Prof. Shalvi at 90: ‘Advancing women to transform society’

"Herzl was right: ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’"

Alice Shalvi (photo credit: DEBBI COOPER / COURTESY ALICE SHALVI)
Alice Shalvi
Despite the numerous awards under Prof. Alice Shalvi’s belt, the 90-year-old feminist educator was surprised to be honored with the Sylvan Adams Nefesh B'Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize Lifetime Achievement Award .
The aliya organization on Monday honored outstanding Anglo immigrants who have made major contributions to the State of Israel. But Shalvi, born in Germany and raised in the UK for the better part of her youth, doesn’t see herself as Anglo. “I don’t consider myself Anglo... I became an Anglo when I came to Israel,” she told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday during an interview at her Jerusalem home.
Shalvi made aliya 49 years ago, but some British traits have stayed with her through those years. Asked what she brought with her to Israel, she responded: “The things that characterized British culture at the time: a sense of what democracy is, tolerance, courtesy, good manners.”
But she adds that “someone can be polite but profoundly antisemitic,” a combination she encountered during her time in the UK.
Another Britishism, picked up during her studies at the University of Cambridge, was “a readiness to be very much involved in public affairs, the awareness that one can be effective politically without necessarily joining a party.”
Shalvi’s proudest achievements are heading a unique progressive high school for religious girls, Pelech, and founding the Israel Women’s Network, an organization dedicated to advancing the status of women in Israel.
From 1975 through 1990 she served as principal of Pelech, and from 1984 to 2000 she was founding chairwoman of the Israel Women’s Network.
“They really changed, transformed the whole issue of women’s status and equality,” she said, explaining that the Network has an entirely fresh approach. “Other women’s organizations were mainly concerned with the status of the working mother.
But didn’t have a completely egalitarian philosophy, it was more to make life easier for women, to combine work outside home with the family.
Ours was a social political movement, we transformed the whole concept of women’s role and status in society.”
For its part, Pelech had a tremendous impact on the education of female students.
“A lot of things we pioneered have become generally accepted,” she said, pointing as an example to the highest-level of teaching of Jewish texts to girls, who were previously excluded from such education.
The next biggest challenge for women in Israel? “The transformation of society into a more just one. That is where women have to be – advancing women not as an end in itself but as a means to transforming society,” Shalvi said, stressing that women are a majority and must explore the impact hey can have as a group.
Shalvi a left-leaning peace activist. “We are more involved [than men] in peace movements and in dialogue movements and I think that is what we need.”
Shalvi defines feminism as a conception of society based on total equality between all its members, as stated in the Israeli Declaration of Independence “irrespective of race, religion and gender.”
“It’s not just between men and women,” Shalvi emphasized.
“It’s a total view of equality, which is why it overlaps so much with pacifism or the desire for peace.”
‘We should try to get more coordination between women from the Right and the Left,” she asserted. “We don’t know each other enough, and that’s true of the whole of Israeli society. It’s so divided and splintered and always has been.”
Shalvi’s greatest wish is to see peace, coexistence as a two-state solution. She yearns to see “a more honest, egalitarian and less corrupt society – to see Israel fulfill the role that our founding fathers envisaged.”
She no longer expects to see this vision realized in her own lifetime, but it would encourage her to see more people working towards that end.
“Too many people have lost hope and are saying we can never achieve peace,” she lamented, but then smiled as she added, “If you think like that then you don’t strive for it. Herzl was right: ‘If you will it, it is no dream.’”