Banderly, Bella (Bilha)

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


Bella (Bilha) Banderly was born into a Hasidic family in the city of Safed in 1889. When she was still a child, her family moved to the Jewish colony of Metulla, where she attended a school supervised by the first Hebrew-speaking teachers in the Galilee. In 1912, she married Shimshon Banderly, a merchant and public figure from Haifa, in an arranged marriage. That same year, the couple moved to Paris and lived there until they returned to Haifa in 1920. Little is known about her life during this period, except that she became fluent in French, gave birth to a son, Victor, and met her cousin Zedé Schulmann. Back in Haifa, she began to work as an insurance agent and at the same time was also active in the “Committee of the Hebrew Community” at the Technion and the Haifa branch of B’nai B’rith. After some time the relations between husband and wife deteriorated, and they separated. However, Shimshon refused to agree to a divorce.

In August 1932, Banderly decided to emigrate to Casablanca, where her cousin Zedé Schulmann had lived since 1913 and become a successful merchant. He had opened a furniture store and a hotel in Casablanca and in the 1940s began to trade in Judaica. Banderly settled in Casablanca and opened a successful insurance agency there. Under the influence of her cousin and other Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants, she began to participate in organized public Jewish cultural activities, including the local Zionist movement, the Jewish National Fund, the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), and later also the Joint Distribution Committee. She was also a member of the governing boards of associations for promoting the Hebrew language, first Magen David and later, at the beginning of the 1940s, other associations such as Ḥoveve ha-Safa.

Banderly contributed to Hebrew culture in a number of ways. As a woman she encouraged the Jewish community’s female members to take part as participants and as organizers in activities for promoting Hebrew. She organized special Hebrew activities for girls and women, including learning Hebrew in Hebrew, poetry, and drama. Her activities were not limited to Casablanca but promoted Hebrew and Jewish nationalism throughout Morocco. Together with a group of young people she had gathered around her, she undertook to disseminate the message in other cities. Thanks to her experience in public cultural activities in the Land of Israel she was able to introduce Moroccan Jews to the Hebrew teaching methods and the Hebrew culture of her homeland, such as the custom of ʿoneg Shabbat and national holidays. She not only imported Hebrew culture from Israel but also used her connections to promote local Jewish culture. For this purpose she maintained close relations with Brit Ivrit ʿOlamit, the Jewish Agency, the Israel Teachers Union, the National Library of Israel, and publishers of books and newspapers.

Her life’s work, which had begun to bear fruit, came to an abrupt end on Wednesday, January 31, 1945, when she was killed in a traffic accident on her way from Casablanca to a youth movement camp in Rabat. She was buried in Casablanca. A large crowd followed her coffin which was draped with the Zionist flag. She was eulogized by community leaders, among them her friend Hélène Cazès-Benathar, the first female Jewish lawyer in Morocco. A library in her name was inaugurated in Casablanca in 1947.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World
EditorsNorman A. Stillman
Place of PublicationLeiden
ISBN (Electronic)9789004176782
StatePublished - 2018


Dive into the research topics of 'Banderly, Bella (Bilha)'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this