It seemed impossible that someone so dedicated to building peace could have died in such a tragic manner, slaughtered by the people she hoped to live next to in harmony, so badly burned she could only be identified by DNA, left unidentified for over a month while her family and many friends believed she was alive, held hostage.
Many people reached out to me over the past week, many have eulogized Vivian Silver more eloquently than I. And here is the first picture I have in my head. For while Vivian was alone on that Saturday, hiding in her closet for hours, she was not really alone. Her phone did not stop flashing texts. She exchanged messages with her son, with many of her friends who all wanted to know if she was ok. Every one of them now remembers the text that did not get received, the time her phone went silent. Somehow, while terrorists overran the kibbutz, she managed to stay in touch not just with her son, but with the entire outside world. It’s small comfort, but comfort, nonetheless.
Vivian has been portrayed, in the media, as having had a “naïve belief in peace.” That is a bit rich coming from the people who sold us olim – old and new — the idea that “If you will it, it is no dream.” The implication was that her naïveté was somehow connected to the fact she was Canadian, the child of a middle-class, loving family. It implies that a yearning for peace is immature, unrealistic.
Rather than a naïve belief in peace, I would say Vivian had a Canadian’s clear-eyed approach and, for lack of a better word, gumption. “If I don’t give it a try, my chances of success are quite a bit lower,” might be a better description of her belief, along with: “If I don’t get off my ass and work for my beliefs, I can’t expect others to do it for me.”
Vivian, we were told, along with her commitments to peace and equality, was a dedicated Zionist. That is a loaded word, and one Vivian might have used, if she applied it to herself, with a shrug of her shoulders. I can tell you, from experience as a long-time immigrant from North America, that the Zionist ideology of summer camps and youth groups does not always translate to living here, and I have seen some of the most ardent Zionists decamp back to the US. The romance of making the desert bloom quickly wears thin when it involves digging in the mud.
Her will to live freely as a Jew in her homeland could not be realized as long as others were less free, less-than-equal. That is, living on a green, Israeli kibbutz was not the fulfillment of her dream, but a starting point. Yet for many of us, and Vivian was certainly among us, the complex reality of this place is, in many ways, so much more attractive than the ideal. This is a vibrant country, full of amazing diversity and a huge wealth of cultures and traditions, indigenous and immigrant. She understood that if we all learned to share, we could all share in that wealth. Naïve? Maybe. But it is certainly a goal worth striving toward.
Living on a green, Israeli kibbutz was not the fulfillment of her dream, but a starting point
Vivian was shown in a recent video clip sitting in her back yard on Kibbutz Be’eri laughing, pointing over her back. “Gaza is right over there. Who knows what will be?”
Although no one had anticipated the brutality or extent of the attack on October 7, no one – not even the most dedicated peace lover – was insensible to the threat. Vivian’s laugh was not one of a naïve childlike personality, it came from deep within a fearless woman who could laugh in the face of that danger. It was her fearlessness that allowed Vivian to work for peace in the way she did. Because she was not afraid to give up some of what she had so that others might have more; she was not afraid to see through the ruthless Hamas regime to the women and men living right across the border from her who could one day join her in embracing peace. She was unafraid to strive to attain her visions, even if they might fail; and she was unafraid to reach out to others, even if they were supposed to be her enemies.
The many women and men who were touch by Vivian in her various roles vowed to continue her work, most recently though Women Wage Peace and The Road to Recovery.
To do so, we’ll need to adopt that clear-eyed belief that peace is a goal worthy of our efforts, an understanding that a belief that peace is both possible and necessary is not naïve, and fearlessness to guide our actions. And we need to know, despite being locked in our particular closet, at the moment, that the outside world is with us. We are not alone.
For Vivian’s sake, for our own, I wish us luck.