Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated on March 8. Thousands of events occur, not only on this day but also throughout March to mark the social, economic and political accomplishments of women. Organizations, charities, governments, educational institutions, women’s groups, corporations and the media celebrate the day, pointing to women’s accomplishments in a multitude of fields – diplomacy, business, banking, high tech, science, academe, even outer space. Except one – motherhood. And I found the absence of motherhood as a theme for International Women’s Day glaring.
Is motherhood an accomplishment? I fear the fight for women’s equal recognition on par with men will result in overlooking the importance of this quintessential feminine achievement.
When during our interview I asked Mrs. Ruchama Cabilo what she did after her marriage, she answered, her face beaming with joy, “I was a mother!”
In 1939 eighteen-year-old Ruchama Sisso married Makhluf Cabilo in Fez, Morocco. In 1940 she became a mother to Yvette, her oldest daughter, followed shortly by the birth of another daughter, Ester, then a son, Maurice, followed by three other sons, David, Mordechai and Shimon, and one more daughter, Miriam.
Mother Ruchama’s pride and joy knows no bounds. “Yvette and Ester, each have three daughters. Miriam has two sons and two daughters…. And the boys, they each have sons and daughters…baruch Hashem.” Ruchama smiles and her face blushes, radiating excitement as she reveals these vital statistics.
“Great-grandchildren, how many?” I ask. Mother Ruchama’s excitement turns to agitation. “Forgive me,” she whispers, shaking her head, and I understand that the blessing of great-grandchildren, their number, is not spoken of… for fear of superstition.
The family thrived in Fez. The father, Makhlouf Cabilo, as a manager of what was called a “book gallery” but actually was a “sort of bazaar for a colorful blend of merchandise from books, to toys to musical instruments,” provided a lavish life-style for Ruchama and her children.
Yet, despite the comforts of Morocco, Ruchama’s heart yearned for Zion. Her beloved parents, ardent Zionists Shimon & Miriam Sisso, had left Morocco for Eretz Yisrael in 1955, settling in the coastal city of Netanya, with a son and two daughters they brought with them from the Diaspora.
Ruchama’s moment arrived in 1961,when her favorite, sixteen-year-old son, Maurice joined the Youth Aliyah movement and went to Israel, joining his maternal grandparents in Netanya. It took less than half a year for Ruchama to get her brood ready for the journey to the Holy Land. The whole family followed the pioneering son who in turn had followed his pioneering ancestors.
Ruchama, her husband and her children settled in Netanya’s Amidar neighborhood. Father Makhluf found employment in the ABIR beer company, and the seven children, completing their schooling and their army service, each married and settled down to build their lives and the Jewish homeland.
Makhluf Cabilo died many years ago. But ninety-five-year old Ruchama, living near her children, carries on the life of motherhood, watching the growth and development of the coming generations, and contributing maternal love and wisdom for their welfare.