Female tour de force

While the annual Women's Festival in Holon has evolved into the main International Women's Day event in Israel, there are others, such as two women-oriented tours, which will take place in Tel Aviv on Friday, March 3 and March 17. The first tour, about creative women who spent part or most of their lives in Tel Aviv, led by Yossi Goldberg, will start out from the Colosseum at Kikar Atarim at 10 a.m. It may seem unusual for a man to be conducting a tour entirely devoted to women, but Goldberg has been fascinated by gender studies ever since he read the biography of the great Habimah actress and diva of the Hebrew theater Hannah Rovina, who had a passionate romance with the poet Alexander Penn by whom she bore a daughter Ilana, who grew up to become a well-known singer. Having children out of wedlock was not exactly the acceptable thing to do in the 1930s, yet Rovina encountered more admiration than criticism for not abandoning her baby. Naturally, Rovina is one of the heroines of Goldberg's tour. Others include poet, painter and translator Leah Goldberg; painter and poet Yona Wallach; and painter Tzilla Binder, who for more than 30 years was the lover of poet, playwright and journalist Natan Alterman while he was married to actress Rachel Marcus Alterman, one of the early members of the Cameri Theater. Marcus is featured in the tour along with their daughter, Tirza Atar, who was a poet and playwright. Leah Goldberg suffered from unrequited love, and many aspects of her life that had previously been unknown came to light with the relatively recent publication of her diaries. For one thing, her father was insane, and she was always afraid that his insanity might be hereditary and would be passed on to her. Yona Wallach spent time in a mental hospital, and although Rachel Marcus accepted her husband's infidelity with good grace, Tirza Atar could never come to terms with the humiliation that her father had caused xher mother. There are many similarities between Atar and celebrated poet and novelist Sylvia Plath. While it is known for a fact that Plath took her own life by putting her head in a gas oven, Atar's death continues to remain a mystery. Did she fall from the balcony or did she jump? Goldberg will take participants on his tour to the homes or places frequented by his heroines - such as the legendary Caf Cassit that was once the favorite rendezvous of Tel Aviv's bohemian set. He will also read from their writings and tell stories about them culled from books and press clippings. There are certain similarities between some of the women; in trying to bring their characters to life, he will also attempt to find the threads of commonality. The second tour, conducted by Ayelet Eilon, is both a protest and a history lesson. The protest is the lack of fairness in the designation of Tel Aviv street names. There are some 2,500 streets in Tel Aviv, says Eilon, yet only 40 have been named for women - and of these a good many are devoted to biblical characters. Many of the women who played a significant role in the development of Tel Aviv have been overlooked in the naming of streets, she says. The most suitable place to introduce tour participants to these women is where they lie buried in the old Trumpeldor cemetery in the heart of Tel Aviv. This cemetery is also the final resting place of many of Israel's cultural elite and was where the queen of Israeli song, Shoshana Damari, was buried last month. The first woman to be buried at Trumpeldor cemetery was Rivka Baharov, one of the founders of Ahuzat Bayit, as Tel Aviv was originally called, and Hevra Hahadasha (the New Society). Baharov was a passionate advocate for the Hebrew language and constantly urged its usage. Early arrivals in the first Hebrew City were no less cloaked in diversity than residents of the present era. Such was Gencha Izaakson n e Treibisch, innkeeper, painter, poet and a lady known for her romantic favors. She too is buried at Trumpeldor as are Dobsha Ehrlich, who worked on behalf of prisoners; Shoshana Bigun, who fought for better rights and working conditions for the women who were employed by Jewish farmers; Sara Tahon, an ardent activist for women's rights and advancement of the status of women; Rachel Rokach and Rachel Goldenberg, who alongside their husbands worked for the welfare of the less fortunate; Devora Netzer, one of the pioneers of women's inclusion in political activity; and Hannah Bavli, whose name became synonymous with etiquette and good manners. A tour of the Trumpeldor cemetery in the company of a guide who knows the stories of the people whose names are etched on the tombstones can evolve into an exciting history lesson. Many of the women left comfortable homes and worried parents in Europe as they followed their husbands into the wilderness of the unknown of their ancestral homeland. Some, caught up in early Zionist fervor, came alone and built new lives for themselves. Textbooks and city monuments pay insufficient attention to women, says Eilon. "I want to rectify an injustice and talk only about women from 1902 to the present day." She will talk not only about women as individuals but also about feminism - which, she says, is not a new concept in Israel. Feminism did not arrive in the 1970s; rather, it was already here in the 1920s when women of the pre-state Yishuv fought for equal rights not just in political parties but in the communities in which they lived. It was only in 1926 that they won the right to vote and be elected to office. Naamat, or Moetzet Hapoalot (Pioneer Women) as it was previously called, was heavily embroiled in this battle, and almost every Naamat secretary-general since the establishment of the state has served in the Knesset. Both tours are in Hebrew. Participation costs NIS 30. The meeting place for the second tour is at the Hevron Street entrance to the cemetery at 10 a.m. For further details, contact Yossi Goldberg at 0507-705443 or Ayelet Eilon at 0528-481464.