JOI Session | Dec. 10-13, 2009

The theme of this retreat was power: how do we think about power as organizers, how do we approach building power, and what does it mean to use power responsibly? Meir Lakein led the fellows in an exercise based on the Melian Dialogue by Thucydides, in which the superpower Athens offers the tiny island of Melos a choice: they come under the flag of Athens on a tribute paying basis, or war will ensue. The role plays of this dialogue reveal participants’ views about power, Lakein suggests, and help them understand the “scripts” about power that many of us play out in public life without realizing it. Lakein went on to lead the group in a exploration of power over vs. power with, the tension between the world as it is and the world as it should be, and the issue of compromise. He also facilitated the fellows’ exploration of the following questions about their work: Who am I helping to build power? To what end? How? What stands in my way?

The fellows created multi-faceted Shabbat experience to share with one another, with individual fellows planning and leading two services and two group activities. The themes of the Shabbat were joyfulness, peace, sustainability, and community.

Later in the retreat, Rabbi Alissa Wise facilitated a training on anti-oppression work and how it connects to the fellows’ practice of mussar. Starting with a timeline recounting the history of White Supremacy in the US, and a look at how US Jewish history relates to that, Rabbi Wise led the fellows in exploring principles and practices of anti-oppression work, the traps that commonly befall anti-oppression activists, and the ways that mussar practice can support the work we do to disrupt sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and many other forms of oppressive behaviors and systems.

Finally, JOI staff member Rebecca Herst led a discussion of the article “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” by Jo Freeman, guiding the fellows though an exploration of the myth of “structurelessness,” and how informal and formal structures within groups impact the groups’ ability to meet their goals.

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