Prof. Alice Shalvi, mother of Jewish feminism, wins lifetime prize

The 95-year-old Israel Prize laureate was awarded a lifetime prize by the Kiverstein Institute.

 ALICE SHALVI (right) receives her prize: Feminists for a feminist. (photo credit: Abigail Piperno-Beer)
ALICE SHALVI (right) receives her prize: Feminists for a feminist.
(photo credit: Abigail Piperno-Beer)

Last week, on the eve of her 95th birthday, Israel Prize laureate and Professor Emeritus Alice Shalvi was awarded a lifetime prize by the Kiverstein Institute. Yet it wasn’t just another prize for the nonagenarian, seen by many as the mother of Jewish feminism in Israel and in Jerusalem particularly, but a kind of rewarding closure.

In a wheelchair at the ceremony but still clearer, sharper and livelier than ever, Shalvi was privileged to meet some of her former students, who all continue to walk in her path from the days she ran the first feminist girls school in the city, Pelech.

In many ways, the Kiverstein Institute – founded by Melinda Jones, a Melbourne-based human rights lawyer and president of the National Council of Jewish Women in Australia, and run in Jerusalem by her sister Peta Jones Pellach, and storyteller and feminist activist Hamutal Guri – could be considered as the fulfillment of Shalvi’s feminist vision.

At the same ceremony, the Kiverstein Prize for a Rising Star for a female Jerusalem community-builder was awarded to Roni Hazon-Weiss, principal of Shacharit High School, for her education work as a leading feminist activist and influencer in Jerusalem.

Awarding that prize to Hazon-Weiss can be seen as the continuation between Shalvi’s ideology and vision and one of the many results on the ground, as Hazon-Weiss promotes these ideas in her education mission.

Alice Shalvi in her Jerusalem home (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)Alice Shalvi in her Jerusalem home (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Alice Hildegard Shalvi (née Margulies) was born in Essen, Germany, to an Orthodox Jewish family, the youngest of two children. Her parents, Benzion and Perl Margulies, were religious Zionists, and ran a wholesale linen and housewares business.

In 1933, soon after Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the family home was searched, prompting their move to London in May 1934. Shalvi studied English literature at Cambridge University, and in 1946 was sent to the 22nd Zionist Congress in Basel as a representative of British Jewish students. After completing a degree in social work at the London School of Economics, Shalvi immigrated to Israel in 1949, settling in Jerusalem, where she wanted to work with Holocaust survivors. She became a faculty member in the English department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and earned her PhD there in 1962.

Shalvi, who has won a series of awards over the years, became involved in a long series of initiatives and projects focused mostly on peace dialogues and Jewish feminism. Once a member of the Modern Orthodox sector, Shalvi is today president of the Zion community, an initiative founded and promoted by one of her former students, Raba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum. Identified as “An Eretz Yisraeli community” in Jerusalem, it is a place that in many ways fulfills her vision, where men and women, Orthodox and secular, Reform and Conservative, Sephardi and Ashkenazi, are all welcome to participate and lead in an egalitarian setting.

As she said in her speech upon receiving the Kiverstein award, Shalvi has always been and remains to this day an educator with all her soul.

A particularly moving moment was when Raba Tamar, once her student at Pelech, told the audience of Shalvi’s reaction one rainy Jerusalem day when her students arrived at school wet to the bone. “Alice said, ‘Let’s first dry your socks since I can’t teach you about Shakespeare when you are sitting here wet and shivering from cold.’”

As Raba Tamar, with her Zion inclusive and open community, and Hazon-Weiss, with her feminist education aimed both at boys and girls, spoke at the ceremony, it was clear that these messages of striving for equality, freedom and feminism were by now shared by all participants. Shalvi, visibly moved, received a long standing ovation, and could be satisfied that her mission was being accomplished in the generations following hers.

Earlier this week, Peta Jones Pellach told In Jerusalem about the Kiverstein initiative and plans for the women of Jerusalem.

“The Kiverstein Institute is a feminist initiative,” she said. “Our objective is to work for peace and security as well as the equality of women in Jerusalem, and we are guided by the needs identified by local feminists and local feminist organizations. 

“Also on the Institute agenda are human rights, gender equality and intersectional women’s empowerment, as well as social justice, education and no less important – interfaith and intercultural dialogue.”

After making aliyah, Jones Pellach says she was blessed to continue with both of her passions: dialogue and teaching. She is currently director of educational activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Dialogue, co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem, and a teacher of Judaism, Torah and Jewish History in both Jewish and Christian institutions in Jerusalem.

Hamutal Guri, a senior fellow at the Kiverstein Institute, is an entrepreneur, consultant and storyteller for social change. She took upon herself to create, establish and run the network of Jerusalem Women Community Builders, as a platform for highlighting the diverse work of women in the city, helping others shine – in other words, explained Guri at the ceremony, a true feminist position.

The institute’s aim is to help women in Jerusalem find their place in society and be part of all initiatives promoted here.

“We found out that one of the most influential spots is the local council, so we provided support to women to facilitate their inclusion in the last election for the councils' boards,” said Guri. “The results are quite rewarding, with more women elected, including some as chairwomen of some councils. It is crucial because women see issues men might miss. Take for example the renovations of city sidewalks, where certain spots are left without the new pavement – some of them being the entrance to kindergartens. It needed a woman’s eye to say: Wait, this is exactly the place pavement is most needed.”

Jones Pellach says as a religious Jewish woman, “it is indeed important to explain that feminism and religion not only go together but are a natural match. This is something we still work on.”