Rachel Bluwstein (1890–1931)

Rachel immigrated to Eretz Israel from Russia in 1909 and was one of the first students at Kinneret’s agricultural school.  She was a prolific and well-loved poet. Much of her work has been set to music and is an integral part of Israeli culture. Books of her hugely popular poems can be found in a stainless-steel container attached to her grave. She appears on the Bank of Israel’s 20NIS banknote.

Rachel was born in Saratov in Imperial Russia September 20 1890. She was the youngest of eleven daughters of Isser-Leib and Sophia Bluwstein. Her grandfather was the Rabbi in Kiev. During. Her family moved to Poltava, Ukraine, where she attended a Russian-speaking Jewish school. She began writing poetry at the age of 15. When she was 17, she moved to Kiev and began studying painting.

Rachel first visited Eretz Israel when she was 18 with her sister where they planned to study art and philosophy. They decided to stay on as Zionist pioneers. They settled in Rehovot and worked in the orchards. Rachel moved to Kvutzat Kinneret where she studied and worked in a women’s agricultural school. At Kinneret, she met Zionist leader A. D. Gordon who was to be a great influence on her life, and to whom she dedicated her first Hebrew poem.

In 1913, on the advice of Gordon, she journeyed to Toulouse, France to study agronomy and drawing. When World War I broke out, unable to return to Eretz Israel, she returned instead to Russia where she taught Jewish refugee children. Life in Russia was tough and she suffered poverty and contracted lung disease.

She returned to Eretz Israel in 1919 from Russia. She joined the small kibbutz Degania near Kinneret. Shortly after her arrival at the kibbutz she was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unable to work with children for fear of contagion, she left Degania. In 1925 she lived briefly in a small white house in the courtyard of the William Holman Hunt House at No. 64 Street of the Prophets in Jerusalem. She spent the rest of her life traveling and living in Tel Aviv finally being sent to a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients in Gedera.

Rachel died on April 16, 1931 in Tel Aviv, at the age of 40. She is buried in the Kinneret cemetery in a grave overlooking the Sea of Galilee, following her wishes as expressed in her poem ‘If Fate Decrees’. Alongside her are buried many of the pioneers of the second and third waves of immigration. Naomi Shemer is buried near Rachel, according to Shemer’s wish.