Alice Shalvi (Hebrew: אליס שלוי; 16 October 1926 – 2 October 2023) was a distinguished Israeli professor and educator who made significant contributions to progressive Jewish education for girls and the advancement of women’s rights. Her life’s work was marked by a relentless commitment to equality, education, and social justice.

Early Life and Background

Alice Hildegard Margulies, later known as Alice Shalvi, was born in Essen, Germany, to a devout Orthodox Jewish family. Her parents, Benzion and Perl Margulies, were ardent religious Zionists, instilling in her a deep sense of faith and commitment to their Jewish heritage. Alice was the younger of two children in the family, and their livelihood revolved around a wholesale linen and housewares business.

In 1933, as Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany cast a shadow of persecution over Jewish families, the Margulies family made a pivotal decision. In May 1934, they relocated to London, seeking safety and refuge from the growing anti-Semitism in Germany. In London, Alice’s father and brother ventured into the importation of watches and jewelry. When the Blitz began during World War II, they moved to Aylesbury, where they lived in a small house on the estate of James Rothschild.

The family’s financial fortunes changed when they established a factory for ammunition calibration devices in Aylesbury, providing them with financial stability. Alice’s educational journey led her to study English literature at Cambridge University in 1944. She also represented British Jewish students at the 22nd Zionist Congress in Basel in 1946.

Academic and Public Career

After completing her degree in social work at the London School of Economics in 1949, Alice Shalvi made a life-changing decision to immigrate to Israel in 1949, where she settled in Jerusalem. Her academic journey continued as she became a faculty member in the English department of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1962, she earned her PhD from the same institution, solidifying her position as a respected scholar.

In May 1950, she met Moshe Shelkowitz (later Shalvi), a fellow immigrant from New York City. They married in October 1950 and went on to have six children. Moshe Shalvi passed away on 6 July 2013, leaving behind a loving family.

Alice Shalvi’s impact extended beyond academia. She was a trailblazer in education and women’s rights activism. Notably, she founded Pelech, an experimental school for religious girls that boldly included the teaching of Talmud from 1975 to 1990. She also established the Ohalim movement of neighborhood associations from 1973 to 1979.

In addition, Alice Shalvi was a founding director (later chairwoman) of the Israel Women’s Network from 1984 to 2000, where she advocated for women’s rights and worked tirelessly to address various forms of discrimination faced by women in Israeli society. She was particularly committed to recognizing women’s contributions in the armed forces, recognizing the vital role of military service in Israeli life. In the 1990s, she founded the International Coalition for Agunah Rights.

Shalvi’s contributions extended to academia, where she served as the head of English literature departments at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. She also held the position of rector at the Schechter Institute for four years.

Awards and Recognition

Alice Shalvi’s remarkable work earned her numerous awards and accolades, including:

  • Emil Grunzweig Human Rights Award in 1989, recognizing her role as the founder of the Israel Women’s Network.
  • Israel Prize in 2007 for her lifetime achievement and special contribution to society and the State of Israel.
  • Leibowitz Prize in 2009 (shared with Rabbi Arik Ascherman) for public activism in the spirit of Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s teachings.
  • Sylvan Adams Nefesh B’Nefesh Bonei Zion Prize Lifetime Achievement Award in 2017.
  • National Jewish Book Award for Women’s Studies in 2018 for her book “Never a Native”.

Legacy and Passing

On 2 October 2023, Alice Shalvi passed away at the age of 96. Her legacy as a champion of education, women’s rights, and social justice lives on. She will be remembered as a pioneering figure in Israeli society who dedicated her life to making the world a better place for all.

Alice Shalvi’s contributions continue to inspire individuals and movements striving for equality and progress, leaving an enduring impact on Israel and the global community.