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Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Alh`jooj

Jonathan Kroft(panel moderator) MP Christine Melnick, Serge Kaptegaine, Gaston Lopez Ficher, Vivian Silver, and Armal Elsana Alh'jooj

Alexa Dirks and Ariel Posen performing for the day's participants

Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Alh'jooj delivering the keynote address

Vivian Silver and Amal Elsana Ahl'jooj Speak of Equality and Peace Making at Gray Academy's Raoul Wallenberg Day

By Ashley Morgan, Gaston Lopez Ficher with files from the Winnipeg Jewish Review, Jan 30, 2012

Co-executive directors of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, Vivian Silver, a [former Winnipegger ] and  Bedouin Amal Elsana Alh`jooj gave a keynote address on January 17th to  over 200 high school students from Gray Academy of Jewish Education and St. John’s-Ravenscourt School. The two schools came together to commemorate Raoul Wallenberg Day – a day honouring Raoul Wallenberg who saved the lives of over 100,000 Jews during the Shoa. 
The theme for Gray Academy’s student-led day was: “If you will it, it is no dream.” In keeping with this, all the day’s participants aimed to show students that if they set their minds to a certain goal, nothing could come in the way of them reaching their target.  
The day began with a speech from Mayor Sam Katz , followed by the keynote address by the two women who have been honoured for their work in promting  peace and co-existence. 
“It is wonderful to see youth taking the initiative to spur each other on to make positive changes for the people around them,” said Alh`jooj, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee for her One Thousand Women submission in 2005. “Though I’ve seen groups around the world struggling to come to a peaceful agreement, it’s encouraging to know tomorrow’s leaders are looking to find ways to thrive together.”
Both Amal and Vivian, who also spoke at the Shaarey Zedek synagogue on Jan 17, work toward building a shared Jewish and Arab society in Israel.
Amal spoke about the gender stereotypes she faced growing up in her Beduin community. At a young age, Amal was given the “male” role of tending to the sheep because her father had no sons. This made her see her potential and she wanted to go to school to discover it. Caving to tribal pressures, Amal’s father wouldn’t allow his daughter to go to the private specialized high school his son went to because of her gender. When she was just a teenager, Amal taught the women in her tribe, gaining their respect and the respect of her father. Despite Amal’s mother’s objections, Amal’s father later encouraged Amal to get a higher education. Instead of staying in the women’s tent learning to cook and sew, Amal fought to show people that she – and other women – were capable of fulfilling the roles of either gender.
Amal fights courageously for equality for all citizens of Israel. As she has explained in the book ,Sixty Years Sixty Voices, " Some Bedouin villages along the roads existed before Israel was established and they still are not recognized, they have no electricity, nothing. Many Jews pass through our villages and don’t even see them. We are invisible. The gaps in equality are huge in budget allocations, infrastructure, policy-making, decision-making. 
"We are Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian, and we will be in Israel forever. .. Cooperation is not a matter of choice; we must have equality between the two people and mutual understanding where each can fulfill his potential."
Vivian Silver spoke about how her arrival to Israel in 1974 inspired her to become an influence for change. When Vivian set out to re-establish Kibbutz Gezer with an American Garin, she was astounded to learn that even in the kibbutz there were gender roles. Women were to be in traditional women’s jobs (kitchen, laundry, and child care) and men in traditional male jobs (field work, cow shed, mechanics, and construction). She was elected the kibbutz's first secretary general and subsequently became Gezer's construction manager. After moving with her family to Kibbutz Be’eri in the Negev, Vivian continued working in construction on the Kibbutz where many Arab Israelis were employed. She was disturbed to learn about the widening gap in the treatment of Israel's Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens. Vivian was soon asked to join the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (NISPED) and has spent the last 12 years working toward equal treatment for all of the men and women of Israel.
In the book Sixty Years Sixty Voices, Vivian stated
"For Israel, the critical issue internally is how the Jewish majority treaties its Arab minority. We have a lot of answering to do. Once your eyes get opened, they can never be closed again. I have had the privilege of being exposed to life as Arabs and Palestinians live it, so I can never go back. For me as a Jew, it’s an existential moral question. All citizens have to be treated equally, with dignity and respect."
She believes that it is critical to seek out those Palestinians who have said all along a solution of two states can be achieved.
As she further noted in the book,
"We can continue to accuse the other of sabotaging peace, or we can take a leap of faith.
My life is in danger from rockets launched from Gaza. Their lives are in danger from our retaliation and attacks. They are right to complain about treatment at the checkpoints, and about the wall and the evil conception of where we are building it.
"We each have to say, 'We each have the legitimate right to be frightened and distrustful, but we have to break out of cycle.” I believe enough people on both sides are able to do that and do it now, in spite of the terrible pain of what is going on in the Gaza Strip.'
Students appreciated the stories shared by the two women, and were also able to engage with additional speakers that have shaped our community. Judy Richichi, Shimon Segal, Yael Shrom, Emma Fineblit, David Rubenfeld, Rabbi Shmuel Altein, and students from Children of the Earth High School came to share stories about their experiences fighting for social justice. However, the day wasn’t just devoted to conversation. 
“We wanted to encourage students to take action,” said Yael Rudoy, a grade 12 student and one of the event’s organizers. “After two successful fundraising projects, Gray Academy donated 200 fleece winter sets to Koats for Kids and $200 to Siloam Mission. We were very proud of the students’ eagerness to help.” 
There was also a community component to the fundraiser. After four hours of collecting donations at a table in the Asper Jewish Community Campus, community members generously helped students raise an additional $395 to help the day’s chosen charities.
“Raoul Wallenberg Day is nationally recognized,” said Rudoy. “We hope that when people see students being leaders for positive change, it will give them the inspiration needed to fight together against the wrongdoings in our society.”
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