Thursday // Afternoon: Aram

After lunch, Eliat Aram’s keynote, “On being an orphan, an untold story,” took up this invitation to look forward and backward, to be moved by the experience of childhood loss and to be inspired by visions of curiosity and learning. Her characterization of Tavistock in the Dickensian (Disney-esque) tradition of orphans as lonely, abandoned misfits seemed at first like a contrary-to-type portrayal of the grand organization whose anniversary we’d gathered from around the world to fete. She even invented a neologism for the portrait she was offering: Dickenstock.

Yet throughout, she managed to tread a remarkable line: giving voice to the melancholy and discontent that run through the history, while at the same time offering an ultimately moving story of the Institute’s perseverance—its forward progress, indomitable vitality, relentless curiosity, and ceaseless dedication to its work—in spite of it all.

She concluded on a Jewish note, taking her inspiration from a keynote that the celebrated Israeli author A. B. Yehoshua had given at OFEK’s recent 30th Anniversary celebration (found here). In this derash (a Jewish interpretive method that spins endless meanings out of Biblical texts), the Jewish people themselves (and, for Aram, the Tavistock Institute), were founded in God’s command to Abraham to “Go forth from your land and from your birthplace and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you…” (Genesis 12:1).

Indeed, the Hebrew “Lech Lecha” is such a forceful injunction—“Go! Go!!”—that it almost seems like the big bang that sent Jews flying ever outward for the subsequent three millennia.

Aram takes this as a figure for a primal orphaning. Before the Jewish people had a home (and long before they were sent into exile), they were removed, uprooted, homeless. For Jews, exile precedes having a homeland, rather than following it. The Jews are a people even without a home or a state, but as it is for the orphan, having a home or a state is contingent on the good graces of others. As for the Tavistock, Aram seems to suggest that its people-hood—its work and commitment and humanity—have transcended the historical moment, even as their standing in the good graces of others (be it the NHS, the Tavistock Clinic or anyone else) has been a traumatic experience (as, one might add, it’s been for the Jews).

Aram’s speech was received with loud, sustained applause, and served as a remarkable emotional crescendo to what was an emotionally captivating week.

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