Streetwise: Remembering Rahel

Ra'anana Municipality honors one of the two women who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Rahel street 88 248 (photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Rahel street 88 248
(photo credit: Gloria Deutsch)
Rehov Rahel Cohen-Kagan, Ra'anana The Ra'anana Municipality decided about two years ago that not enough of its streets were named for women and decided it would honor Rahel Cohen-Kagan, one of the signatories to the Declaration of Independence and a member of the Knesset who was chairwoman of WIZO and very active in promoting reforms for the advancement of women. They chose a tiny road which is really an extension of Rehov Deganya and for more than a year, no street sign went up and Rehov Rahel Cohen-Kagan existed only in the protocols of the municipality. I used to drive by there periodically to see if the dream had become a reality. And lo and behold, the tiny road now bears two signs declaring it is named in honor of Rahel Cohen-Kagan, whom WIZO stalwarts still remember with great affection and admiration. She was born Rahel Lubersky in Odessa in 1888 to a strongly Jewish and Zionist family. Her father had been one of the founders of the Hovevei Zion movement which preceded Herzl's vision. She studied mathematics at university, a field which few women were attracted to in those days, and married a physician, with whom she had two sons. In 1919 she set out for Palestine with her baby son on the S.S. Ruslan to join her husband in a small village in Upper Galilee and stayed there for two years, later moving to Jerusalem where she began her lifelong association with WIZO in the shape of its predecessor, the newly-founded Association of Hebrew Women. She confesses in her memoirs that in Jerusalem she found an odd sense of disorientation. "In Odessa," she writes, "I had lived a rich Jewish life. I knew who I was, among whom I sat. In Jerusalem for the first time I felt more Russian than Jewish. I began work with the Histadrut Nashim Ivriot to discover my identity." She began her activities devoted to improving the lot of women, which included helping to promote the Tipat Halav mother and child clinics started by her sister-in-law, the famous doctor Helena Kagan. As chairwoman of WIZO and later as a member of the Knesset, she continued to battle for women's rights. When David Ben-Gurion proclaimed the State of Israel in 1948, the 60-year-old Kagan was one of only two women signatories of the Declaration of Independence, the other being Golda Meir. But all these facts are recorded history and I wanted to know more about Rahel as a human being. Surely there must be WIZO women who remember her. First I turned to my old friend Tova Ben-Dov, who is chairwoman of the World WIZO Executive and who has been involved in WIZO activities for nearly five decades. "You must talk to Shula Braudo, who organized and chaired the first WIZO group in Savyon and is today the honorary life chairwoman of WIZO Israel. She knew her really well," Tova told me. Braudo, 91, was only too happy to share her reminiscences of Cohen-Kagan with me. "She was a wonderful woman and a good friend," recalls Braudo. "We all looked up to her as a role model. She was a very nice-looking woman and although she had only come to the country at the age of 21, she spoke perfect Hebrew. She was very lively and didn't shirk her duties in any way. Even as an old lady she used to come to our central committee meetings, arriving by bus and train from Haifa where she lived. I once thanked her fulsomely for coming to Tel Aviv even though it was pouring rain. She said, 'What do you think, that I walked from Haifa?' She had a great sense of humor." Among her many achievements were the founding of Ahuzat Yeladim in Haifa to house orphans, problem children and illegals trying to escape the British authorities; the creation of a mobile library service with books in nine languages, so immigrants could continue reading in their own language; the starting of a fund which still exists to help members who ran into financial trouble; the creation of home training and workshops and the legal advisory bureau on family matters. She initiated the law for equal rights for women, but was not happy with the final form in which the bill was passed and in the end did not vote for it. "She was ahead of her time and always looking and thinking ahead," says Braudo. "Sometimes when she came to meetings in Tel Aviv, she would stay over in my house, and one evening I took her to see the movie On Golden Pond. I asked her if she enjoyed it. She said it was 'too sentimental.'" At 94 Rahel Cohen-Kagan lay dying of bone cancer. "I went up to Haifa to see her," says Braudo. "She said to me, 'Promise you will carry on the fight so that old people get the same rights as young couples in housing and the same day-care centers that infants have.'" It may be a very small road, but it commemorates a giant of a woman.