on May 5, 2002
This book is, in one sense, the biography of a woman whose family has always lived in Jerusalem but in another sense it is a novel of one woman's life as she grows up, falls in love, gets married, has children, loses her son and child.
It is also a novel of how politics and personal life intersect: here we find Arab-Jewish relations ruptured during the Hebron Massacre only to be re-constituted again after the formation of the State of Israel; here we find Raquela's son killed in one war amongst many; here we see the international aid traded for guns in the refugee camps. And above all, here we see the heartbreak and the triumph of one woman, one Jerusalemite, who lives in her own country.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Israel and Israelis, be they Arab or Jews or Christian.
on September 17, 2012
Book Review--Raquela, A Woman of Israel by Ruth Gruber
Of the 39 book reviews of this book on Amazon, 38 give Raquela 5 stars--one is 4 stars.
This is, first of all, a true story. When Ruth Gruber, a foreign correspondent for the New York Herald Tribune set out in Israel to find one woman whose life "would define what it means to be a woman of Israel" (Gruber, Raquela, Forward), she found many candidates. When she heard of a ninth-generation Jerusalemite, whose family settled in Jerusalem in 1650 from Spain, who was a nurse and midwife who had delivered babies in the camps at Athlit and Cyprus for the Jewish illegal immigrants who flocked to their promised land after World War II, she knew she had found her subject.
The book begins in Jerusalem in 1929 when Raquela (the Sephardic, meaning Spanish, version of Rachel) was five years old. Her family lived in Bet Hakerem three miles from the center of Jerusalem, described as a "neighborhood [that] was founded in 1922 as one of six garden cities developed in Jerusalem during the days of the British Mandate for Palestine" (wikipedia.com). The Arabs from the village of Colonia rose up and murdered the people of Motza, a nearby Jewish village, then looted and burned their houses. The book explains that this was the second riot since the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, which stated, "His Majesty's Government (the British) views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." And, while the British police did nothing, the Arab terrorists went to Hebron, where Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their wives Sarah, Rebecca, and Leah were buried, and murdered all the prominent Jewish families. When the British police finally came, they rounded up the rest of the Jews of Hebron (not the Arabs) and locked them up in the police station "for their own protection." These people were never allowed to return to their homes which were ransacked by the Arabs.
From this time forward, there was no peace in Palestine. The book takes us through the time when Raquela was twelve years old and she and her mother were on a bus traveling downtown to go shopping for her Bat Mitzvah. The bus was attacked by Arabs with guns and a hand grenade that miraculously exploded before it could be thrown in the bus. On January 31, 1943 Raquela enrolled in the Hadassah (Hebrew name for Queen Esther, see Jeremiah 8:22) Henrietta Szold School of Nursing where she studied nursing and midwifery under her mentor, the renowned obstetrician Dr. Aron Brezezinski. Raquela Levy graduated as a nurse/midwife on February 7, 1946 and was selected "the outstanding student" in her class.
Politically, because of The White Paper of 1939 issued by the British government under Neville Chamberlain, Palestine was partitioned into an independent Arab state and a Jewish state "in proportion to their population numbers in 1939"--which meant Palestine was virtually controlled by the greater number of Arabs. Jewish immigration was limited to 75,000 over a five-year period from1940 to 1944--then all immigration would depend on the permission of the Arab majority. During this time the Holy Land "became a police state." The British brought in "one hundred thousand soldiers ...to keep order." Jerusalem was a mass of barriers and "rusted coils of barbed wire" where tanks and armored cars patrolled the streets.
The stamina, courage, industry, and determination of the Jewish people is obvious in this book. If you are one of those who knows little of the history of Israel, you will be enlightened, but also entertained with the story of the remarkable life Raquela. The facts of how Israel became an independent nation with all the hardships and wars for independence are the rest of the story. Gruber weaves the heroic deeds of a woman of Israel into the compelling narrative of birth--not only of babies born in horrible conditions in British refugee camps--but also the difficult birth of the State of Israel.
on August 7, 2016
Beginning in1929, when Raquela Levy is five years old and the Arabs are rioting in the Old City, and continuing through the next five decades, the book takes the reader through the joys and tragedies of Raquela’s life. It follows her efforts to help her fellow Jews in their continuous struggle to establish their own safe haven, their own homeland, Israel, from which they would never be expelled by any enemy, near or far, again. Raquela is a sabra and a largely unsung heroine in Israel’s story. Sabra is a slang term describing a Jewish person born in Israel as opposed to a Jew from the Diaspora who emigrated there from another place of origin.
It seemed to me that Raquela lived more or less in the shadow of her more successful husbands, supporting their work, even as she did her own, as women did in those early days of the twentieth century, achieving success and advancement largely through their male counterpart’s good graces. From an early age, she consistently remained dedicated to Jews and the Jewish homeland, putting the needs of the country and its people before her own, from the time before the birth of Israel and then continuing afterwards. That is not to say that she ignored her own feminine desires. She grew up with the same hopes and ideas that all young girls dream of and had many romances of her own. She adored her older first husband, a successful, brilliant doctor and when he died was lucky enough to find another man to love. She married an old friend and associate of theirs, another successful doctor who had recently lost his wife. They, too, had a very happy, compatible and successful marriage.
Raquela was an accomplished nurse and midwife, praised and honored by those with whom she came in contact. She became involved in the development of programs to aid women throughout her career and even continued her first husband’s work after his death, enabled in this effort by another scholar and doctor. As a young nurse, she volunteered to work as a midwife in the DP camps set up by the British for Jewish immigrants. These Jews were caught trying to sneak into what later became Israel. They were just looking for a place to feel safe. It was after WWII and the Holocaust. In Europe, they continued to be persecuted when they tried to return to the homes they had lived in before the time of Adolf Hitler. Other people had moved into their former lives and refused to relinquish what they had stolen.
Raquela described the conditions in the camps. When compared to the camps set up for the Arabs by the United Nations which looked like suburban communities, the set up for the Jews by the British were like slums. Keep in mind, these people had already suffered the indecencies, indignities and horrors of the Holocaust and were now basically back in prison with inadequate medical care or equipment, even for the women who were pregnant. Many died as did their offspring. Their mental health was also ignored and when separated from their husbands and families, their fears of being tortured and slaughtered were once again renewed. Raquela brought her skill and personality to their care and also to others who were ill since doctors were in short supply and often unavailable in these camps.
Although the British had been presented with The Balfour Declaration in a letter written in 1917, expressing support for a Jewish State, they did not honor it. Finally, in 1939, The White Paper was written, calling for the establishment of a Jewish Homeland within the Palestinian Territory. However, it curtailed the ability to establish the homeland with its very strict requirements favoring the Arabs, and it, too, was never formally approved. Arab approval was a requirement for its acceptance and to this day that has never truly come to pass. The Arabs still consistently call for the annihilation of all Jews and refuse to recognize the Jewish homeland.
Repeatedly attacked by Arabs who now refused to accept the 1948 United Nations decision to establish the State of Israel, Arabs who even refused to accept the idea of a partition which would have given them both a safe place to live, the Israelis found themselves ill equipped to fight back. Yet they did, and were successful, in spite of the odds that were hugely against them. Great Britain, America and other countries still harbor anti-Semitism, still covet the oil in the Arab countries, still fear Muslim uprisings, and are still largely unwilling to publicly and loudly acknowledge and provide the Jews with the safe haven they need or the weapons required to help them maintain their security until their backs are against the wall and they have suffered unnecessary casualties. They truly have to answer to a higher standard.
***Through the decades, as the Jews have been attacked by Arabs bent on their total destruction, the UN has remained silent or has condemned Israel. When it was believed that the Arabs had the upper hand, the UN did not react or intercede. However, the UN never failed to call for a cease fire and/or a truce when it was proven that the Arabs were losing in their fight against Israel. It seems that little has changed today. If anything, it has gotten worse with the spread of the BDS movement (a movement to boycott Israeli products manufactured in the West Bank), and the abundance of misinformation that is consistently dispersed, even by those in power in the United States, by those in the liberal media and in liberal schools, and often, by some misguided Jews, as well. Israel is still the David to the Goliaths of the world. It is my hope that readers of this book will be inspired to discover the real facts about Jewish history and the establishment of the state of Israel so that they will recognize the negative influence of the Arab countries and Muslim societies toward that effort to find a peaceful solution to the problem.
At this moment, the remarkable author of this book is alive and well at 104 years old. Originally published in 1978, it is a biography that crosses age lines because there is nothing in this book that could be characterized as offensive to either young or older adults. There is no indiscriminate sex or foul language, although there are some descriptions of warfare and the Holocaust that are more explicit. The book is written with an easy to read prose, simply, almost in conversational style. Although billed as an award winning biography, it reads more like historic fiction, especially when the once congenial relationship that existed between the Arabs and the Jews was described briefly through the characters of Aisha, a Muslim woman, and Tova, a Jew, mother of Raquela. According to the book, they actually liked each other and shared their time, conversation and tea together. Wouldn’t it be nice if that situation were to be reconstructed today, everywhere in the Middle East.