The Work Unfinished: Remembering Hilda Silverman
Jennifer Bing-Canar is the National Coordinator of the
American Friends Service Committee's Middle East Peacebuilding
Hilda Silverman had a way of connecting people. "Did you read my friend Sandy's book, The Lemon Tree? Let me introduce you two, so you can plan a speaking tour," she told me last spring at a gathering of progressive Jewish activists. Hilda's wide network of friends and colleagues was built during her nearly three decades of work for a just peace in Israel and Palestine which included working with AFSC, the ACLU, Cambridge Peace Commission, Workman's Circle, Jewish Voice for Peace, and other progressive groups.
Together with Hilda's friends and family, colleagues from these organizations gathered over Memorial Day weekend in Cambridge, Massachusetts to mourn the death and celebrate the life of Hilda Silverman. Hilda died in early May 2008 of cancer.
Hilda's death leaves for many an enormous gap, as she played many roles: mentor, teacher, friend, and moral guide. "We're left without our moral compass," one friend shared, and indeed Hilda's commitment to the work for a just peace stemmed from her compassion for others, especially those who suffer under the dehumanizing impact of military occupation.
Hilda is remembered for asking the hard questions, holding people accountable to take action rooted in principles and values, and to stay the course, even if actions might produce controversy. Never one to shy from taking risks herself, Hilda's life included many situations where Hilda spoke truth to the powerful, including to elected US officials. In 1987 she joined a Jewish delegation of Americans who visited Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in Tunis, and later volunteered to accompany Palestinians back to their homeland.
Physician, author, and activist Alice Rothchild wrote a poem in honor of Hilda and her contributions to the important work for a lasting peace in Israel/Palestine. "We are all enriched by the example of your lust for life and your passion for action. The letters on your ancient computer keyboard were long rubbed off and dissolved by the sweat and pounding of your frenetic, talkative fingers."
Hilda served as a member of a Quaker working party on Israel and Palestine that traveled to the Middle East in June 2002 and later published a book, When the Rain Returns: Toward Justice and Reconciliation in Palestine and Israel (excerpted in Peacework in February, 2005). Jim Matlack, a Quaker member of that 2002 collective and former director of AFSC's Washington, DC office, spoke at Hilda's memorial remembering her special contribution as a Jewish woman proud of her heritage, possessing a passion for life and justice that heavily influenced all the members of the group. Hilda also played an important role in AFSC's recent consideration of an investment screen concerning financial support for military occupation and violence.
All of us gathered at Hilda's memorial felt a great sense of loss. We will dearly miss the wise counsel, love, and energy that Hilda brought to our common work for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.
As we remember her life's contributions, we are inspired to continue the work she left unfinished.