Alice Hildegard Margulies was born on Oct. 16, 1926, in Essen, the industrial city in western Germany, the youngest of three children of Benzion and Perl Margulies, who were first cousins. Her parents owned a wholesale business selling linens and cutlery. Theirs was a cultured home, filled with music and literature, infused by her father’s devotion to his synagogue and the religious Zionist movement. Alice was a solitary child, especially after her sister died of pleurisy when Alice was 2, leaving her with a much older brother with whom she had little in common.
As Hitler rose to power and Nazi harassment of Jews intensified, the family fled south to Mannheim, where they had relatives, and finally to London in 1934.
In Britain, where she was called “the little refugee girl” at school, Alice, a voracious reader, nurtured a passion for English literature. Although English was not her first language, she won numerous writing awards and was accepted to Newnham, one of two women’s colleges at Cambridge University.
She excelled in her studies and became immersed in Jewish life on campus. There, foreshadowing her later activist inclinations, she proposed one day that women, too, should lead the singing at Shabbat meals. To her surprise, the men agreed.
“And, the following Friday evening, I made history by being the first woman to lead,” Dr. Shalvi wrote in her memoir. “Unfortunately, the victory was marred. In my nervousness, I pitched my voice too high and, to my shame, had to readjust the key after the first two lines. But the precedent had been set.”