Alice Shalvi

Alice Shalvi: Scholar, Feminist, Educator and Peace Activist

Alice Shalvi did not only make a remarkable career as a university teacher, but also as an educator and activist. Her biography also reflects the development of feminist activism in Israel.

 

Alice Shalvi was born in 1926 in Essen/Germany to an orthodox Galician family. In May 1934 her family had to flee to Great Britain where Alice grew up. In 1944 she was one of the few women students in Cambridge ¬– a particularly impressive achievement for a Jewish girl. After finishing a BA in English literature Alice Shalvi moved to the London School of Economics and completed an MA in Social work. As an ardent Zionist she wished to apply her skills as a social worker to help integrate Holocaust survivors into the society of the Jewish state. However, when she immigrated to Israel in late 1949 she found no job as a social worker. Instead, she was offered a position in the English department of the Hebrew University. She taught there for forty years until her retirement in 1990. In 1950 Alice married Moshe Shelkowitz, an immigrant from the US. The couple later changed their name to Shalvi. Their six children were born between 1952 and 1967. Alice Shalvi could make her remarkable career because her husband Moshe was not only a supporting partner, he was also a true feminist. Being an editor and publisher of reference books he initiated the ground-breaking “Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia“. Editors were Paula Hyman and Daliah Ofer who were assisted by Alice and Moshe Shalvi. The Encyclopedia was published in 2006.

 

Feminist Awakening and the Beginning of Women’s Studies
Alice Shalvi’s career as an academic was very successful: she taught in the English department of the Hebrew University and in 1969 established the English department at the newly founded University of the Negev in Beer Sheva (since 1973 Ben Gurion University of the Negev). However, when in 1973 she wanted to apply for the position of Dean of Beer Sheva University, she was told that she did not have a chance – because she was a woman. Back at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem she talked to women colleagues who on one hand had made respectable careers, but on the other hand had all experienced discrimination in promotions. What was most shocking for them was the revelation of widespread sexual harassment at the university. When the women presented data concerning their discrimination to the Rector of the University he was sympathetic and promised improvements. Still, the women were too embarrassed to raise the topic of sexual harassment. In 1998 the “Prevention of Sexual Harassment Law” was issued. In 2011 Moshe Katsav, former president of Israel, was sentenced to seven years in prison for rape and sexual harassment.
Another lasting result of this new consciousness of the women academics was the development of Women’s Studies. The newer universities in Tel Aviv and Beer Sheva readily introduced Women’s Studies into their curricula, the conservative Hebrew University lagged behind. Therefore, feminist lecturers in Jerusalem introduced Women’s studies into their fields of specialization and into their classes. Alice Shalvi investigated the image of women in Chaucer and Shakespeare, later in all of English literature.

 

Pointing out Inequality
For many Israelis the Yom Kippur War of 1973 became an eye-opener to the extend of women’s inequality and discrimination. With the men drafted industries ground to a halt because there were no technicians, public transport collapsed because there were no drivers, decision-making processes in the economy had to be delayed because there were no decision makers. The reason for this was that these vital and well paid positions were all in the hands of men who had to serve in the army while there were no women who could substitute for them in their absence. For the first time in the history of the State of Israel, people were made aware of the extent to which women had been relegated to inferior, lower-paid positions, were employed primarily in the service professions and excluded from vital decision-making and determination of public policy.
In 1975, Prime Minister Yizhak Rabin invited Ora Namir to head a commission of enquiry into the status of women in Israel. Alice Shalvi was among the women in the commission. During the two year existence of the commission they collected and collated hitherto unknown data on women in Israel, which were summarized in a two-volume report that not only exposed the truth behind the myth of Israel as an egalitarian society, but also presented 140 recommendations for change. However, very little government action followed (in part because the prime minister to whom the commission reported to was no longer Yitzchak Rabin, but Menahem Begin).

 

Improving Education for Religious Girls
While working in the Namir Commission Alice Shalvi took upon herself another task, which also had to do with the empowerment of women, albeit not in the political but in the religious realm. In 1975 she took over the voluntary and unpaid directorship of Pelech (Spindle), a progressive school for ultra-orthodox girls. Although the study of Talmud was prohibited for girls in Jewish tradition it was a compulsory subject in Pelech. The girls also studied topics like world literature that were taboo for the ultra-orthodox community. Therefore the ultra-orthodox community boycotted Pelech, however, modern orthodox parents – among them Alice and Moshe Shalvi – were happy to send their girls to study there. Although Shalvi made the school a success she was far too liberal for the taste of the religious educators: She hired a young woman who had studied at the Conservative (non-orthodox) Jewish Theological Seminary in New York to teach religious studies, she arranged meetings between her students and girls from Arab schools and – what was the worst transgression – she was active in the Israel Women’s Network and openly criticized the Chief Rabbinate concerning women’s status at divorce trials. The department of religious education demanded that she desist immediately from her political actions otherwise the school would lose accreditation. Shalvi withdrew from Pelech in 1991.

 

The Israel Women’s Network
The Israel Women’s Network (IWN) had been founded in the wake of the elections of 1984. Research on the electorate of these elections showed that there were more women voting than men. Women also were better educated, i.e. they had more years of schooling. Nevertheless the number of female members of parliament (MPs) shrank. A number of women academics decided to act against underrepresentation of women in the Knesseth and helping the few women politicians to pass legislation to improve women’s rights. For this purpose they founded the Israel Women’s Network. After a decade of research and women’s studies the academics of the IWN undertook to support the women politician’s legislative proposals by providing data, appear as experts on committees, help bring issues to public attention, promote their initiatives. Out of these modest beginnings developed a respected think tank dealing with all aspects of women’s discrimination in so different spheres as the rabbinic courts, the army, social security and support of victims of human trafficking etc.

 

Peace Activist
During the Six-Day War, in June 1967, Israel had occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Although Alice Shalvi is living in Jerusalem it took her until 1986 to meet an Arab woman that was not doing menial works for Jews, but similar to herself in class and educational background. Father Emanuel of the Dormition Abbey introduced her to a lecturer of botany at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah. They talked about themselves, not politics and decided to meet again and bring some friends. All women who came had already participated in groups that worked to further peace and coexistence of Jews and Palestinians. Still, the new Arab participants did not accept the first partner as representative because she was Christian. When the first Intifada broke out at the end of 1987 the meetings came to a halt. But the women continued to work for peace. They organized weekly demonstrations against the occupation on Paris Square near the prime minister’s residence and at Zion Gate in Jerusalem. They wore black T-Shirts and gave themselves the name Women in Black. Alice Shalvi not only demonstrated with the Women in Black in Israel but also abroad. Women from abroad also joined the Women in Black in Israel. Among them was Simone Susskind from Brussels. In 1989 she organized a dialogue between Jewish and Palestinian women in Brussels. Among the Jewish women there was not only Alice Shalvi but also two members of Knesseth: Shulamit Aloni from the Civil Rights List and Nava Arad from the Labour Party. After initial tensions and accusations the talks became constructive. Naomi Chazan, a political scientist and board member of the IWN, and Hanan Ashrawi, the representative of PLO, drew up a joint paper calling for a two-state-solution and a cessation of hostilities – and this four years before the Oslo accords. However, the joint paper was never presented to the press because Nava Arad did not get the permission from the Labour Party in Jerusalem in time.
In 2000 Alice Shalvi retired from the IWN. Today Alice Shalvi is a board member of the New Israel Fund, an organisation supporting progressive civil society in Israel, as is Naomi Chazan.

 

Photo: Alice Shalvi (2nd from the right) at the Boardmeeting of the New Israel Fund in Tel Aviv, February 2020. © NIF

 

Bet Debora
In 2000 Alice Shalvi came on her first visit to Germany since her escape in 1934. She was filled with trepidations and fears. But she found a changed Germany and could make peace with it. On this trip she also met with the founders of Bet Debora, Lara Dämmig, Monika Herweg and Elisa Klapheck, and was impressed by their enthusiasm and their vision of a renewal of Judaism in Europe after the fall of the communist regimes and of the role of women in this development. Shalvi agreed to participate in the second Bet Debora Conference, which took place in Berlin in 2001. There she got to know the richness of European Judaism. So far she had known English, Israeli and American Judaism, but no post-Holocaust European Jewish communities. She had not been aware how vibrant this Judaism was and how much creativity and energy was to be found among European Jewish women. She also came to later conferences. With her rich knowledge of Judaism, her vivacity and her enthusiasm for new ideas she was one of the mentors of Bet Debora.

Eleonore Lappin-Eppel

Ten interesting facts about the Jewish community of Serbia

 

Did you know that…

 

10. …according to many the 2nd largest synagogue in Europe and one of the only synagogues designed in the Hungarian Art Nouveau style left in existence is the Subotica synagogue.

 

 

Located in northern part of Serbia, this synagogue was completed in 1902and constructed when Serbia was still part of Austria-Hungary, hence this uncanny cultural influence in the synagogue’s aesthetic. The Subotica Synagogue served the Serbian Neolog community and today it is considered a Monument of Exceptional Importance, and it is protected by the national government. For many years the synagogue was neglected and just in 2018. was fully renovated.

https://www.wmf.org/history-architecture-subotica-synagogue

 

 

 

9.Shira U’tfila is the only band in this region and probably in the whole Europe that nurtures the culture of Sephardic music. The band brings together a multi-ethnic, multi-faith ensemble that draws its inspiration from the diversity and richness of Judeo-Spanish, Ottoman-Turkish, Arabic and Balkan musical traditions.

 

Our favourite song

You can also follow them on Facebook

 

 

8. …there is such a thing as Belgrade Purim?

 

The first Jewish community building in Belgrade was erected in 1860 in Dorćol, in Solunska Street- It was the famous Old Home or mildar. Mildar was also the school building where, during the Turkish bombardments in 1862, a miracle happened and the whole community found the shelter and miraculously survived the bombing of the city. There were shots and whistles on all sides. An artillery shell hit the building, but became lodged in the roof and failed to explode. This event is well-known as Belgrade Purim.

 

 

7. …the hotel where the conference will take place was owned and built by the Jewish engineer Leon Talvi in 1923, was the most beautiful and most modern hotel in the whole country and without competition even in the Balkans.

 

Constructed in reinforced concrete, with two basements, ground floor and six floors, it had its own power plant, cooling installation and ice-cream production, laundry, pumps for hot water, central heating, large kitchen, three lifts, post office and car or bus transfer. Silver cutlery, gallery of paintings and sculptures in five lounges on the fifth floor, worth 2.5 million dinars, with Italian, French, Russian and local artists paintings, open roof restaurant, café, restaurant, dancing theater and banquette halls made it even more special. According to Politika newspaper, the first Yugoslav Zionist congress took place in the theater hall of this hotel on June 16th and 17th 1924. (source: https://ester.rs/walk-jewish-inter-war-belgrade/ )

 

 

6. …a very early and strong  advocate of Jewish return to Zion was Rabbi Judah Alkalai who lived in part of the Belgrade called Zemun.

 

Judah ben Solomon Hai Alkalai, (born 1798, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Ottoman Empire [now Bosnia and Herzegovina]—died 1878, Jerusalem, Palestine) was a Sephardic rabbi .Alkalai was taken to Jerusalem at an early age, and there he was reared and educated for the rabbinate. At 25 he went to Semlin(Zemuna), than Croatia, as a rabbi and found himself teaching Hebrew to the young men of his congregation, whose native language was Ladino. He wrote two books in that language, in the first of which he argued that a physical “return to Israel” (i.e., to EretzYisraʾel, the Holy Land in Palestine) was a precondition for redemption (salvation), instead of the symbolic “return to Israel” by means of repentance and resuming the ways of God. This doctrine was unacceptable to Orthodox Jews and generated much controversy. His second book was a refutation of the heated attacks directed at his proto-Zionist views.

Here you can read more about Jewish history of Zemun and about Rabbi Judah Alkalai:

https://thenutshelltimes.com/2018/08/27/hidden-belgrade-34-rabbi-alkalai-zemun-and-zionism/

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Judah-ben-Solomon-Hai-Alkalai

 

 

5. …the grandparents of Theodor Herzl are buried on the Jewish cemetery in Zemun

 

Theodor Herzl’s paternal grandfather, Simon Loeb Herzl, reportedly attended Alkalai’s synagogue in Semlin and the two frequently visited. Grandfather Simon Loeb Herzl “had his hands on” one of the first copies of Alkalai’s 1857 work prescribing the “return of the Jews to the Holy Land and renewed glory of Jerusalem.” Contemporary scholars conclude that Herzl’s own implementation of modern Zionism was undoubtedly influenced by that relationship.

In 2018 a street in Zemun was named after Theodor Herzl.

 

 

4. …that there are still few community members that are very passionate to pass on the “secret” receipts of Sephardic cousin, one of them is Hanika Gashic and she prepares amazing Sephardic dishes.

 

If you would like to hear a little about her life you can watch the movie made by Centropa organization.

And also you can have a look at the recipe for burmuelos traditionally made for Chanukah

 

 

3.Geca (Geza Kon) established a bookselling and publishing business in Belgrade which soon became the largest in Yugoslavia.

 

From his premises in Belgrade he published over 3,500 books before his business was closed in 1941 with the Axis Invasion of Yugoslavia. Kon was born in Csongrád (Hungary). His father was a rabbi and was the director of an elementary school. Unable to complete school, Kon moved to Belgrade in 1889. In Belgrade, he found work in the bookshop owned by Frederick Breslauer. From there he continued his own carrier.

Today this bookstore still carries the name of Geca Kon and is located in the main street in Belgrade.

 

 

2. …the first Women’s club in Serbia was the Jewish Women’s Society

 

Jewish women’s clubs began to spring up in Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities in Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, and the Vojvodina in the late nineteenth century, around the same time that Jewish and Christian women were creating similar organizations elsewhere in Europe. Although Jewish women were not treated as equal members of the Jewish community and were excluded from voting and participating in communal governance, women’s philanthropic organizations came to play an important role within Jewish communal life because they not only helped large numbers of needy Jews, especially women, children and the elderly, but also enhanced the communal spirit of solidarity and cooperation by holding numerous social activities and entertainments to benefit charitable causes and promote both Jewish and secular culture.In 1874 a handful of Sephardi women formed the first women’s club in Serbia, the Jewish Women’s Society.

 

 

 

1. …through all the years of 1990s wars in Yugoslavia Jews and Jewish communities were helped by many communities and organizations around the world.

 

The contacts, friendships and  “am echad lev echad” spirit followed all members during those difficult years and immediately after the war up to today,  communities of Ex-Yugoslavia continued to create programs and events where members will meet and celebrate their Jewishness.

 

 

 

Short history of Jewish presence in Serbia

 

 

 

Jewish presence in Serbia can be traced back thousands of years ago to Roman times. By the 12th century, Jews were quite influential in the region as traders and were generally treated well. Under Ottoman rule, Jewish merchants became influential in trade between the northern and southern portion of the Ottoman Empire and accordingly prospered. Later in the 16th century, Jews expelled from the Iberian Peninsula during the Inquisition arrived in the region

Synagogue in Subotica

and Jews slowly began to settle in. Austria also ruled over part of the region, so Jews from various parts of the Austrian Empire began to settle in Vojvodina and establish communities in villages and cities across the region.

 

After Serbia obtained its independence in the 1830s, the newly formed Serbian government began persecuting Jews, barring Jews from certain professions. It was The Treaty of Berlin in 1878 that gave Serbian Jews full civil rights, but it was not until 1889 that the Serbian Parliament declared equal rights for all Serbian citizens and officially lifted restrictions on Jews.

 

In the early portion of the 20th century, Jews fought in the Balkan War from 1912 to 1913 and later fought in World War I. After the war, Serbia became a part of the state of Yugoslavia, and the Jewish community in Serbia was linked to Jews in other parts of the kingdom. 

 

The interwar years saw Jewish life in Serbia maintain a relative sense of stability. Antisemitism generally was not an issue, and Serbian Jews were able to participate equally in Serbian society. However, the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust saw Serbian Jewry devastated. A majority of Holocaust survivors in Yugoslavia emigrated for Israel following its establishment in 1948, and many Serbian Jews assimilated.

 

With the disintegration of Yugoslavia in 1991 and the outbreak of the civil war, Yugoslavian Jews were thrown into the middle of the violence. Throughout the war, the organized Jewish body in Serbia provided food aid, clothing, medicine, and organizing accommodation for refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina. During the NATO campaign on Yugoslavia in 1999, the Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia evacuated around 600 of its members to Hungary from bombed cities, and then to Israel and other countries.

 

Though many Jews left Serbia during the violence that engulfed the region throughout the 1990s, the Jewish community in Serbia remains stable today and experiences support from the Serbian government, which recognizes Judaism as one of the seven “traditional” religious communities in the country.

 

Useful links:

Jewish Virtual Library

European Jewish Congress: Serbia

World Jewish Congress: Serbia

The Times of Israel: In impoverished: Serbia Jewish community is isolated – and rapidly shrinking

The Jerusalem Post: Zionisms. Was the Jewish state born in Serbia?

 

 

Pessach sameach and kasher!

Dear friends,

 

Miriam

In our Tradition it is said that the Israelites were taken out of Egypt because of the women. These women refused to carry out Pharao’s inhuman order to kill every Hebrew first born. Their courage, prudence and humaneness still resonate for us when we celebrate Pessah, the exodus of our elders from Egypt, from slavery to freedom. And we remember the order to assist all those who even today are disenfranchised and persecuted.

Bet Debora Journal “Tikkun Olam”

Tikkun Olam Umschlag kleinTikkun Olam, the act of “repairing the world”, was the theme of the 6th International Bet Debora conference that took place in Vienna in February 2013. A selection of topics, results and conclusions drawn from some of the discussions have been collected in this volume.
Women from 14 countries share and reflect on ways of strengthening Jewish life and paths towards a better world in general. Viennese Jewish women present their perspectives on life and their involvement with Tikkun Olam. Other authors delve into engaging with the opportunities as well as problems experienced by small Jewish communities between Holland and India; with Jewish women’s organizations, past and present; as well as the renewal of Jewish traditions through intercultural dialogue, ecology and Holocaust education. Finally, progress on the path towards halachic equal rights for women as well as setbacks will be discussed.

 

With contributions by Anna Adam, Talin Bahcivanoglu, Rabbi Tamarah Maionah Benima, Hava Eva Bugajer, Rabbi Judith Edelman-Green, Helga Feldner-Busztin, Elvina Gavriel, Sandra Goldstein, Larissza Hrotko, Agata Kaplon, Eleonore Lappin-Eppel, Mira Mayer, Andrea Pető, Shirly Pitz, Michaela Raggam-Blesch, Marija Salom, Alice Shalvi, Sharon Shenhav, Sarah Sheppard, Rabbi Irit Shillor, Gaby Steiner, Svetlana Yakimenko.

 

more information

 

Language: German, English
146 pages, softcover with (fold-in) flaps
67 illustrations
ISBN: 978-3-95565-066-7
15.00 €

Order

 

 

Chanukah Sameach!

Jewish Association “Czulent” (Krakow): Sunday School “Unzere Kinder”

 

We wish all our readers and their friends and families a happy Chanukah, full of light, love and happiness. May the light of the candles shine upon us all and help further understanding and Tikkun Olam.