Mother's Day

Having convinced the state to recognize her biological daughter as also belonging to her partner who died in the Carmel fire, Rachel Algabasi now fights to adopt her sons.

Rachel Algabasi and her daughter Julie (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Rachel Algabasi and her daughter Julie
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
In November 2010, at her 48th birthday celebration, Paviola (Pavi) Bohadana surprised everyone around her when she made an uncharacteristic announcement. A friend asked Bohadana when she was going to be promoted to lieutenant-colonel. She raised her glass of beer and answered that there was nothing to worry about, the rank would be written on her gravestone.
Just a few days later, she repeated those words to a friend. Rachel Algabasi, her partner, believes that Bohadana knew that her death was imminent.
Almost every evening she would sit with her eldest son, Evyatar, who suffers from a mild developmental disorder, and talk with him about his late grandparents. Sometimes they would open the window and gaze up at the stars together.
“I guess Pavi felt something,” Algabasi says. “She explained to Evyatar that after they die, people could no longer communicate by phone or text. It was important to her that Evyatar knew there was another world, even though there was no communication between the two worlds.
“I still don’t know why I didn’t stop her from saying these things. It’s as if my mind went blank.
Why would she have needed to explain to an 11- year-old about death? I guess something in her subconscious made her. After she died, I had an easy time explaining to Evyatar what happened to his mother, that she was in heaven now. Pavi had prepared him for this while she was still alive.”
Twenty-six months have passed since Paviola Bohadana was killed in the Carmel Forest fire. She was on the bus with the cadets and the Israel Prison Service officers that caught fire and took the lives of 44 people including three police officers and three firefighters.
After the fire, Algabasi quit her job so that she could take care of the three children she and Bohadana had together. She is the one who runs to Evyatar when he wakes up in the morning crying for his mother. She is the one who copes with 12- year-old Noam’s fear of abandonment. And it is her heart that aches as she gazes upon three-year-old Julie, who, surprisingly enough, resembles the mother who did not give birth to her and who will not see her grow up. Just two weeks ago, Algabasi felt that she was finally beginning to come to terms with her partner’s death. After fighting with the Defense Ministry’s pension officer, who had refused to recognize Julie as Bohadana’s daughter, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court ruled that Julie is eligible to receive the same child allowance as her older siblings.
Currently, Algabasi is working on her next task: officially adopting Evyatar and Noam.
One thing will forever remain unknown: She will never know what was going through her partner’s mind during the last few moments of her life.
“An officer who survived the fire was the last one to see Bohadana alive,” Algabasi says as her voice breaks. “She said that she yelled to Pavi to jump out of the burning bus, but Pavi looked at her and said ‘Until the last cadet gets off the bus, I’m not getting off.’” When asked how she feels about her partner’s decision to die with the cadets rather than to save herself for her family, Algabasi explains, “If Pavi had returned home alive, she would have died here. Not just spiritually, but physically too. Her heart would have just stopped and I would have had to arrange her funeral. As a commander, Pavi would not have been able to accept that her cadets had died but she had survived. So I will never be angry or disappointed by her decision not to save herself. Pavi did what she believed was the right thing to do. Even when all mothers were asked to get off the bus, she refused. Pavi was the only mother who continued.”
She is constantly thinking about what must have been going through Bohadana’s mind during those last few moments.
“The last 10 seconds trouble me the most. People try to tell me that the guards didn’t feel anything, but I believe that the first few seconds were painful. Very. These are the seconds that haunt me.
How much pain she must have felt.
“The night before the fire, Pavi was quieter than usual,” Algabasi says. She sat in the living room and checked the cadets’ exams. She fell asleep on the couch with the papers scattered around her, which was not like her at all. In the morning, we woke up late. As I was about to leave the house to go to work, Pavi took Julie in her arms, kissed her and started dancing with her and singing Hanukka songs, even though she would be late getting Evyatar to his bus. I looked at her, shocked, not understanding why she would want to dance with the baby when we were running so late. Today I am happy that I didn’t get mad. Apparently, she was saying goodbye to Julie.”
At noon on December 2, 2010, Bohadana called Algabasi to tell her she was on a bus headed for the Carmel. “There's a fire,” she said. “Turn on the radio.” Later, Algabasi sent Bohadana a text message: “Keep safe.”
“Don’t worry, there are a lot of people with me,” was her reply.
“Don’t be a hero; you have three children at home,” Algabasi wrote.
A flood of phone calls to Algabasi began that afternoon and she began to feel uneasy. She left work and went to visit a friend from the Prisons Service in Kiryat Ekron, hoping to find answers there. When she arrived, the phone rang. One of the officers told Algabasi that Bohadana was safe and she could relax.
“I asked her what had happened to the other people on the bus and she told me they had all died,” Algabasi recalls tearfully. “I knew right then that Pavi was dead. I told the officer that there had been a mistake, that Pavi could not be alive if everyone else had died.”
About an hour later, another call came in saying that Bohadana had survived. Algabasi became quiet and turned on the TV; she saw the burning black bus lying on its side. Within minutes, the house began to fill with people. Algabasi remembers that she insisted that she be the one to tell the children that their mother had died and not to let the psychologists do it for her.
PAVIOLA BOHODANA was born 50 years ago in Bordeaux, France. Her father, a policeman, was murdered before she was born, and her mother decided to move their small family to Israel.
Bohadana studied theater and then began to work for the Israel Prisons Service immediately following her military service.
Algabasi is 40 years old. She grew up in Beit Shemesh, the youngest child of a 13-member traditional family. She fulfilled her dream of working for the Prisons Service and met Bohadana on her first day of work at the Neveh Tirza women’s prison. However, Algabasi was afraid of Bohadana and they did not have much contact in the beginning.
“I remember one night we did a security check outside the walls with a flashlight. One of the guards told me that Pavi used to hide and make sure that the check had been carried out properly.
Only after we became partners did I tell her about how fearful I had been that night. And then Pavi told me her secret: she’s afraid of the dark. So we put solar energy lights around her grave so that she would always have light.
“We weren’t in contact for many months and then I heard from a friend that Pavi had given birth to a baby boy. Up until then I had never heard of a lesbian getting pregnant. I had a sudden realization – I also wanted a child! I called up Pavi to congratulate her and we decided to meet up.
From that moment, we became the best of friends.”
The relationship was not romantic. “We were just good friends. We would go out about once a month together to pubs and Pavi didn’t even know that I was gay. She only found out when she came to my father’s shiva 10 years ago. She was so surprised and congratulated me that I had been able to hide it from the guards at Neveh Tirza. At that point, our relationship strengthened. We knew everything about each other and would ask each other for advice about relationships. Pavi saved me more than once from a terrible date!” They fell in love seven years ago. “We went together to dinner at our friend Orna’s house.
During the dinner, Pavi put her hand on my neck and I froze. Something happened inside my body.
I couldn’t concentrate on anything anybody was saying. I sent my niece a text to come pick me up now and take me home.”
What scared Algabasi was that “I was afraid that I’d lose Pavi as a friend and I wanted to clear my head,” she continues. “I didn’t return Pavi’s phone calls for an entire month. She didn’t understand why, since we were used to speaking on the phone in the evenings. Finally, she called from an unidentified number and I answered. I promised her that we could go back to being friends, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what to say to her. Then one night she confronted me and I told her everything.
“I told her how I felt, that I was afraid of hurting our friendship. Pavi didn’t say a word. When I finished talking, I hung up the phone. Then I received a text from her that I was very important to her and that she would wait until I got through this. It was the first time in my life that I had been rejected.”
The two didn’t speak for eight months. “Then one night I got a text from Pavi asking if I would meet her at a bar, Algabasi recalls. “When I got there, she looked me over from head to toe. That night, just before I fell asleep, Pavi called me and told me that she had been very moved when she saw me. We decided to meet up. I will never forget what happened.
I got into her car and sat perfectly still. We drove to her house.
When we walked inside, I didn’t know what to do with myself. I stood in place for a few minutes, trying to figure out where to put my bag, until Pavi took hold of my arm and turned me toward her. After that we were never apart. It was true love.”Translated by Hannah Hochner