Poet Elisheva Bikhovsky Dies
Elisheva Bikhovski. Photo: National Photo Collection of Israel
March 27, 1949

Elisheva Bikhovsky, one of the “four mothers” of modern Hebrew poetry, dies of cancer at age 60 in Tiberias and is buried at Kvutzat Kinneret, a kibbutz. A native of Russia with English, Irish, German and Russian roots, Bikhovsky fell in love with the Hebrew language and Zionism despite not being Jewish after she was exposed to them by her Jewish friends.

When she started writing poetry in Russian after the 1917 Russian Revolution, she received a poor response. She had been studying Hebrew since 1913 after a Hebrew newspaper caught her attention, and by 1920 she decided to write in Hebrew instead of Russian. The Hebrew press loved her, partly because of her unusual background.

Her poems, simply signed “Elisheva,” were typically short and lyrical and often had an air of melancholy. Unlike most Hebrew poetry at the time, her poems lacked biblical or rabbinic references, boosting her popularity. She connected the Hebrew and Russian literary communities, translating work and promoting the latest writers and developments.

She was the first woman to write a volume of Hebrew poetry published in Palestine and the first woman to write a novel in Hebrew. She also wrote many short stories about life in Russia. All of her accomplishments led to her crowning as one of the “four mothers” of modern Hebrew poetry, along with Rachel Bluwstein, Esther Raab and Yocheved Bat Miriam.

She married Shimon Bikhovsky, her Zionist Hebrew tutor, in 1920 and moved with him and their daughter to Palestine in 1925. But, despite what many people thought, she did not convert to Judaism. After Shimon died in 1932, Elisheva became increasingly isolated, partly because she was not Jewish. Her popularity declined, and she wrote less until her death.