Rachel Bluwstein went down in history as the first noted female poet of British Mandate Palestine, emerging as a respected poetess in a genre dominated at the time by men.
Born September 20, 1890, in Imperial Russia, Bluwstein was the granddaughter of the rabbi of Kiev’s Jewish community. She moved to the Ukraine at a young age with her family, attending Jewish day school. She then moved to a secular high school, where she first took up poetry.
Bluwstein was en route to Italy for a holiday at the age of 19, making a stop in Eretz Israel with her sister along the way. There, both girls decided to settle.
The Bluwstein sisters became Zionist pioneers, learning Hebrew and working in local orchards in Rehovot. Rachel later moved near the Sea of Galilee, where she began work at an agricultural school.
Bluwstein’s poetry developed during those early years in Israel. Some of her earlier works included love poems, some dedicated to the man who would become the third prime minister of Israel, Zalman Shazar.
In 1920 her first poem was published—“Mood.” It ran in the newspaper Davar, where her poems would continue to be published on a near weekly basis for some time.
Numerous compilations of her work have been published posthumously, like “As Rachel Waited” and “In My Garden.”
Bluwstein was in France when World War I erupted. Unable to return to Israel, she traveled back to her native Kiev, teaching to Jewish refugee children in the area. Historians believe it was here she contracted tuberculosis, which might have been a side effect of a childhood lung problem.
At the end of the war she returned to Israel, living in Jerusalem then Tel Aviv. She settled in a hospital for tuberculosis patients, and finally succumbed to the disease on April 16, 1931. She was just 40 years old.
In 2011, Bluwstein was chosen as one of four Israeli poets to appear on national currency.