These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Relative Power Dynamics

Posted on November 4, 2012 by David Bogomolny

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I have been involved with Ayeka for more than two years now. I had the privilege of participating in two Ayeka modules facilitated by Aryeh Ben David (the first on developing a personal relationship with God, and the second on developing meaningful relationships with other people – all created in the image of God). The following year, Aryeh trained me as an Ayeka facilitator, and I ran my first Ayeka group at Pardes that Spring.

Over the summer, I then worked as a community educator at the Brandeis Genesis high school program, and I ran an experiential learning program (“expedition”) called ‘Engaging with God’, through which I aimed to empower my participants to “articulate various understandings of God, and begin to formulate their personal beliefs.” As part of this expedition I introduced my group to Ayeka, and was unexpectedly impacted by this experience myself.

I had been very touched by Adrienne Silver’s (Pardes Year Program ’11-’12) Ayeka testimonial, which she wrote after our Spring semester module ended. It had been my first time facilitating an Ayeka group; and I’d done some things well, and knew that I could do some things better. Adrienne had written that I had been “able to command attention and capture interest while allowing [the participants] to see [me] as an equal,” and I recalled this very line during my work at Genesis.

In my Genesis expedition group, I worked to recreate this same atmosphere that Adrienne had described, but quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be entirely possible. Whereas my Ayeka group at Pardes had been comprised of my peers, my summer high school participants did not regard me as an equal – for them, I was an adult role model. I still recall their reactions after our first expedition meeting – my Genesis-Ayeka hybrid program had stimulated their thinking, and they all left our session in excitement.

I left that session feeling profoundly affected.

Quite recently, Aryeh Ben David wrote about the story of Akedat Yitzchak from the perspective of the power dynamic that existed between Avraham and his son Yitzchak, and upon reading his piece, I was immediately brought back to the Genesis high school program.

Over the summer I had striven to encourage my expedition participants to think freely and creatively – and not to express my own beliefs, but rather to bring in multiple Jewish educators to share their varying, often contradictory views with the high school group. Still, I felt a burden all summer long, which Aryeh captured beautifully in his words about Akedat Yitzchak. It was the weight of power.

If there is one thing that I might add to Aryeh’s piece, which he may have implied already, it’s simply that not all power dynamics are equally evident. In fact, looking back at it, Adrienne Silver’s words about the Ayeka group that I’d facilitated at Pardes, implied that a power dynamic did exist between me and my adult participants. I simply hadn’t given it due consideration, and was lucky that our Ayeka group had been so successful in that regard.

… Now, thinking forward, I plan to account for this truth whenever I am facilitating a group, regardless of my participants’ relative backgrounds.