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Kugel, Ḥayim

(1897–1966), educator and politician. Ḥayim Kugel was born in Minsk, Belorussia. His parents were members of Ḥoveve Tsiyon who sent him to study at the Herzliya gymnasium in Tel Aviv. With the outbreak of World War I, Kugel could not return to Palestine after his summer holidays, so he continued his schooling in Russia. Between 1920 and 1924, he attended the German University in Prague. He gave private lessons in modern Hebrew and founded the club ‘Ivriyah, which later became part of the Tarbut organization.

In 1924 Kugel moved to Subcarpathian Rus’ (Ruthenia), where he helped establish Hebrew primary schools. That same year he founded the Hebrew secondary school Ha-Gimnazyah ha-‘Ivrit in Mukačevo; it was the only secondary school in Czechoslovakia that used Hebrew as the language of instruction. From its founding, the Hebrew gymnasium was opposed by local Hasidim and leaders of the Czech Jewish movement. Moreover, the Czechoslovak state did not provide financial support for Hebrew educational institutions, despite the fact that Jews were recognized as a national minority. Consequently, Hebrew schools in Slovakia and Subcarpathian Rus’ had to be financed by Jewish institutions (especially Tarbut) and sympathetic individuals (including Tomáš G. Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia).

In 1935, Kugel was elected to the Czechoslovak parliament by Židovská Strana (the Jewish Party) and became a member of the Social Democratic faction. Though he repeatedly used his position to request state funding for Hebrew educational institutions, the situation did not change significantly. Kugel and Angelo Goldstein, another Jewish Party parliamentary deputy, were instrumental in preparing the law of 1937 that redefined the organization of Jewish religious communities in Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia. Interestingly, Kugel always spoke in Russian when addressing the Czechoslovak parliament.

Kugel was able to immigrate to Palestine before the Nazi occupation of the Czech lands in 1939. He led the town council in Ḥolon from July 1940 until the creation of the city of Ḥolon in November 1950, when he became mayor, a position he retained until his death.

Suggested Reading

Aharon Moshe K. Rabinowicz, “The Jewish Party: A Struggle for National Recognition, Representation and Autonomy,” in The Jews of Czechoslovakia: Historical Studies and Surveys, vol. 2, pp. 253–346 (Philadelphia, 1971).