November 17, 2023
Shortly after October 7th, we received a call from a close friend of ours. Our friend shared the devastating news that Vivian Silver, 74 years old and a close friend of his from the time they had moved to Israel from Canada to rebuild Kibbutz Gezer, was presumed a hostage. Vivian was not only a close friend of someone in our circle, she was well-known to a wide circle of Israelis and North Americans, an inspiration to so many because of her activism and commitment to peace. This wide circle included the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center.
This week Vivian’s remains were identified in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri on the Gaza border through DNA testing. 1,500 people– Israeli Jews, Palestinians and Bedouins–gathered together yesterday on Kibbutz Gezer to mourn her death. It is in her memory that I write this letter.
Vivian was a real force, our friend shared. Lots of people had ideas, but Vivian would make things happen. She was instrumental in rebuilding Kibbutz Gezer and in opening up Kibbutz movement leadership to women. When she and her late husband moved to Kibbutz Be’eri on the Gaza border in the early 90’s, she was committed to reaching across the border and the blockade to make connections with Palestinians in Gaza. She volunteered for “Road to Recovery,” driving Gazans needing medical care to Israeli hospital. She had “worked to arrange a solidarity bike ride on both sides of the Gaza border fence. Her friends from Gaza called her on Jewish holidays. Even after her sons had given up on the prospect of peace, she persevered. Her son Yonatan shared: ‘I would tell her, ‘Israel is dead. It’s hopeless,’ and she would say, ‘Peace could come tomorrow.’”
After the 2014 war with Gaza, Vivian co-founded “Women Wage Peace.” And here is where she touched the lives of members of the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center. Women Wage Peace is a grassroots organization of Israeli Jewish and Palestinian women who insist that their leaders successfully negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and its neighbors. They march together, introduce bills in the Knesset, and insist that “we must end this madness.” One of their projects is a giant quilt, that thousands of women all over the world contribute to called “Piece of Peace.”
On our congregational trip in 2019, we visited with a representative of Women Wage Peace, and presented them with three pieces for their quilt, pictured above, created by our members Tracey Silberling and Laura Bellis. I like to think that those pieces of the Island and the Hebrew Center connect us to Vivian, her Jewish and Palestinian women friends and partners, and their vision.
Vivian’s story has been covered in much of the press, in part because of her inspiring message, but also because of the irony of the murder of someone who was committed to peace. It’s difficult not to be struck by this irony. There is a way that we would hope that it would magically protect her. That if they only knew—they would regret it. And many have asked the question either to themselves or aloud, either in good faith or in bad, whether this horrific attack refutes the principles Vivian stood for. Whether October 7th makes her vision an illusion or worse?
I do not want to shy away from these questions, as I think it is critical to address them.
I believe that Hamas did not commit a kind of mistaken identity by killing people in a progressive kibbutz who believed in a vision of peace, co-existence and reconciliation. Hamas wanted to kill both them and their vision. For the goal of Hamas was not only to murder and brutalize bodies, it was also to murder and brutalize souls. Like the terrorist attacks at a time when Oslo was closest to success, Hamas sought to murder not just bodies but the part of our souls that reaches out to the other. The part of our souls that feel alive in the light of compassion and connection. The part of our souls that, as Women Wage Peace assert, “yes, there is another way.”
When I read what Hamas did to the people of Kibbutz Be’eri, the murder, kidnapping and torture of so many innocents including a baby, there is a part of my soul that dies. And the tragedy is, the darkness continues. And a part of my soul dies when I see videos in the New York times of over 1 million people leaving with whatever they can carry on their backs, young and old. It is reported that seventy percent of Gazans have been displaced in the last month.
And here is where the name of the organization Vivian co-founded is so important—Women Wage Peace. If you want to fight Hamas, we must not only fight against their war against our bodies, but their war against our souls. And to win that war, we must wage peace.
We can never know for sure what Vivian would have said on October 8th. But we can see from her memorial service yesterday the power of her vision of waging peace. Palestinian Israeli Knesset members, Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, family members, close Jewish, Palestinian and Bedouin friends and peace partners were all there mourning, crying, eulogizing and affirming Vivian’s vision, committing themselves to continuing it.
As her Bedouin friend and fellow peace activist Ghadir Hani said in her eulogy addressing Vivian: “You knew that it doesn’t matter if we speak Hebrew or Arabic, it doesn’t matter if we were born in the Gaza border or the Gaza Strip – you knew that our futures and the fate of the residents of Gaza are tied together; that people who live mere kilometers from you also deserve a better life. Across the fence, you saw human beings….Vivian, my beloved, if you could hear us, I would want you to know that Hamas hasn’t murdered your vision. It is impossible to kill compassion, humanity, solidarity, the yearning for safe life. It is upon us to continue in your path, the path by which everyone can have a good life, and safe life in this homeland.”
Knowing that quilt pieces of the Island and of our Hebrew Center are hanging on that quilt, offering a different vision, is comforting to my soul this Shabbat, as I remember Vivian.
I am wishing you all a restorative and renewing Shabbat of body and soul.
Rabbi Caryn Broitman
November 17, 2023