By – May 29, 2019

Alice Shalvi’s spell­bind­ing mem­oir is both deeply per­son­al and sweep­ing­ly polit­i­cal as it records the author’s expe­ri­ence of major events and social move­ments that have shaped Jew­ish life over the past cen­tu­ry. Born in Ger­many in 1926, Alice Shalvi (née Mar­gulies) has been a res­i­dent of Israel for sev­en­ty years. Her book recounts the lives of her par­ents and extend­ed fam­i­ly through Nazi anti­semitism and Russ­ian com­mu­nism, her imme­di­ate family’s move to Lon­don in 1933, and her sub­se­quent stud­ies at Cam­bridge and the Lon­don School of Eco­nom­ics. Shalvi’s par­ents were com­mit­ted to Zion­ism, and in 1949 Shalvi her­self made aliyah. In Israel, she encoun­tered a com­pli­cat­ed mul­ti­eth­nic and social­ly hier­ar­chi­cal soci­ety. She was also con­front­ed by male arro­gance and sex­u­al aggression.

Cen­tral to this unflinch­ing­ly hon­est sto­ry is Shalvi’s grad­ual recog­ni­tion of the endem­ic sex­ism that char­ac­ter­izes Israeli life at every lev­el. She became an advo­cate for women’s wel­fare and for increas­ing the pres­ence and voic­es of all women in Israeli aca­d­e­mics, pol­i­tics, and cen­ters of reli­gious author­i­ty. From a per­son­al per­spec­tive, Shalvi describes the chal­lenges and feel­ings of fail­ure that accom­pa­nied bal­anc­ing a career and rais­ing six chil­dren. In 1950, she mar­ried an Amer­i­can immi­grant, Moshe Shalvi; the cou­ple enjoyed a hap­py and fruit­ful mar­riage. At the same time, she spent much of her work­ing life as a pro­fes­sor of Eng­lish and a uni­ver­si­ty admin­is­tra­tor. After retire­ment, Shalvi took on the vol­un­teer posi­tion of prin­ci­pal of the Pelech Reli­gious Exper­i­men­tal High School for Girls in Jerusalem, a demand­ing job she held for fif­teen years. Nor did her pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties end there. Shalvi went on to serve as Rec­tor of Jerusalem’s Schechter Insti­tute for Jew­ish Stud­ies, the first insti­tu­tion in Israel to estab­lish a MA in Jew­ish women’s stud­ies, and to serve the Insti­tute in var­i­ous oth­er capac­i­ties; in 2007, she was a recip­i­ent of the pres­ti­gious Israel Prize.

The descrip­tions of Shalvi’s var­i­ous fem­i­nist under­tak­ings and achieve­ments in the lat­ter part of this mem­oir make it an impor­tant his­tor­i­cal account. How­ev­er, it is the human voice that tru­ly ele­vates this book. The read­er will long remem­ber Shalvi’s child­hood rec­ol­lec­tions, her sub­tle por­traits of her par­ents and oth­er rel­a­tives, and her descrip­tions of the dif­fi­cul­ties and exul­ta­tions of build­ing a life and a fam­i­ly in Israel. Among the most mov­ing aspects of Shalvi’s sto­ry is her account of her dif­fi­cult and unre­solved rela­tion­ship with her adored old­er broth­er, a gen­er­ous but ulti­mate­ly elu­sive fig­ure whose approval she des­per­ate­ly sought and nev­er felt she had whol­ly obtained.

Nev­er A Native reveals Shalvi’s bril­liance and ebul­lience, her gift for friend­ship, and her for­mi­da­ble work eth­ic. Although she describes her­self as nev­er a native” and always an out­sider, it is evi­dent that she is a force for pos­i­tiv­i­ty who has always been undaunt­ed in fight­ing for new and more equi­table social realities.

Judith R. Baskin, Philip H. Knight Pro­fes­sor of Human­i­ties Emeri­ta, Uni­ver­si­ty of Ore­gon, is the author of Midrashic Woman: For­ma­tions of the Fem­i­nine in Rab­binic Lit­er­a­ture. Her edit­ed books include Jew­ish Women in His­tor­i­cal Per­spec­tive; Women of the Word: Jew­ish Women and Jew­ish Writ­ing; and The Cam­bridge Guide to Jew­ish His­to­ry, Reli­gion, and Cul­ture, coedit­ed with Ken­neth See­skin and win­ner of a 2011 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award.

Discussion Questions

Alice Shalvi was born in Ger­many to par­ents with Gali­cian ori­gins, and she grew up and was edu­cat­ed in the Unit­ed King­dom; she has been a res­i­dent of Israel for almost sev­en­ty years. As her spell­bind­ing and deeply per­son­al mem­oir reveals, she has been con­nect­ed to many of the major events and polit­i­cal move­ments that have marked Jew­ish life over the past cen­tu­ry. Shalvi recounts the lives of her par­ents and sib­lings, her family’s encoun­ters with Nazi anti­semitism, her Cam­bridge edu­ca­tion, her com­mit­ment to Zion­ism, and her 1949 deci­sion to make aliyah. She also dis­cuss­es her hap­py and fruit­ful mar­riage and the chal­lenges of bal­anc­ing an aca­d­e­m­ic career and rais­ing six chil­dren. Cen­tral to this sto­ry is Shalvi’s account of her grad­ual recog­ni­tion of the endem­ic sex­ism in Israeli life and her emer­gence as an advo­cate for women’s wel­fare and for increas­ing women’s vis­i­bil­i­ty and lead­er­ship in every aspect of Israeli soci­ety. Shalvi has been rec­og­nized and hon­ored for her achieve­ments both in Israel and the Unit­ed States. Her vibrant mem­oir will enhance her lega­cy even as it inspires her read­ers to emu­late her accomplishments.