Israeli-Canadian peace activist Vivian Silver, 74, was murdered by Hamas during its October 7 massacre in southern Israel. Her home in Kibbutz Beeri, near the Gaza border, and her body had been so violently destroyed, it took almost 40 days to identify her remains.
On Thursday, thousands of us came together—Arabs and Jews, religious and secular, Bedouin women in heavy black hijabs and hipsters with tattoos and piercings—to mourn the loss of this remarkable woman whose life, cruelly snuffed out by hatred, had been dedicated to peace.
“Vivian, my dearest one, if you can hear, I want you to know: Hamas did not murder your vision.”
Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Vivian came to Israel as part of a group that founded Kibbutz Gezer, in central Israel, in 1974. Unheard of for a woman at that time, she was both kibbutz secretary and in charge of building and construction on the kibbutz. In 1990, she moved to Kibbutz Beeri, where she helped to found and co-direct the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development and then the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation. Until the Gaza border was closed in 2007, she worked in cross-cultural projects for Israelis and Gazans. After she “retired” in 2014, in the midst of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, she helped found the Arab-Jewish Women Wage Peace (WWP) movement, now Israel’s largest feminist peace group. On October 4, only days before her death, she participated in a joint Palestinian-Israeli women’s peace event that she helped organize. She was also a volunteer in Road to Recovery, an Israeli group that drove Gazan patients to Israeli hospitals.
Vivian had been presumed to have been taken hostage to Gaza, along with some 240 others, but her remains were identified early this week.
In the unseasonably scorching heat, we cried and hugged each other tightly. We cried for Vivian, and for all the losses and lives that have been taken since that cursed Saturday, October 7. We cried because we felt bereft. We cried to give each other strength to continue.
Long-time friend Ghadir Hani, a Bedouin, feminist activist and devout Muslim, addressed the sobbing crowd. “Vivian, my dearest one, if you can hear, I want you to know: Hamas did not murder your vision.” Avital Brown, a leader of WWP, promised Vivian, “We will continue your path, we will be even stronger and braver. We will work with our Palestinian partners and the global community of women, and we will always remember you.”
And a Gazan friend of Vivian’s, unnamed for their safety, sent a note that was read toward the end of the ceremony, recalling that they had spoken with Vivian while she was huddling in her safe room as the terrorists assaulted her apartment. “I am sorry I didn’t tell you then that I love you. I do,” the Gazan friend wrote.
Throughout the ceremony, people were asking, “What would Vivian do? What would she want us to do?” And I wondered: What meaning could Vivian have found in these dreadful times?
Our days have been filled with pain and contradictions, and the day of Vivian’s funeral was no different. On the way to the ceremony, hundreds of mourners were held up as the families of the hostages, on a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in order to pressure the Israeli government to bring the hostages home, were crossing the highway. Earlier that morning, a soldier was killed and five were wounded in a terrorist attack outside of Jerusalem. Later, a Palestinian friend living in Jerusalem told me that his daughter is afraid to speak Arabic outside of her house.
This same day, the Israel Defense Forces announced that they had found the body of Yehudit Weiss, a 65-year-old mother of five, in Gaza. Weiss, who had been undergoing treatment for cancer, had been kidnapped by Hamas on October 7, and her husband had been killed. The IDF also returned the body of Cpl. Noa Marciano, who had been kidnapped into Gaza, to her family; she too had been killed in Hamas captivity.
That night, the IDF showed videos of the tunnels under al-Shifa Medical Complex in Gaza City, revealing how truly malignant Hamas is and why it must be eradicated. And throughout this day and night, hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent Palestinians—unknown numbers of adults and children, elderly and infants—died during Israel’s bombardment and ground invasion of the Gaza Strip.
What sense could Vivian have made of these disparate experiences on this awful day and every day over the last six weeks?
Vivian was a diminutive woman with a big heart and a grand vision. She lived a life of activist commitments and small daily loves: She could dream up a plan for Israelis and Palestinians to live in this region in dignity, respect and safety, and she could bake a unique and special cake for each of her grandchildren. She could be full of deliberate, insistent activity, and she also knew that none of us has all of the answers.
In Judaism, we comfort mourners by hoping that the memory of the person for whom they mourn will be for a blessing. Vivian’s memory has left us the burdensome blessing of trying to keep our hearts open and our emotional and political space wide, even as we grieve. To grieve, but never to let the grief be the reason to cause grief to anyone else.
And she left us the hopeful blessing to love our dear ones and to use our pain to create something better for all of us in this region.
[Access Moment‘s ongoing coverage of the Hamas-Israel war here.]