Streetwise: A modest life

Although her husband was the mayor of Petah Tikva, it is after Hedva Rashish that the street is named.

Rehov Hedva 88 248 (photo credit: David Deutsch)
Rehov Hedva 88 248
(photo credit: David Deutsch)
Rehov Hedva Rashish, Petah Tikva Who was Hedva Rashish after whom a long, leafy pedestrian walkway in Petah Tikva was named more than 30 years ago? Her husband was the mayor of the city from 1951 to 1966 but no streets are named for him. To find out I spoke to their daughter, Ziva Maor, an English teacher, who was able to give a fascinating account of her mother's life and also to describe what it was like growing up in the 1950s as the daughter of public figures who lived so modestly that home was a two-room apartment where the parents slept in the lounge, and only public transportation was used to get around. Hedva Rashish was born in Poland in 1912 to a poor but devout family. Her father, Yitzhak Morgenstern, was a Belz Hassid and a cantor in the local synagogue of Rava-Ruska, and although the family was religiously observant, her parents had a liberal outlook on life and encouraged secular education for their children. Hedva, whose name then was Friedka, joined the Zionist youth movement Gordonia and absorbed its ideals of building a new society in the Land of Israel based on physical labor. Her parents even allowed her to travel to a neighboring town for hachshara, training for life in Israel - and in 1935 she left Rava-Ruska for good, joined a group of trainees near Haifa and changed her name from Friedke Morgenstern to Hedva Shahar. The book about her life, written by Yosef Hanani, gives fascinating insights into the behavior of these idealistic young pioneers who came from Europe to build the land. Together with Hedva's group who had come from Galicia were several young people from the Viennese group Hehalutz. Tensions between the two were so bad that eventually the group split up. Hedva went to work as a waitress. She explained to a friend that she had come to do physical labor and it didn't matter to her in what form. Later she worked at Moetzet Hapoalim in Petah Tikva, where she met the love of her life, Pinhas Rashish, a kibbutznik who was involved in local politics. Unfortunately he was already married and had a son. Hedva battled with her feelings for him for two years (whether he reciprocated them is not clear) and eventually decided she would not destroy another woman's life. She left Petah Tikva and joined Kibbutz Givat Brenner. "My mother was not physically strong," says Maor, "so that on kibbutz she became a teacher rather than work in the orchards and this suited her better." In 1947 she volunteered to go to Cyprus and teach the children of refugees and Holocaust survivors interned there by the British. In one of her letters home she writes, "It seems to me that all of us who have come here and seen the fate of the Jews with our own eyes fall head over heels in love with these people." In another letter she writes, "I am witnessing a human drama that is beyond the power of words to describe - a huge crowd of Jews living behind barbed wire and doing everything in their power to create a feeling of freedom... It breaks one's heart, especially when one sees the children and young people who have lived through hell trying to find a glimmer of happiness here." On her return to Israel she joined Kibbutz Givat Hashlosha where Rashish, now a widower, lived. They married and in 1948 their son was born. Ziva was born in 1952. Rashish, in a surprise result, was elected mayor of Petah Tikva in 1951, ending the haredi hold on the city which had been there since its inception. Hedva was now the first lady of Petah Tikva, but refused to bow to protocol. She went everywhere by bus, went out every morning at six to buy rolls in the bakery and for years didn't even have a washing machine. "She was a wonderful listener and people would just come to the apartment to tell her their troubles and she tried to help everyone," recalls Maor. In 1958 the beloved son, Moshe, died of leukemia and this was another turning point in Hedva's life. After some years of mourning, she threw herself into public activities to, as Maor put it, "channel her sorrow into something positive." She became the head of the Soldiers' Welfare Association and later used to travel every day to a school in a nearby town - she did not want to work in the town where her husband was the mayor - to teach disadvantaged youth. She did whatever was required of her as the mayor's wife, like welcoming the president, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, and appearing at Independence Day ceremonies, but she was happiest teaching and living a simple modest life. Maor remembers a visit by the mayor of Ramat Gan, Avraham Krinizi. "They looked different, he and his wife," she says. "They were rich and well dressed. In those days nobody had much so they stood out." Hedva Rashish died at 58 in 1970. Four years later the lane running through the neighborhood where Maor grew up was named for her mother. As the epilogue to the biography puts it, "Streets are usually named for heroes, famous people and great achievers. This avenue is named for a woman of the people who remained faithful to her origins until her last day, striving to help her fellow man in every way. In Hedva love of people, her honesty and her modesty lived together in perfect harmony."