Rina Bar-Lev Elieli
27 November 1943 – 20 August 2005
A Personal Reminiscence
Laurence J. Gould, Ph.D.
Before beginning, a few words are in order. Writing about someone you love is inevitably a deeply personal matter. Since Rina was, for me, an unabashed object of love, you must retain some perspective about what I say. This is my Rina - all of you who knew her, will have your own.
First, I would like to bow to the conventional by simply and briefly listing some of the highlights of Rina’s extraordinary career. There are many, many others.
At the time of her death, Rina was the President, a faculty member and Training Analyst at the Israeli Psychoanalytic Society. She was, as well, a founder and the former Co-Director of the Program in Organizational Development and Consultation - A Systems Psychoanalytic Perspective at the Sigmund Freud Center of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
For almost all of her career, spanning 35 years, Rina worked first as a clinical psychologist, and subsequently as a both a psychoanalyst and an organizational consultant. In the latter role, she worked with various organizations in industry, health, education, banking and art, both in Israel and internationally. One particularly notable and very public engagement was her three year consultation to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which resulted in a major publication (1995) with the Museum’s Director, J. Weinberg. - The Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. In addition to her organizational consultation work, her other applied work included group relations training, coaching, and large-scale crisis intervention projects (e.g., the effects of the Gulf War in Israel).
Rina was also on the faculty of the Tel-Aviv Medical School’s Program of Psychotherapy, and in addition to her own, very active clinical practice - she was arguably the most sought after analyst in Israel - she taught, conducted training analyses and supervised training cases at the Israeli Psychoanalytic Institute.
I first met Rina at a conference in Montreal, where she gave a paper on the closing of the Dorot Center for Psychotherapy and Consultation, which she co-founded and directed for 12 years. As I remember the experience I sat in the audience thinking that I had never heard anyone give a professional paper that was, at the very same time, so thoroughly personal and intellectually rigorous. It was stunning.
When she had finished I approached her and blurted out, “you ought to get on the first plane back to Israel. You will be envied to death.” I certainly did not intend to say this. She smiled somewhat awkwardly, and as we began to talk we discovered several mutual friends - colleagues who had studied in the States and then returned to Israel. From that moment our relationship seemed to effortlessly take hold and develop. And four months later Rina came to my home for what was the first of many visits with myself and my family - and subsequently, we had many visits with her family in Israel. Although we spent as much time together as geography allowed, a few years later we were finally able to embark on two major projects, which provided substantial opportunities to collaborate.
The first was our work - for about three years - at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and the second was the founding and co-directing of the Program in Organizational Development and Consultation. Although both of these projects were very successful (the Program continues), it was largely Rina’s genius for managing the explosive, complex web of relationships they required - especially the work at the Museum - which made them possible. At the Museum, as you easily can imagine, the staff’s daily confrontation with Holocaust materials stimulated intense painful anxieties which were always on the verge of exploding. It was Rina’s extraordinary skill and presence which helped to contain these, so that the work could proceed. To this day I think only Rina could have done this - certainly not me.
At this juncture you may not unreasonably imagine that I am lost in a haze of idealization. But what is so startling, as least as I think about it, is that so many people, like myself, who loved and deeply respected Rina, did not, in fact, idealize her in any dynamic sense of that term. She always remained down to earth and fully engaged in a way that did not foster idealization - only a deep and abiding sense of her gifts and her pleasure in sharing them, not from on high but eye to eye, where relationships are mutually nourishing.
What I have said thus far applies even more so to her family. Rina was a very special mother, wife, sister and grandmother. There is simply no one I’ve ever known who was so available and generous, and those who spent the most time with her - her family - are the legacy of Rina’s grace. It is not simply that each is, in their own way, so special, but rather they are not replicas of Rina. That was her gift - to foster the unique development of those with whom she had contact. And as much to the point, together they - her husband Dani, her three children and their spouses, and now seven grandchildren - are, without exception, a wonderfully close, loving family. I’m sure this is the legacy that Rina would most cherish.
At the first evening of the Shiva, I said to a close mutual friend “I can hardly imagine the family without Rina.” She replied, “I can hardly imagine a world without Rina.” For both of us this was a quite understandable feeling in the moment, but with the return of reflection that only time can bring, we can, of course, imagine such a world, because to have known Rina is to know with visceral certainty that there is a future worth imagining.
Weinberg, J. and Elieli, R. (1995). The Holocaust Museum inWashington. New York: Rizzoli.
Elieli, R. (2000). A Journey towards integration: a transitional phase in the organizational life of a clinic. Organisational and Social Dynamics, Vol. 1, No. 1, 21-41.
 Previously published in Kav Ofek (no.6, 2005), the in-house publication of OFEK (Organization, Person, Group - The Israel Association for the Study of Group and Organizational Processes).
 Rina was an enthusiastic and valued supporter of O&SD, serving as an Associate Editor for three years, starting with the first issue in which she also published an article (2000).