Streetwise: Rehov Abba Khoushy, Haifa

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March 27, 2008 23:34

If the former mayor of Haifa Abba Khoushy were alive, would he laugh wryly or sigh in despair on his way up the main thoroughfare named after him?




If the iconic former mayor of Haifa Abba Khoushy were alive to walk the city's streets today, would he laugh wryly or sigh in despair on his way up the main thoroughfare named after him? For this man had a vision of multiculturism and environment-friendly development for his city, of academia and industry, based on a solid foundation of socialist Zionism. Rehov Abba Khoushy is the main artery from Ahuza to Usfiya, a continuation of the route from the Central Carmel, Horev Medical Center and shopping mall. Although it leaves behind this busy neighborhood and winds through open countryside, it is fitting that Rehov Abba Khoushy continues to the Druse village of Usfiya, with its elegant homes and markets selling furniture, garden urns, bright clothing and ethnic arts and crafts. For Khoushy, a Hagana commander in the battle for Haifa, was given refuge by the Druse of Usfiya and Daliat al-Carmel and throughout his tenure as mayor he fought for the rights of the Druse communities. Starting from Usfiya, Rehov Abba Khoushy crosses some of the country's most spectacular forestry with amazing views of the Carmel coast on one side and the Haifa Bay on the other. Heading toward town, the first sign of development is the University of Haifa, founded during Khoushy's tenure. The Technion already existed, but Khoushy recognized the need for an academic institution focusing on the humanities. He would be impressed by the large campus, which is internationally recognized for its education and law faculties and its emerging scientific achievements. Continuing down the road, his eyebrows would have been raised, for this Galician pioneer, a man of the earth, probably did not anticipate that one day this dry, dusty, dirt track over the Carmel would be developed into the most expensive neighborhoods in Haifa. The gardens and villas of Danya, the luxury blocks and terraced apartments of Ahuza were not dreamed of when Khoushy fought for the survival of Haifa's Jews in the War of Independence. One of the older buildings in the street is Beit Biram, the Reali high school. Unique in Israel, the Reali School educated some of the state's greatest political and military leaders. Once the lone building on this mountain road, Beit Biram, with its green and tree-lined campus, is now surrounded by apartments and small businesses, and buses and heavy traffic roar down Rehov Abba Khoushy day and night. The street ends a few blocks before the Horev junction, which is forever being reconstructed and redirected. Some years ago, Rehov Freud, a narrow country lane through which everyone went to stroll or picnic on the mountainside, was widened and a main access road built down to the coast. This was a much-needed exit from the Carmel, but as a result the quiet traffic circle at Ahuza, with a kiosk in the middle where a grumpy vendor sold his newspapers, became a four-lane junction. Abba Khoushy (born Abba Shneller in Galicia in 1898) was mayor of Haifa from 1951 till his death in 1969. It is his legacy that the city is known as Red Haifa and it was in his time that the saying Jerusalem studies, Tel Aviv dances and Haifa works was coined. He immigrated to Palestine in 1920 in the Third Aliya, whose Polish and Russian socialist Zionists were a creative force which transformed the Yishuv and influenced its leadership, founding the Histadrut and creating the Hagana. Together with Mordecai Shenhavi, he helped to establish the Hashomer Hatza'ir Battalion, followed a year later by the founding of the kibbutz of that name which was a forerunner for the establishment in 1923 of Heftziba and Beit Alfa and in 1926, Mishmar Ha'emek. Khoushy moved to Haifa in 1927 and immediately dreamed of its future as a cultural and industrial center, a garden city, situated as it is on the coast flanked by the mountains. As a poet and songwriter, he appreciated environmental beauty and the necessity to create work for the city. From 1932 to 1951 he was secretary-general of the Haifa Workers' Council. Although heavy industries were established in the Haifa Bay during the Mandate - the population still suffers from this - Khoushy wanted to create work opportunities in a more far-reaching way so that the population would grow and prosper. When Haifa Port was constructed in the 1930s, he persuaded 500 Jewish workers from the Greek port of Thessalonika to relocate here, and this ultimately saved them from the Holocaust. For him, a road worker during his first months in the country, labor was honor for the Jews, and not to be delegated to foreigners. Khoushy built up a life-long relationship with the Druse and Arab communities of Haifa. In 1948 at the conclusion of the War of Independence, he engineered an agreement to protect the Druse ensuring that they could continue to live as Israeli citizens in their villages. He spoke fluent Arabic and believed that the only way to coexist with the Arabs of Haifa was to work together and share cultures. Much later in 1963, when mayor, he established Beit Hagefen, the Arab-Jewish Cultural Center. But in 1948, when the Arabs were being pressured by their own leaders to leave the city, he went from home to home to try to persuade them to stay. He firmly believed that a multicultural city could rise out of the ashes. He worked closely with the Arab leaders of the city to reestablish the coexistence that had flourished before the troubles. "The exodus of the Arabs who left need never have happened if their leaders had not branded them as traitors if they stayed," he said. As a Labor Party leader, Abba Khoushy was in the First Knesset from 1949. An educated man who spoke many languages, he inspired and supported the laying of some of the most significant educational and cultural cornerstones during his tenure: the University of Haifa, the Technion Medical School, the Haifa Theater, the Youth Orchestra, Beit Hasofrim, Beit Hagefen and the Carmelit underground railway - which carries passengers from the top station to downtown in 10 minutes, avoiding snarling traffic. In the spirit of cultural tolerance, he also supported the religious status quo which still influences Haifa. His wife, Hannah, was his childhood sweetheart who had accompanied him on his aliya when she was only 17. They had three children, Ruth born in 1927, Gadi, born in 1930, and Dan in 1932. Gadi died in a childhood accident. It was Hannah who created Haifa's Mothers Day on the second day of Hanukka 1951, the birthday of Liba, Khoushy's mother. What became a tradition in the city was to boost the mood of the city's women who were working in difficult times. Trees were planted to create a park, Gan Ha'em, on Central Carmel. Not all of his legacy has survived. Subsequent mayors have focused less on culture and the environment. Today's citizens are fighting to prevent haphazard development which threatens to destroy the beaches and natural park land, and to preserve some of the cultural institutions established by Khoushy. Would Abba Khoushy be nostalgic for the old Haifa or would he rejoice in the development of his beloved city? If he took a walk up the street named in his memory, would he be appalled at the high-rise apartment blocks and building sites scarring the mountainside and the traffic roaring into town or would he recognize that this is progress?

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