Connect with us

RSS

Alex Soros, just named as father George’s successor, is a longtime donor to liberal Jewish causes

Published

on

(JTA) — When George Soros gave control of his vast charity to his son, Alexander, it was clear that the new 37-year-old chairman would follow in his father’s footsteps in many ways.

Alex Soros is known to work well with George, the billionaire hedge funder, liberal philanthropist and Holocaust survivor who turns 93 next month. “We think alike,” George Soros said about his youngest son when naming him in June as his successor at the Open Society Foundations, which distributes roughly $1.5 billion per year to an array of causes.

But some departures are already evident. Alex Soros revealed one himself on the day of the handover announcement, saying, “I’m more political.” Another is less prominent but no less apparent: Alex Soros’ deep and public embrace of his Jewish identity.

George Soros, born in Hungary in 1930, was hidden as a child during the Holocaust and, as an adult, has always openly identified as Jewish — in addition to being one of the most prominent targets of right-wing antisemitism. But he is not active in any Jewish institutions, has given relatively little to Jewish nonprofits and, in 2007, wrote, “I am not a Zionist, nor am I a practicing Jew.”

Alex Soros is more vocal about his Judaism and once organized a convening to address rising antisemitism. He regularly posts pictures from his holiday celebrations, and has long been active in Jewish philanthropic causes. The first donation made by his own foundation, established in 2012, was $250,000 to Bend The Arc, a progressive Jewish group on whose board he remains today. 

Alex Soros declined an interview request, as did other OSF staffers. But he has written and spoken extensively about how Judaism has shaped him, how he believes the Jewish community is developing, and how he hopes to shape Jewish philanthropy.

“Progressive causes, like the civil rights movement, are a part of the Jewish legacy in the United States,” he said in 2012. “Bend The Arc for me has a lot more to do with preserving this legacy than with anything else.”

Alex Soros’ ascendance at the Open Society Foundations was hardly a given. For many years, George Soros’ older son from his first marriage, Jonathan, was long presumed to be his heir: His middle name, Tivadar, comes from George Soros’s beloved father, and he was president of the elder Soros’ investment firm for nearly a decade. But he left after a clash with his father over hiring decisions and has launched his own investment firm, though the two reportedly remain friendly.

Alex is the older of two sons from George’s second marriage, to the Jewish historian Susan Weber. While Alex praises his father and, in a recent social media post featuring a grinning photo, called him “the greatest,” he described his upbringing as difficult to the Wall Street Journal. The elder Soros has a reputation for being controlling and for plowing through senior staff, both at his hedge fund and charitable endeavors. Alex, who grew up in New York City and a northern suburb, told the Journal he spent his childhood longing for his father’s attention.

“I was very angry at him, I felt unwanted,” he told the New York Times in 2012. “He had a very hard time communicating love, and he was never really around.”

In 1998, Alex Soros became George’s first child to have a bar mitzvah. (In addition to Jonathan, George Soros had a daughter and another son with his first wife, who was not Jewish.) He told Yediot Aharonot in 2018 that his father pulled him aside after the ceremony with some advice: “If you’re serious about being Jewish, you might want to consider immigrating to Israel,” he recalled being told. In a photo he shared with the Wall Street Journal, his father is handing him a Torah scroll as father and son wear the same kippah, black and patterned with white Stars of David.

An undated photo of George Soros handing his son Alex a Torah scroll at his bar mitzvah. (Courtesy of the Soros family)

Alex has said he grew close with his father after his mother filed for divorce in 2004, when Alex was starting out at New York University. But his trajectory toward heir apparent at first appeared uncertain, as he came into the public eye as a partier. 

In 2008, the summer after his graduation, CityFile, a now-defunct New York City gossip site, mined his Facebook pages for photos and said he spent the time “chilling at dad’s house in Southampton, drinking 40s while cruising on the family boat, and making out with the babes at places like La Playa and Pink Elephant.”

Alex Soros deleted the photos and set about involving himself more intensely in his father’s charity. He traveled to the Amazon to meet with indigenous leaders and joined the board of Global Witness, a human rights group that focuses on victims of mining.

He also dove into therapy. “Growing up on the Upper East Side, going to a psychologist is like going to Hebrew school,” he told The New York Times in 2012. “It’s expected.”

That year, he launched his own eponymous foundation. His first donation was $250,000 to Bend The Arc.

Speaking to Philanthropy News Digest at the time, he made the case that his philanthropy did not mark a departure from his father’s.

“Given my dad’s history and given the values that led to the creation of OSF, it can be argued that OSF is a Jewish foundation,” he said. 

“His Jewish identity has had a major impact,” he added. “I see it as formative in what he does, especially in his philanthropy, and probably my own concern with the Jewish community comes from him as well.”

As he grew his philanthropic profile, Alex Soros also followed in his mother’s footsteps, earning a doctoral degree in history. His 2018 dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley, had a title that, according to the Wall Street Journal, delighted his father: “Jewish Dionysus: Heine, Nietzsche and the Politics of Literature.”

Today, Alex Soros does not belong to a synagogue but observes Passover and the High Holidays with his mother, a source close to the family told JTA. In addition to Bend The Arc, he is on the board of the Center for Jewish History, based in New York City.

Over time, the younger Soros also built a social media presence that, rather than showing off his displays of wealth, features his Jewish identity, alongside a litany of encounters with world leaders. On Hanukkah in 2020, he posted on Instagram what he said was “one of the greatest bar mitzvah gifts I received,” a menorah made of dancing robots. He routinely posts Jewish holiday photos, usually focused on food. Passover is the Jewish holiday that is most important to him, and he hosts large meals with his mother, inviting both Jews and non-Jews. Challah, he once wrote, is his “favorite (leavened) bread.

Alex Soros has also brought up his Judaism when posting to social media about his politics. Earlier this month, he posted a photo of himself with his arm around New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic majority leader. “With the man, many, including Robert A. Caro have called the Jewish LBJ, he wrote, referencing President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s biographer, who is also Jewish. He also posted an encomium for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg when she died at the onset of Rosh Hashanah in 2020, writing that according to Jewish tradition someone who dies on the holiday “is a person of great righteousness or a tzaddik.”

Simon Greer, who founded Bend the Arc, told JTA that Alex Soros’ Instagram presence is typical of his generation, and not just because younger Jews tend to live more online. George Soros was never apologetic about his Judaism, Greer said, but was typical of an older generation who tended not to speak publicly about it. Alex is of a generation that is happy to broadcast identity, Jewish and otherwise.

“Think about that generation of Jews who immigrated here and they wanted to be American. … They wanted us to believe in being Jewish, but they weren’t going to practice it the way maybe they had as kids,” he said. “And then as young adults, we were like, ‘Well wait, I love Passover. I’m happy to talk about the Exodus story.’”

Comments by Alex Soros suggest that he is attuned to fault lines within Jewish communities. 

In the 2012 Philanthropy News Digest interview, he lamented what he saw as “a bit of an existential crisis happening for many American Jews” in which “many are turning to religious orthodoxy to get answers.” 

He added, “While this in itself is not inherently negative, it is often coupled with more conservative political beliefs and a tribal outlook. Eventually, I think there will be a split, with the secular, universalist Jews on one side and the more Orthodox and religious on the other.”

Alex Soros has also had his Jewish outlook shaped by antisemitism, including attacks on his father. Greer said in an interview that he first met Alex when Greer and George Soros were being targeted by Glenn Beck, the right-wing provocateur who was then a Fox News host.

Alex Soros was young but already steeped in the history of antisemitism, which stemmed in part from his devotion to his father, recalled Greer, whom Alex Soros has cited as an influence.

“Beck had used the puppet-master stereotype against his dad,” Greer recalled. “Alex was well versed in the puppet-master trope. He studied antisemitism in Europe so he was totally clear that that’s from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. He had no no illusions about it.”

Alex Soros, he said, convened a meeting in 2017 at Chatham House, a research institute in London, to tackle rising antisemitism. 

“It was still early in the Trump administration, and Alex really saw ahead on it,” Greer said. “I think he saw the rising tide of antisemitism. It concerned him and he funded and attended a convening where we brought experts from the U.S.”

He has also said his father’s experience in the Holocaust has guided his philanthropic work, inspiring him to continue his father’s commitment to human rights advocacy and political activism.

“My father, George Soros, lost family members in the Holocaust,” he wrote in a CNN op-ed last month applauding the Biden administration’s plan to combat antisemitism. “And for him, those experiences — of being ‘the other,’ of being hated for something that he couldn’t control — helped fuel his philanthropic career, and his dedication to help others fight for a life free from fear.”

The elder Soros’s philanthropy has focused on pro-democracy efforts in the former Communist bloc and elsewhere, and has focused on Democratic politics and criminal justice reform in the United States. His critics have taken aim at his advancement of progressive politics at the local and national level, as well as at the influence he wields as one of the most prominent megadonors in the world.

Unlike his son, George Soros has rarely donated to explicitly Jewish causes, and some of his pronouncements on Jews and Israel have sparked backlash from Jewish leaders. 

In 2003, George Soros told a gathering of the Jewish Funders Network that there was “a resurgence of antisemitism in Europe. The policies of the Bush administration and the [Ariel] Sharon administration [in Israel] contribute to that.” Those comments elicited outrage from some Jewish figures such as then-Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman, who said Soros was “blaming the victim for all of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s ills.”

In a 2007 essay in the New York Review of Books, Soros wrote that he has “a great deal of sympathy for my fellow Jews and a deep concern for the survival of Israel.” But he also wrote of the “pervasive influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee” and added that the group’s conduct lent “some credence” to antisemitic claims of an “all-powerful Zionist conspiracy.” A year later, he would provide approximately $750,000 in seed funding to J Street, founded as a liberal alternative to AIPAC. Last year, he donated $1 million to J Street’s Super PAC.

Alex Soros shares his father’s opposition to right-wing politics in Israel and some of the country’s policies.

“I worry when Jews in America start to support policies in Israel which they wouldn’t support in America, which don’t allow for separation of church and state, which don’t give full rights to people who are technically living under occupation, and which don’t allow for immigration of people who aren’t Jews, or for non-Jews to become citizens,” he said in the 2012 Philanthropy News Digest interview.

In 2016, years after his role in his father’s charitable giving had intensified, hacked emails showed that the Open Society Foundations backed groups that aimed to work on “challenging Israel’s racist and anti-democratic policies.” The foundation’s Arab regional office in 2015 praised a 2007 initiative to create a binational constitution for Israel. (In his interview with Yediot, Alex Soros said he opposes the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, known as BDS, and said the Open Society Foundations’ Arab office makes funding decisions autonomously.)

Two years later, in his Yediot interview, Alex Soros lacerated Netanyahu for forcing the foreign ministry to qualify its prior condemnation of a Hungarian government anti-Soros campaign that the country’s Jewish community had deemed antisemitic. (His father suggested that he speak to the Israeli newspaper after it initially asked George Soros for an interview, the paper reported.)

“I was disappointed by the Israeli prime minister’s cynical conduct, his failure to help Jews and to stand behind them,” Alex Soros said. “This isn’t Israel, this is Netanyahu. His ties with radical right-wing, antisemitic and corrupt elements contradicts Israel’s commitment as a Jewish state.”

In his recent CNN op-ed, Alex Soros criticized the current Israeli government — led again by Netanyahu — for “increasingly aggressive and hostile policies towards its Arab population, elevating extremists to cabinet rank, authorizing new settlements in the occupied West Bank and proposing dramatic new curbs on the independence of the judiciary.” He has visited the country several times, the Wall Street Journal recently reported.

Israel may be unlikely to be a centerpiece of Alex Soros’ philanthropy, but democracy is one.

In addition to being elected chairman of OSF in December, he is also president of Democracy PAC, George Soros’ powerhouse political action committee that made him the leading donor to Democrats in last year’s midterm elections. Alex is also the only family member on the committee overseeing Soros Fund Management, the family’s investment office, which is worth $25 billion.

He is already making changes at OSF. At the end of June, he announced 40% cuts to the foundation’s staff of about 500, Bloomberg News reported, in the name of “generating a nimbler organization.” He also told the Wall Street Journal that he plans to invest more heavily in political causes such as abortion or voting rights.

That’s in line with his long-standing giving. In 2012, the year he broke into philanthropy, he gave $200,000 to a Jewish super PAC responsible for the “Great Schlep,” a campaign that originated in 2008 to convince elderly voters in Florida to back Barack Obama in that year’s presidential election.

In 2016, he urged Hillary Clinton to embrace progressive policies to win the Florida Jewish vote — and in so doing offered a glimpse into his looming future as one of the world’s most influential philanthropists. 

“As a community, our response to improved fortune has been to do whatever we can to cast a wider net for other Americans,” he wrote in a South Florida Sun-Sentinel op-ed. “When one looks through the history of progressive battles in the U.S. from labor to civil rights, one has seen American Jews on the front lines.”


The post Alex Soros, just named as father George’s successor, is a longtime donor to liberal Jewish causes appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RSS

A queer Israeli textile artist’s Lavender Diaspora sukkah explores identity in Brooklyn

Published

on

By

(New York Jewish Week) — On Friday evening, several dozen people huddled underneath umbrellas and raincoats in a new sukkah in Brooklyn that had survived the day’s record-setting rainstorm

The sukkah, created by queer textile artist Hilla Shapira, was unharmed: Its light purple walls were made of ripstop, a lightweight and water-resistant fabric. Its soft and pillowy decorations — which included Jewish symbols like hamsas as well as depictions of the four species — were made of dacron, a durable, polyester batting that held up in the deluge as well. 

Shapira said the project — titled Lavender Diaspora — was meant to channel her identities as a queer person who grew up in a religious household in Israel, and also as an immigrant in the United States, where she studied art in Michigan before moving to Brooklyn.

“I try to find parallel relationships between what it is to be queer and Jewish, and to be a person from Israel,” Shapira, 33, told the New York Jewish Week. “It’s especially relevant when we’re talking about Sukkot, which is a holiday that the Jewish people were celebrating in the in-between space, between Egypt and Israel — they were on the way somewhere, but in something that is temporary and stuck in this kind of forever nomadism.” 

Shapira holding one of her hamsas as she builds Lavender Diaspora in Prospect Heights. (Courtesy The Neighborhood.)

Speaking at a Shabbat dinner hosted by The Neighborhood: An Urban Center for Jewish Life, the Brooklyn-based organization that commissioned the sukkah, Shapira said she had designed her structure to celebrate communities that find themselves on the outskirts of society. 

She was speaking on the first night of Sukkot, the weeklong holiday in which Jews build a temporary structure called a sukkah, meant to commemorate in part the structures that the Israelites lived in as they wandered through the desert from Egypt to Israel. Throughout the holiday, which ends at sundown on Saturday, Jews eat, pray and even sleep in the sukkah. 

The Neighborhood has partnered with 12 other Jewish communities and organizations to celebrate and host events in the unique sukkah, including Romemu Brooklyn, Lab/Shul, Jews of Color Initiative and the Prospect Heights Shul. 

“We were really excited to think about not just a sukkah as an art object, but really also as a place to bring different communities and groups of people together in this temporary structure,” Rebecca Guber, the founding director of The Neighborhood, told the New York Jewish Week. 

“We also thought about what were some different perspectives that we could bring into this stuff,” she added. “We wanted something that brings in young families, that would be comfortable if you’re a more observant Jew and that also feels kind of wild.”

Located in the courtyard of Luria Academy, a Jewish day school in Prospect Heights, students will use the sukkah for their meals and programming during the day. In the evenings and on the weekend, The Neighborhood will use the sukkah for its own programming, which includes the launch of a Sukkot zine in partnership with Ayin Press, a family-friendly music jam, a dance event and more. 

As a queer woman who grew up in an Orthodox home in Israel — as well as an immigrant to the United States — Shapira said she’s often searched for a sense of belonging. “The sukkah I tried to create is a space that is offering an alternative, or making a suggestion for a communal space for all the ‘shoulders’ of society,” she said. 

Lavender, the color of the walls of the sukkah, is a symbol of LGBTQ resistance and activism. The other half of the title, Diaspora, refers to both the dispersion of the Jewish people as well as the feeling of marginalization experienced by Jews, LBGTQ people and other minorities — the sukkah is meant to be a temporary space that alleviates that feeling.

The Neighborhood is a community hub that primarily partners with other Jewish organizations to create innovative Jewish cultural and spiritual events for Jewish life. The Lavender Diaspora sukkah was funded by UJA-Federation New York. (UJA-Federation is also a funder of 70 Faces Media, the parent company of the New York Jewish Week.)

“What really resonates for us is the way that this sukkah welcomes everyone in — whatever position you feel you occupy in the Jewish community — maybe some people feel like insiders, other feel like outsiders, we really hope this can be a place where many different people can feel welcomed, and that their perspectives and identities are being honored,” Guber said.


The post A queer Israeli textile artist’s Lavender Diaspora sukkah explores identity in Brooklyn appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

RSS

Displaced by ethnic violence, India’s Bnei Menashe Jews construct sukkahs nonetheless

Published

on

By

(JTA) — The temporary shelters that Jews erect during the holiday of Sukkot are meant in part to recall a time when Jews had nowhere permanent to live. In Northeast India, that symbolism is heavy with additional meaning this year.

That’s because large numbers of Bnei Menashe, the Jewish community that lives there, have fled their homes in the state of Manipur since ethnic unrest broke out in early May.

According to the Israeli organization Shavei Israel, about 2,000 people from the Jewish community have been displaced. A different nonprofit that works with the community, Degel Menashe, cites a smaller number, 700.

But either way, the community has been ravaged, with three locations that have been home to large numbers of Bnei Menashe decimated in the violence. Synagogues and homes have burned to the ground, and the number of displaced people has only grown with time.

Now, as the conflict enters its sixth month, what many believed would be temporary displacements in the Manipur hills or the neighboring state of Mizoram are becoming permanent.

“Despite these challenging times for the Bnei Menashe and even in the farthest reaches of northeastern India, they have continued to uphold the ancient tradition of building Sukkot in honor of the festival,” said Michael Freund, chairman and founder of Shavei Israel, which helps “lost tribe” communities return to Israel.

Shavei Israel distributed pictures showing members of the community constructing sukkahs out of bamboo. Their efforts come as their own safety in their areas where they live is in question — or already compromised.

“[For] the Bnei Menashe and the rest of the people who have left Imphal, I don’t think there is any chance of them returning back because there is no security,” said Isaac Thangjom, the Israel-based director of Degel Menashe, which assists Bnei Menashe communities in Israel and India, referring to Manipur’s capital city. “If you ask me honestly, the separation is complete.”

The Bnei Menashe identify as descendants of a “lost tribe” group, tracing their origins to the Israelite tribe of Menasseh. In 2005, a chief rabbi of Israel affirmed their identity as a “lost tribe” group with historic Jewish ties, but researchers have not found sufficient evidence to back the claim. Bnei Menashe Jews began immigrating to Israel in the 1990s, and because of their “lost tribe” status, they all undergo formal Orthodox conversions upon arrival. Around 5,000 remain in the states of Manipur and Mizoram today, and about 5,000 have already immigrated to Israel.

Many have struggled to gain entry into Israel over the past two decades, and they are now asking the Jewish state to expedite the immigration process to help them escape the violence.

Israeli authorities have yet to comment publicly about the situation and did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Israel has recently been seeking to advance its relations with India.

Conflict erupted in May when tribal groups in Manipur launched a protest against the ethnic majority Meitei’s demand for Scheduled Tribe status, which is traditionally reserved for minority tribes. The Bnei Menashe Jews belong to the minority Kuki tribe.

The Kukis (about 16% of the population and majority Christian) say the Meiteis (53% and majority Hindu) already have outsized privilege and political representation in Manipur.

A destroyed house is seen seen in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur following the clashes between Meiteis and Kukis, Aug. 11, 2023. (Biplov Bhuyan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

According to local reports, unofficial “but very real” borders have been drawn between what have become Kuki and Meitei areas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has been criticized for failing to control the situation. In August, opposition lawmakers called for a no-confidence vote over Modi’s handling of the situation, but it was easily defeated.

Some 190 people have died in the conflict since May, according to local media, including at least one Bnei Menashe community member. Over 60,000 are displaced.

Several other Bnei Menashe Jews are hospitalized with injuries, according to Shavei Israel.

In the face of displacement, the Bnei Menashe Jews have remained religiously observant, even as some fled with nothing more than their prayer books and the clothes on their backs, a Mizoram Jewish community member told JTA in June.

“It was so sudden,” said Ariella Haokip, a Bnei Menashe community member taking shelter in Thingdawl, Mizoram. “Funds were sent to us to buy special items for Rosh Hashanah and now for Sukkot. In spite of our misery, it is comforting to think that we are remembered.”

Some are currently staying at government shelters, others at schools and homes of other community members, or rented homes paid for by nonprofit groups. In Thingdawl, Mizoram, one young member has begun organizing Hebrew classes for displaced members, said Thangjom.

Members of India’s Bnei Menashe community pose outside a structure under construction as a semi-permanent dwelling for nine families displaced by ethnic violence in the Manipur region of India. (Courtesy Degel Menashe)

Both Shavei Israel and Degel Menashe have been working since May to provide continued support to the Bnei Menashe Jews through donations of food, mattresses, mosquito nets, infant formula, medicines and other necessities. Both organizations have arranged shelters for displaced families. Additional financial support has poured in from Jewish and Christian organizations in the United States and Israel.

For some, the High Holiday season also represents a new beginning, as Degel Menashe races to construct homes for several Bnei Menashe families. Lalam Hangshing, chairman of the Bnei Menashe Council-India, donated a piece of land of about 200 acres in Churachandpur on which nine homes are being constructed.

“It was hoped that it could be ready by Rosh Hashanah but there were some unforeseen delays and challenges,” said Thangjom. “Each family will be allotted a piece of land to grow or raise something of their choice so that it can be a source of livelihood for them.”


The post Displaced by ethnic violence, India’s Bnei Menashe Jews construct sukkahs nonetheless appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

RSS

Alice Shalvi pioneered religious feminism in Israel. Everyone else is still catching up.

Published

on

By

(JTA) — I first met Alice Shalvi, the mother of religious feminism in Israel, in the mid-1990s during a meeting of ICAR, the International Coalition of Agunah Rights, a coalition that she founded to advocate for women denied a religious divorce by their husbands. She was in her early 70s at the time, and had been fighting for agunah rights for 20 years.

I was in my mid-20s, and new to the cause. I was there as co-chair of Mavoi Satum, which a group of us founded in 1995. This coalition was meant to be advancing systemic solutions to this awful problem. But, of course, we were stuck. As stuck then as we are now.

At one point in the meeting, Professor Shalvi started to cry. “I am 72 years old. I have been talking about this for so long,” she said, “and nothing is changing.” She was crying because the suffering of women didn’t seem to matter to our people. Then she turned to me and said, “It’s up to you and your generation to fix this.”

At the time, I felt her passing the mantle, and I didn’t want to let her down. But I’m sure I did. At least on this front. On others, too, despite our best efforts.

Shalvi, who died Monday morning in Israel at age 96, fought crucial fights decades before the rest of the world caught up with her, before the religious community had any kind of language for what she was doing, before there was any kind of feminist movement to speak of in Israel

She pioneered feminist ideas in Israel in the early 1970s when there were only a handful of women doing such work — Marcia Freedman, Naomi Chazan and a few others. And she was the only one coming from the religious world, and able to see the need and potential for change before everyone else. 

Starting in 1975, Shalvi began running the Pelech School for Haredi Girls, a religious feminist school, before Orthodox feminism existed as a movement — before Women of the Wall, before women’s tefillah (prayer) groups, years before Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance and Kolech, Israel’s Religious Women’s Forum, existed, before anyone even dared to put the words “feminist” and “religious” together in a sentence. Before even the Conservative movement had women rabbis. Everyone else is still catching up.  

She also worked in the non-religious arena, creating, in 1984, the first feminist lobby in Israel, the Israel Women’s Network, which still pioneers on many fronts.

She also dared to work on issues of peace, taking positions that were considered pas nisht, or “unsuitable,” in the religious world — and for the most part still are. She dared to see Palestinians, especially Palestinian women, as equal human beings. This was not a position that religious Israelis, or Israelis in general, were comfortable with. It’s still an uphill battle.  She spoke and acted from a place of humanity first. 

And she could remarkably work on a multitude of  fronts, all at once, including education, academia, advocacy, politics and peace.

Alice Hildegard Shalvi was born in Essen, Germany, on Oct. 16, 1926. She, her mother and brother joined their father in London in 1934, and she later earned degrees in literature and social work. She immigrated to Israel in 1949, taught at Hebrew University and led efforts to create an English department at Ben-Gurion University. Denied the deanship because she was a woman, she mobilized female faculty members in protest.

Orthodox feminist activist Alice Shalvi, right and author Elana Sztokman in 2017, attending the ordination ceremony for Israeli rabbis at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem. (Courtesy Elana Sztokman)

Professor Shalvi was my formal mentor when I was on the Jerusalem Fellows, a program in Jewish education. We would meet regularly and talk about feminism, politics, religion and Israel. It was a privilege to spend those hours in one-on-one conversations. Prof. Shalvi always talked to me with complete honesty, passion and belief in what she was working for. She entrusted me with her vision, and made me feel like she believed that I would hold it for her and continue to birth it in the world.

By the time changes started to take place in Orthodoxy for women — evidenced by Shira Hadasha, a Jerusalem congregation dedicated to halachah (Jewish law) and feminism, and Orthodox women in clergy roles — she had already moved on to the Conservative movement, serving as rector of what is now the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, a graduate school and seminary associated with the movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary. She needed to go where her vision was valued and welcomed and celebrated, instead of where everything was a fight. She was highly criticized for that decision and was treated by some as a sort of traitor to the Orthodox feminist cause. But she deserved to be in a place that supported her and brought her comfort and respect, and she had earned that right.

She offered words of support for me when I took a similar leap and enrolled in Reform rabbinical school. Even though I am no longer in rabbinical school and do not associate with the Reform movement in any meaningful way, I do not regret the decision to step away from an Orthodox version of feminism and try on other hats. She inspired me and so many others to take leaps, be courageous, live from the heart and ignore the haters.

I am so glad that she found her well-deserved place in the world, and that she received many well-deserved honors and accolades along the way, including, in 1991, the Ministry of Education’s Education Prize in 1991 for teaching Talmud to girls and insisting that Pelech alumnae serve in either the IDF or the National Service. In 2007, she won the Israel Prize for her life’s work, and in 2019 a National Jewish Book Award for her memoir, “Never a Native.”

She left an incredible legacy of activism that has birthed generations of change agents in Israel.

I have often thought over the years that I wanted to be Alice Shalvi when I grew up. I loved her unstoppable courage, her ability to wear many hats, her resilience in standing up to the haters and naysayers, and her constant belief that she could make a difference. I’ve tried to follow that kind of path, though I have not had nearly the kind of strength and fortitude — and successes — that she had. But her personality and vision continue to have a permanent resting place in my heart. And I will continue to endeavor to carry her torch in this world.


The post Alice Shalvi pioneered religious feminism in Israel. Everyone else is still catching up. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Continue Reading

Copyright © 2017 - 2023 Jewish Post & News