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Naomi Graetz

Correspondence and Personal Eulogy for Alice Shalvi

Ariella Graetz, Alice Shalvi and Naomi Graetz
Ariella Graetz, Alice Shalvi and Naomi Graetz

I just this minute, heard about the death of my friend and mentor, Professor Alice Shalvi. This Correspondence from 2007 speaks for itself.

From: Naomi Graetz
Sent: Thursday, April 19, 2007 4:06 PM
To: Alice Shalvi
Subject: Congratulations to Alice Shalvi

Dear Alice: I am so excited to hear of your latest honor. I have known you since 1965, when you taught an M.A. course at the Hebrew University on George Eliot and I had the privilege of reading all of Eliot’s works for your class. When we returned to Israel (and Jerusalem) in 1968, I knew you and Moshe (Mike’s colleague at Keter) as fellow shul go-ers (and founders of the Wizo synagogue) in Beit Hakerem; I knew you as “the wife” of my husband’s mefaked during the Yom Kippur War, helping to keep my sanity with messages from the front. I remember when you founded the Department of English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev (staying there until 1973) and remember your trying to recruit me to teach there and my turning you down—little knowing that I would spend the next 34 years of my life teaching in that department. I remember when you decided to prepare yourself for leadership in Israel and took a course in Advanced Hebrew for those who were already fluent. I also remember that you won the Israeli Prize as mother of the year. I remember all of our conversations about your dismay with Orthodoxy’s treatment of women and my attempting to convince you to change affiliations (on bus rides in Jerusalem). I served on the Board of the Israel Women’s Network in the late 80’s, soon after you founded it (elected the same year that Naomi Chazan, Naomi Blumenthal, Yael Ram  and Yael Dayan were). I am thrilled that someone who has formally identified with the Masorti movement, (serving most recently as Rector of Shechter, the founder of Nashim, and the now institutionalized study days for the women of the Masorti movement) is now to be recognized by the Israeli government for her lifetime achievement. As a member of our kehillah in Omer that has been blessed by a woman rabbi [Tamar Elad Applebaum], graduate of Pelech (the high school which you revitalized), after my husband’s retirement, I have directly benefited once more from your contributions to society.  And finally, but I am  sure (knowing you) that there is more to come, there is your very important contribution, together with Moshe of the recent publication, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia (Shalvi Publishing Ltd.)

‎ In an article I wrote about women and religion in Israel, I described you as follows:

“Perhaps the best known women activist in Israel, who is not a politician is Professor Alice Shalvi, the founder and just retired chair of the Israel Women’s Network. She was the first woman rector and the interim president of Schechter Institute, the Seminary of Judaic Studies in Jerusalem. It was the first time that a Jewish theological institution had appointed a woman as its academic head. Shalvi is considered Israel’s most outspoken and newly active Conservative Jewish feminist, and she is known for persistently challenging Israel’s male-dominated establishment in her quest for equal opportunity, equal reward and equal status for women. As principal of the Pelech Orthodox Religious Experimental High School for Girls from 1975 to 1990, she created a highly respected model for liberal religious education in Israel. She always identified herself as Orthodox, although her philosophy of what halakha should be was no different than that of the Masorti stream in Israel. When questioned, “Then why don’t you become Masorti?” Shalvi answered, “Because of a profound belief that what the Conservatives are doing could equally well be done by enlightened Orthodox rabbis. I’m not sure there’s really a need for a Conservative movement here if only we could inject a greater awareness and responsiveness in a larger number of the Orthodox rabbinate in Israel.”(1)

After almost twenty years of trying to fight from within the system, thinking that her lobbying and incessant pressure on the Orthodox establishment would result in change and reform, she switched her allegiance and formally identified with the Masorti movement. She joined the Masorti synagogue in Beit Hakerem where she lives and which at the time had a female rabbi.

In the short time she has been involved in the Conservative movement, she has strengthened the Women in Judaism program at Schechter, encouraged the formation of the new Center for Women in Jewish Law, started the journal Nashim and was the force behind the first annual Women’s Study Day. Even after her retirement from being the rector of Schechter’s she will continue to be involved as the Chair of its board.”

This appears in Graetz, Naomi, “Women and Religion in Israel” in Kalpana Misra and Melanie Rich (eds.) Jewish Feminism in Israel: Some Contemporary Perspectives (Hanover, NH: University Press of New England: 2003): 17-56. [Since I’m abroad, I don’t have my copy of the book, so cannot cite exact page number].

Michael joins me in congratulating you on your latest well-deserved award. With affection, Naomi

Btw: I looked high and low for mention of you as the Israeli Mother of the Year and could not find it anywhere. What year was it? And also, were you not involved in the alternative awards for Yom ha’atzmaut? I could not find mention of that either.

ALICE’S RESPONSE TO ME AND WHY I AM SHARING THIS IN MY BLOG

Dear Naomi.

What a gratifying tribute! I’ll request that you write my obituary when the time comes.

As for facts: I won second prize in a Housewife of the Year competition (for which Moshe entered me) in 1958. The prize was ten days at the Sharon Hotel and that enabled me to write the first draft of my doctoral thesis. It took a further 4 years to complete it!

Then, in 1978, I was one of ten women who were awarded the President’s Award for contribution to society. This was a one-time event, sponsored by the Israel Council of Women’s organizations to mark the 30th anniversary of the state. What surprised me at the time was that I wasn’t even a member of any of the “traditional” organizations who have representation on the Council, but I had been active on the Namir Commission on the Status of Women and that was how Sarah Meltzer, a power behind the scenes, knew of me.

I am very proud of Tamar and sorry she is leaving Omer, though I understand the reasons. She is a worthy follower for Michael and I hope she will resume the role of pulpit rabbi once the children are a little older and her husband has completed his doctorate.

Where are you now? For some reason I came upon something you had sent to the WTN [Women’s Tefilla Network] about Pnina Peli z”l. We were in New York when it happened and I had not even known of her death. (By the way, is the WTN still functioning? I used to get their print newsletters, but have never received anything electronic.

Again, thank you for the tribute. I feel that all our work on behalf of women has been vindicated and recognized by this award—and I owe that to you and all the others who joined in the struggle.

Warm regards to Michael and yourself from Moshe and from me.

Alice

Although Alice was joking (I assume) at the time she said this would be a great eulogy, I decided to take it seriously. She has continued to be active and add to her accomplishments since 2007.  I have been speaking to Alice regularly and the last time I called I spoke to her aide, since she could not come to the phone. I asked the aide to please tell her that I inserted into the preface of my newly translated book the following sentence:

אני מוקירה תודה לאליס שלוי שהייתה לי ידידה ומדריכה כמעט 60 שנה, מאז הייתה הפרופסור שלי לספרות ב-1965

I would hope that the aide told her and that she understood.  May Alice’s memory be a blessed one. I have lost a friend and guiding light.

(1) Quote from Edward Grossman, “A Very Happy Woman,” The Jerusalem Post Magazine (Friday, July 25, 1986): 6.

About the Author
Naomi Graetz taught English at Ben Gurion University of the Negev for 35 years. She is the author of Unlocking the Garden: A Feminist Jewish Look at the Bible, Midrash and God; The Rabbi’s Wife Plays at Murder ; S/He Created Them: Feminist Retellings of Biblical Stories (Professional Press, 1993; second edition Gorgias Press, 2003), Silence is Deadly: Judaism Confronts Wifebeating and Forty Years of Being a Feminist Jew. Since Covid began, she has been teaching Bible from a feminist perspective on zoom.
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