Usually operating modestly behind the scenes, Vivian Silver is making headlines this year. A native of Winnipeg, she moved to Israel in 1974 as a member of the newly reestablished Kibbutz Gezer, where she became one of the few women who had ever served as kibbutz secretary. As an activist in the Jewish “student revolution” of the late 1960s and early 70s, she confronted head-on the glaring women’s issues in Israel and the ever-widening discrepancies between the lives of its Jewish and Arab citizens. Making these the subject of her professional life, she founded the United Kibbutz Movement’s Department to Advance Gender Equality and joined the Knesset sub-committee for the Advancement of Women in Work and the Economy.
When she moved to Kibbutz Be’eri, Vivian came face to face with Bedouin society in the Negev — a community virtually in her front yard living, in large numbers, in third-world conditions. “They could have been subsisting in poverty-stricken villages in India or Africa,” she recalls. Moved to action, she became executive director of the Negev Institute of Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED), a non-profit dedicated to peace building and sustainable development through people-to-people peace processes.. Through AJEEC, NISPED’s Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation, Vivian and her co-director, Amal Elsana Alh’jooj, have literally affected the daily lives of thousands of people — chief among them Bedouin women, who with AJEEC’s help have been making extraordinary leaps of educational, economic and political empowerment.
Last June, in a huge tent in the Bedouin town of Rahat, Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Alh’jooj were the first pair of women to be granted the prestigious Victor J. Goldberg Prize for Peace in the Middle East, which is awarded annually by the Institute of International Education (IIE) for outstanding joint work by an Arab and an Israel to advance the cause of peace. And today, on the eve of Rosh Hashana, 5772, Israel’s leading newspaper, Ha’aretz, chose Vivian Silver as one of “the year’s 10 most influential Anglo immigrants,” noting that: “While Bedouin leaders fume at the government’s recent decision to relocate tens of thousands of their brethren from unrecognized villages in the south into communities with an official status,” Vivian Silver and NISPED help to build bridges in the Negev between Bedouin and Jewish communities — neighbors and co-fighters in the struggle for equality and peace.
Stay tuned for an article about the work of Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Alh’jooj in a forthcoming issue of LILITH.