of scenarios – a set of possible future stories – which are important to tell now in Israel. The joint space invited each participant to influence the proceedings; the boundaries were permeable, allowing for movement in and out by participants, staff, sponsors and spouses. This open setting presented challenges for some of group members who were interested in a more structured path.

During the weeks and months after the workshop in Lefkara, the "scenarios team", which included staff members and participants (all were invited, and those who were interested did the work), worked on fleshing out the scenarios.  During this period we also moved forward, holding direct meetings with various people with relevant knowledge, in an attempt to fill gaps of knowledge which the group needed in order to fulfill its mission.  These learning journeys contributed to direct sensing of various subjects and issues.  Short lectures, given by ORG representatives and by participants, contributed to the enrichment, via processed information.  In each learning journey, those who chose to participate did so, and their conclusions were reported to the plenary assembly, in writing, in video, or orally.

 

The second workshop took place in winter 2008 in Ma'alot, and opened with an intensive learning journey day.  The plenary assembly split into groups and traveled, in order to come into contact with life in the Northern Galilee: Jews, Arabs, relations between Jews and Arabs, Druze, periphery, etc.  The meetings were interesting and intense, emotionally touching everyone who took part in them, and fed the continued work with emotional and informational charge.  Some members of the group who had been present at Lefkara were not present at this meeting.  We found two main reasons for this phenomenon:  this was the day that the Winograd report, focusing upon the lessons and mistakes of the Second Lebanon War, was published, and Knesset members and journalists were absent due to commitments and preferences.  In Lefkara we had been insulated from Israel; in Ma'alot people had more access to demands upon them for entrance and exit.  Also joining this workshop were new participants, from sectors of society which had less representation in the makeup of the first workshop (business, academia, military).  The starting point was difficult, due to partial attendance, and an additional point of challenge during the workshop was when the scenarios processed by the "scenarios team" were presented before the group.  The group did not recognize them as "their Lefkara scenarios", and some members of the group refused to accept them.  As the workshop continued we returned to the work of writing the scenarios, maintaining a field upon which the Lefkara set of scenarios, the processed set, the knowledge we gained during our learning journeys, and the present moment, all ran alongside each other.  The workshop yielded an updated set of scenarios; their writing continued to be a living and developing axis throughout the journey.

 

After Ma'alot as well, the scenarios team and the learning journey teams continued their work, even more intensively.  Having learned that there is a need to engage the plenary assembly, we held a meeting in Tel Aviv in order to present the updated scenario reports before it.  In an attempt to elicit new thinking about the scenarios, we used the idea of transferring from one field to another.  After presenting the updated scenarios, we asked the question: "if the scenario was a food, what food would it be?"  The transfer from the field of reality to the culinary field created simplification and renewal at the same time.  The scenarios were temporarily called:  "chulent", "sushi", "falafel", "soup"…. and this process contributed another scenario to the field: "fusion cuisine", which became an additional scenario in the set.

 

The third and final workshop took place in spring 2008 in the city of Eilat.  In this workshop, integration was created between the discourse, the learning journeys, and the various drafts of the scenarios.  The integration solidified, through a short experience of ‘life in the scenarios’ (via guided imagery), into an updated group draft of the scenarios.  We worked and discussed day and night until the final version emerged.  The workshop concluded a set of scenarios, with a feeling of great closeness between the participants, as well as a certain sentiment of a missed opportunity, in that we did not attain the objective of submitting a set of scenarios as a gift to the State of Israel for her 60th birthday, and there was no detailed and agreed upon program regarding what to do now, with the set, and in general.  It was over, but it was not completed.

 

The scenarios team continued to work.  Abstracts and translations were added to the scenarios.  Attempts were made to present the set of scenarios before homogenous audiences (i.e. settlers in Samaria) and diverse audiences (i.e. the members of "BeSod Siach").  A way was built to introduce people who did not participate in the Jewish Israeli Journey to thinking about their possible futures through scenarios, and it evoked great interest in those participating in this short process.  Despite all this, it was not clear whether we want to continue on, and if so, how.  On the personal level, relationships that were created between journey participants are maintained to date.  On the level of personal change, many of the participants integrated the journey into their personal and professional lives. Nonetheless, it was clear: this part of the journey was over.  An ember of the journey was kept on a low flame for a number of months.  Weekly emails were and still are sent by two participants to all members of the group: one regarding the weekly Torah portion, and the other summarizing a week of life in a locality on the border of the Gaza Strip.  Additional activity, that was intended to advance discourse regarding the scenarios in the Knesset, was interrupted due to the fall of the government, and the elections.

 

During the past months, we have been witness to signs of reawakening: initiation of conferences with academic institutions and research institutes; a chapter in Adam Kahane's book describing the process, an evaluation document by Ronit Zamir describing the development of the group narratives; a trip to the US on the part of Avner Haramati and Shai Ben Yosef, in order to present the scenarios to audiences in Seattle, San Francisco and New York; an article on the subject of methodology by Tova Averbuch.  There is also a desire to advance the fusion/confederation scenario, and a desire to advance dialogue about the scenarios as a set, and thus create a different language of talking about the future among Israelis.

 

The Methodological Tapestry

 

When we set out, we thought that we were acting in the field of two main methodologies: Theory U as a setting, and scenario based thinking as a tool for developing stories of the future.  As time went on, we found that in fact there were 5 different approaches and methodologies for social discourse and action playing on our field of activity.  Below are a number of words describing each of the methodologies we used during the journey, and a few words about the unique contribution of each one to the journey:

 

1.         Scenarios (Van der Hejden & Adam Kahane)

 

Description: “Scenarios… are provocative and plausible stories about diverse ways in which relevant issues outside our organizations might evolve, such as the future political environment, social attitudes, regulation, economy etc.  Because scenarios are hypotheses, not predictions, they are created and used in sets of multiple stories, usually three or four, that capture a range of future possibilities, good and bad, expected and surprising decision" (Adam Kahane, The Art of Scenario Thinking for Nonprofits).

 

Contribution: the scenario thinking provided a "mental gym" for expanding thinking about possible future stories and their implications, and contributed directly to the realization that there may be surprising futures! Speaking in the future plural tense allowed opening up to creativity, and releasing some of the anxiety, and thus made it possible to avoid getting stuck in bickering, and instead to wander together  creatively in  collective seeking. It was not about coercion of consensus of decisions which must be implemented tomorrow morning, nor was it about one agreed-upon prophetic scenario. It was all about a set of future stories, important and interesting to discuss, as a way of understanding the present and what is required of us for the sake of the future.  The unique power of scenario thinking was in that it made possible continual embracing of complex intellectual-intuitive thinking without losing its complexity, even when conflict and anxiety arose.  "The game" was to innovate, to put out a valuable set while bypassing the blockages of attachment to fear and worry, and to questions such as ‘who decides’ and ‘who is right’.

 

The scenarios served as a living and developing backbone for the journey, and we returned to them again and again in the plenary assembly and in partial teams, in creating and in critical thinking, both extensively and briefly, in writing and in pictures.

 

2.      U Theory and U process (Otto Scharmer)

 

Description:   Theory U is interested in leading from the future as it emerges, and explores the full process of the emergence of social action. The U process is a description of how this happens, through seven different elements of attention and action: Paying attention; Seeing (from outside); Sensing (from within); Presencing (the view from a surrounding presence); Crystallizing vision and intent; Prototyping (trying out what is feasible); Performing and embodying the new.

 

Contribution: one can see Theory U as the developmental theory of the journey, and the U process as a guide toward its various stages.  Its central contribution was in creating a framework and a theoretical context for the entire journey.  It also served us in creating new patterns and tools for knowledge creation:   attentive listening to the world outside; deep listening to inner voice and source; making room for explorative and "not knowing" thinking processes; for use of direct sensing (personal and collective) that is intended to make one conscious of beliefs and biases regarding the relevant data, illuminates blind spots, etc. All these served thinking about the future from a new, deeper, and more integrative place.

 

The makeup of the U process was reflected well not only in the journey as a whole, but also in each workshop separately.  The workshops had an interesting structure that began as necessity, yet ended as great enlightenment.  Stage A of the work: from Thursday until Friday Afternoon; Shabbat, from Friday afternoon (knisat Shabbat) until Saturday evening (motzei Shabbat); Stage B of the work: from Saturday night until Sunday.  This structure created a natural U:  In Stage A of the workshop, the group released the wisdom they initially came with to that workshop, causing the "known" to flow in; Shabbat served as a time for incubating ideas and thoughts, and for new dialogues that were fertilized by the Jewish content of the weekly Torah portion, which fit each one of the stages of the various workshops wonderfully.  During Shabbat we talked, but did not write nor summarize – we were presencing, at the bottom of the U.  When the Shabbat was over we entered Stage B of the workshop with a new gaze and prototypes of a new emergence.

 

3.         Open Space (Harrison Owen)

 

Description: Open Space Technology is a practice of bringing together any number of people who care for a purpose that has heart and meaning for them, holding the space open for the emergence of something new.  OST creates inspired meetings and consequences through self organized and shared leadership, enabling ordinary people to create extraordinary results together.

 

Contribution: The Open Space approach contributed to the creation of a "playing field" that was transparent and inviting, that lessened guilt, blame, competition and exclusivity, and encouraged inclusion, openness and development of relevant leadership at every stage.  The Open Space approach, which considers diversity, conflict and chaos as a blessing and an opportunity for a new reality, made possible containing and maintaining of wide diversity, and of the polarity among the participants, the sponsors and the staff.  The permeable boundaries of Open Space were manifest in a flow of people in and out (group members, learning journeys, representatives of sponsoring organizations).  Such permeable boundaries indeed increase conflict and chaos, and their contribution is of course also manifest in the possibility of the emergence of new and surprising directions.

 

The Open Space as a basic container, and as a manner of conduct, was present at all times. It provided possibilities for self organization, for initiatives, and for leadership on the part of participants and all those involved in the journey. Open Space colored the character of the facilitation and the management of the project with an approach that respects and encourages diversity, partnership, transparency, and inclusion of all those with a passion for taking responsibility.

 

4.         Dialogue (David Bohm)

 

Description: Dialogue is a process of direct face to face encounter, of 15-40 people, by which they can participate together in sense making – a kind of ‘collective intelligence' pool.  Bohemian dialogue is not about one person trying to convince everyone else of his or her idea.  It is an attempt to understand and make meaning collectively, with openness and curiosity to meet the other, and to explore the thought process and its connection to reality.

 

Contribution:  The dialogue approach contributed to the atmosphere of curiosity and seeking to deepen the discourse; and of examination that is tolerant and aware of the other – both the external, and its manifestation inside of me. The dialogue language created a discourse of questions more then answers, and strove toward getting to really know one another rather than persuasion.  The approach served us in a structured fashion (for example: activities involving joint reflection upon questions) and was also manifest in the spontaneous choices of the participants during Shabbat and breaks.  On one Shabbat there was a session facilitated by a participant, which dealt with “the other".  We were asked by her to tell a story about "the ultimate other in my life", and that was a step that opened eyes and hearts.

 

5.         The Narrative Approach (Michael White)

 

Description: Relating to the events in life through a story about the event, and interpretation of the event.  This approach claims that we create the stories in which we live, time and again.

 

Contribution:  the Narrative Approach contributed to creating a reality in which different stories can coexist side by side, complement one another, and not necessarily compete with each other.  This allowed abundance and uniqueness, development and change along the axis of time. Presencing the idea: yes there are events in life, and yes there is a choice of interpretation.

 

The Narrative approach served us during various stages of the process in various ways, from the preparatory interviews, in which we heard personal narratives and edited them into a group dialogue story/narrative, to the scenario stories which also had a narrative hue; the Shabbat stories, with their personal, religious, traditional and national narrative richness, and the use of guided imagery as a narrative way of bringing to life the experience of living within each scenario.

 

In summary, it can be said that the power of this fivefold methodological tapestry is found in the fact that on the one hand it provides a platform, a grounding, and tools for creative and emergent work; yet on the other hand, it does not produce splitting of opposites, flattening of ideas and denial, despite the challenge of maintaining a changing heterogenic whole. This allows discussion of complex issues that are in constant movement, in situations rife with conflict and chaos.

 

I should like to conclude with a personal-professional note: the dynamic of the journey apparently allowed us a glimpse into the lives of those that sit at the helm of Israel: all along the way decisions regarding content, structure, setting and actual work processes were reflected in the staff work.  The heterogenic makeup, the structure of three workshops spread over time, and the setting of permeable boundaries created repeated challenges among the staff, on issues such as understandings and agreements, maintaining continuity where there was no continuity, containing diversity, etc.  With all these challenges, there was a constant deep sense of partnering in an important and meaningful journey. It seems as if these parallel processes are experienced on a daily basis by the leadership of Israel: there is neither a dull moment nor a moment to rest.

 

 

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